Meg Mallon didn’t come to golf in the usual way.
She was wonderfully bamboozled.
She’ll forever thank her sister, Tricia, for that.
Mallon’s family will laugh telling you the story, and they’ll weep, too.
Meg’s start in golf is back on the minds of the people who care most about her with the LPGA making its first American start this week at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif. After much heartache and suffering the last few seasons, Meg, 46, begins anew in a bid to write a more satisfying final chapter to her career.
Tricia died a year ago of a rare form of abdominal cancer, a month before the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but she remains an inspiration to her sister. Mallon spent the last 100 days of her sister’s life at her side, the final 54 watching her sister starve to death under Hospice care. It’s the Dickensian chapter of Mallon’s life, her best of times and worst of times. She reveled and ached in their special time together
“I played golf because Tricia played golf,” Mallon said.
That’s the wondrous joke they shared.
Meg was the baby in the Irish-American family of six children in suburban Detroit, Tricia the fifth child, five years Meg’s senior.
“We were really, really close,” Mallon said. “I wanted to do everything my sister did.”
When Tricia became a swimmer, Meg wasn’t long in taking up the sport. And when Meg’s mother dropped Tricia off to play golf at the Lakelands Golf & Country Club near their Birmingham, Mich., home, Meg wanted to tag along and play.
“What I didn’t know then is that Tricia hated golf,” Meg said. “She would go off with the older girls, and they would hide their clubs and go down and swim in the lake while I was playing golf with the other kids.”
Mallon picked up the game because of her sister, and she all but gave it up for her sister, too.
Though Mallon has won 18 times in her career, with two U.S. Women’s Opens among her four major championship titles, the last five seasons have been a struggle. A steady slide gave way with eight missed cuts in 10 starts last season. Mallon won three times in 2004, but she has one top-10 finish since ‘05.
The decline can be traced to a series of emotional blows:
- In September of ’05, Mallon was stricken with a heart problem in the aftermath of the American Solheim Cup victory. She was diagnosed with SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) and underwent corrective surgery.
- In October of ’05, Tricia was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma in the abdomen, an aggressive cancer for which there is no cure.
- In December of ’05, Meg’s father, John, died of a massive heart attack. He was retired after a long career with the Ford Motor Co. His death left the Mallon siblings scrambling to figure out how to take care of their mother, Marian, who needed constant care after suffering a debilitating brain hemorrhage in ‘01.
With Tricia dying, Meg moved into the family’s home in Doylestown, Pa., late in 2008. She spent the final three months of her sister’s life helping the struggling family cope. Meg spent countless other days and weeks all the way back to the end of ’05 helping the family when needed.
“Meg basically gave up her golf life after Tricia was diagnosed,” said Paul Mallon, one of Meg’s two brothers. “But when we would ask Meg about it, she would say she didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Tricia, and her husband, Ed Burdzy, have three children. Alex is 21 today, Madeleine 15 and Nick 13.
Meg nursed her sister, but she also helped with the children. She did everything from drive car pools to school, games and practices to cooking and grocery shopping.
Over the last four years, Mallon faced her own physical challenges. She endured back, foot, elbow and shoulder injuries.
“I have to believe all the stress was a factor, that it took its toll on Meg,” Paul said. “Tricia and Meg were extraordinarily close, so much so that they would finish each other’s sentences.”
Mallon is playing on a medical extension this season.
After falling to 131st on the money list last year, she lost her priority status. The medical extension, however, wasn’t granted for Mallon’s numerous injuries. It was granted under the LPGA’s family medical issues provision. That was based on the fact that Mallon spent so much of her time caring for her dying sister.
“Tricia was the center of joy and laughter in our family,” Meg said. “She was funny, bright, such a quick wit. I loved being around her. If something good happened to me, she’s the first person I wanted to tell. If something bad happened, she’s the person I wanted to talk to.
“I still shake my head knowing she’s gone. There’s such a huge void.”
Mallon suffered watching her sister fight a cancer that wouldn’t be beaten. Almost two years after Tricia's diagnosis, the family was dealt another blow when Tricia’s husband lost his job in the banking crunch.
With their health insurance lost, the Burdzy family was forced to go onto Cobra Insurance, which didn’t cover all the medical costs. That’s where Meg’s friends stepped in. Beth Daniel, Karrie Webb, Nancy Lopez and Helen Alfredsson were among 20 LPGA pros who staged a fundraiser at Mallon’s home club at Pine Tree in South Florida. They raised $170,000 for the family.
“My fellow players were unbelievable with their support,” Mallon said. “They made phone calls and sent texts that always seemed to come at just the right time.”
Hall of Famer Juli Inkster called Mallon 30 consecutive days in the worst of times.
“A lot of people don’t know what Meg did for her sister, or what a really tough time it was for her family,” Inkster said. “It was amazing how Meg never complained.
“Meg put her career on hold, and I don’t think there are too many people who would have done what she has done. She really has her priorities in order, and I have tremendous respect for her.”
Mallon said her sister’s memory still inspires her. Tricia endured four years of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries with so little complaint. Mallon marveled how Tricia would get up to make breakfast for the children and send them off to school almost until the day she died.
The end, though, was difficult for everyone.
Tricia could no longer eat solid foods by the end of ’08 and was placed on a nutrition tube. Soon after, doctors presented the family a stark option.
“The choice was to let the cancer take her, or less painfully, to let her starve to death,” Mallon said.
Tricia went off the nutrition tube on Jan. 4 of last year. Meg was there through the bitter end.
“It’s amazing how long you can go without food,” Mallon said. 'And Tricia continued to perform her role as mom. She was starving to death, but she kept getting up to make the children breakfast and send them off to school. She kept checking their homework.'
Fifty-four days after the nutrition tube was removed, Tricia died.
“Meg went so far beyond what anyone ever dreamed of doing, but I think it took Meg quite awhile to emotionally recover,” Paul said. “As a family, we were worried about Meg, but she was able to share her feelings with us. Doing that, we knew she would be OK.”
Mallon is eager to return to golf to see if she can end her career with one last good run. She says she’s feeling healthy, physically and emotionally. She did not play in the first two LPGA events of the year overseas, but will be at the Kia Classic this week at La Costa in Carlsbad, Calif.
“I feel a certain peace this week,” Mallon said.
It’s a feeling she welcomes after such a long, tough spell on and off the golf course.