The news descended upon the LPGA like a bone-chilling fog late last spring.
Word of Erica Blasberg’s death cloaked the Magnolia Grove golf course in confusion and sadness as players arrived for the Bell Micro Classic in Mobile, Ala.
Blasberg was found dead at 25 in her home in Henderson, Nev., on May 9, a Sunday. The news broke a day later.
With players checking in for the tournament, the American flag above the stately clubhouse flew at half mast. Blasberg was supposed to be there. She even packed a bag for the trip.
“Everyone’s in shock,” Irene Cho said through tears that week. “I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it until I actually see her body.”
Cho broke down in a wave of emotion when LPGA commissioner Mike Whan hugged her as she left the practice putting green. Cho was Blasberg’s best friend on tour.
“Why?” Cho asked. “What happened? Why did it happen?”
Seven months later, so many questions remain unanswered about Blasberg’s life and death.
A gifted amateur from Corona, Calif., and two-time All-American at the University of Arizona, Blasberg was going to be a star. That was the feeling back home. But it never happened.
While the how of Blasberg’s death was finally answered when Henderson Police released its suicide finding three-and-a-half months later, the why lingers. Police revealed that Blasberg was found with a plastic bag over her head and toxic levels of prescription medication in her system. They never addressed the larger question family, friends and fans wrestle with. They never offered an answer as to why she took her life.
Blasberg’s father, Mel, read his daughter’s suicide note and says he is still haunted by the “why” of her suicide.
“The note was a story that surrounded her death,” Mel told GolfChannel.com. “But it wasn’t about her death.”
The loss eats at him.
“Not having Erica is a nightmare,” Mel said. “Everything else pales in comparison.”
Mel believes the man who discovered Erica’s body could solve some of the mystery, but the exact nature of that man’s relationship to his daughter remains woven into the mystery.
Thomas Hess, a 43-year-old family doctor in Las Vegas, discovered Erica’s body. Earlier this month, Hess was convicted of obstruction of justice for removing Erica’s suicide note and prescription drugs from the scene. He was sentenced to a year’s probation, 40 hours of community service and impulse-control counseling. Hess’ attorney confirmed to Sports Illustrated that Hess had prescribed medications for Erica.
While Mel Blasberg can’t be certain of the exact nature of the relationship between Hess and his daughter, Mel told GolfChannel.com that he believed they were more than friends.
“There is some specific, visual evidence that shows their relationship to be affectionate, which leads me to believe it was an affair, or something that was intimate,” Mel said upon release of the police findings. “I don’t have all the information. Based on what I was told, I think that’s the only conclusion I can draw.”
Hess, a married man with a young daughter, told Sports Illustrated that his relationship with Erica was not intimate.
“My right hand to God, on the life of my daughter, I never had sex with her,” Hess told SI. “We were friends.'
Sports Illustrated reported that Hess is now separated from his wife. Mel Blasberg said he intends to file civil suit against Hess.
“All along, my opinion’s been that Erica didn’t have to die,” Blasberg told GolfChannel.com. “Now, with the police investigation, I feel more strongly than I ever did that Erica did not have to die.”
Erica’s death still hits Mel in waves. He taught Erica the game. He’s the director of instruction at Eagle Glen Golf Club in Corona.
“Erica was the centerpiece at Eagle Glen,” Mel said. “It’s hard to be there and not be reminded of her on a constant basis. In a way, going back to work is good for me, but the reminders can bring back the worst emotions, very dark, where nothing seems important. When that curtain comes down, and it comes down every day, it’s devastating.”
In five LPGA seasons, Blasberg’s best finish was a tie for eighth at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay in Hawaii. That’s where she met Ray Kim, a local caddie assigned to her for the week. They hit it off so well that Blasberg talked Kim into leaving the island to become her full-time caddie. They made a strong run at winning with a final-round lead at the 2008 Corning Classic, but Blasberg closed with a 79. Kim watched Blasberg struggle to be the player she wanted to be.
After Erica lost her tour status in ’09, Kim caddied for her at Q-School. She became so frustrated in the second round that she quit. Kim told GolfChannel.com at the Bell Micro that he worried about Erica after that.
“She was supposed to come out and be a star, and she couldn’t make it through Q-School,” Kim said. “I think she saw her life flashing before her eyes. She didn’t finish college, and you could see her struggling with the idea, 'What else am I going to do?’”
Kim said his worries fell away when he saw Erica making a comeback at the Tres Marias Championship two weeks before the Bell Micro. She made it through the Monday qualifier there and tied for 44th in the event. Kim said Erica seemed revitalized in Mexico. She was excited about the work she was doing with her father on her swing and was planning to tee it up in the Monday qualifier at the Bell Micro.
“It was unreal how happy she was in Mexico,” Kim said. “That’s why this is so confusing.”
And among the reasons her death remains so sadly mysterious.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell