My Year in Golf: Beth Ann Baldry

Meredith Duncan on Tuesday of LPGA Q-School at LPGA International.

Meredith Duncan on Tuesday of LPGA Q-School at LPGA International.

Editor's note: For our entire "My Year in Golf" series, click here.

• • •

While driving into the media parking lot on Sunday at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, I stopped and rolled down the window to talk with Meredith Duncan, who was clutching trial-sized toiletries she had picked up in the Wegmans fan zone. The LPGA’s funny girl was hurting that morning, emotionally spent from this maddening game. When I think back on my year in golf, the scene with Duncan is seared in my mind.

I cover a tour of dreamers. Some of the women on the LPGA live enviable lives, traveling the globe first class and living in tony, gated communities with memberships at top-shelf clubs. A handful of players make more money in one year than most of us will ever see.

Duncan, however, brings us back to reality. She estimated it would cost her $35,000 to play 2012 and made $3,301 in earnings. After writing about Duncan’s need to recycle cans, mow yards and sleep on air mattresses to make ends meet, I received several emails from fans wanting to donate to her PayPal account or inquire about a corporate sponsorship. Some had never even met Duncan. It was a cool thing, knowing that every little bit helps.

When I saw Duncan at LPGA Q-School in late November, she was selling bags of pecans for extra cash. Still dreaming.

• • •

LPGA'S TOP-10 MOMENTS OF 2012: Check out Beth Ann Baldry's best of 2012.

• • •

This year I had a simple goal: Play more golf. It sounds silly coming from a golf writer, but most folks in the golf industry talk a good game, yet play very little. My New Year’s resolution on Facebook must have gone viral (kidding) as I was invited to play in several pro-ams this year, giving me a chance to see first-hand what the tour has long touted: No one does a pro-am better than the LPGA.

Allison Duncan, a Michigan State alumna who played on the Symetra Tour and the LPGA last season, was my pro in two pro-ams. She’s due to have a baby soon and isn’t sure where life will take her once motherhood becomes her primary job.

Playing with Duncan in Prattville, Ala., was like having a private lesson. She gave everyone in our group full-swing and short-game tips. Duncan fixed my posture on the second tee, and I’ve mentally thanked her in every subsequent round I’ve played.

It’s true what they say about LPGA pro-ams. The scramble format keeps amateurs and pros engaged throughout the round, and men get a kick out of trying to keep up off the tee. Brooke Pancake, a recent Alabama graduate who will be a rookie on the LPGA in 2013, has landed several sponsorship deals from playing in pro-ams. No other sport gives fans such an inside-the-ropes experience. If they’re lucky, their games might even improve.

• • •

photo

The par-3 14th signature hole at Liberty National.

Several years ago, I learned that Liberty National had made a bid for the 2013 Solheim Cup. I didn’t need to go farther than the range to know that it’s a shame that didn’t work out. There can’t be a more patriotic venue on the planet. On the par-3 second hole, my target was the Statue of Liberty.

Our foursome of single-digit players spent so much time taking pictures that day, we must have let six groups play through. Liberty has undergone significant changes after hosting the 2009 PGA Tour Barclays Championship. The course again will host the Barclays in 2013.

There are so many magnificent views of the New York City skyline at Liberty that it’s easy to lose focus. Members can watch the progress of construction on the Freedom Tower, which is in plain sight throughout the round. From the impressive clubhouse to the fully-stocked halfway house, complete with labeled drawers for Vitamin water, a variety of KIND bars and big bowl of marshmallows on the counter to top off your hot chocolate, Liberty is the American dream.

Perhaps Liberty member Cristie Kerr can persuade the LPGA and the club owners, the Fireman family, to bring the Solheim there in 2017. Lady Liberty would enjoy the show.

• • •

photo

A golf cart signed by many sits in the lobby of LPGA headquarters in memorial of rules official Doug Brecht at LPGA International. Brecht was a longtime rules official that passed away recently due to complications from meningitis associated with the West Nile Virus.

My job doesn’t have many dark days. But when someone in the golf industry dies, it’s tough to make phone calls. It’s even more difficult to find the right words.

Early this year we lost Barbara Douglas, a woman who walked so many championship holes for the USGA that she probably couldn’t even begin to count them. Even when she had cancer.

I’ll always remember walking holes alongside Douglas, just like I’ll remember sitting in Doug Brecht’s cart. Brecht, a longtime LPGA rules official, died in October after contracting West Nile meningitis.

Folks like Brecht and Douglas worked long hours and received little recognition for keeping the game in order. They dedicated their lives to golf, and the industry mourned their passing.

Not surprisingly, my two favorite quotes of the year were about these two gems:

“She probably got to the pearly gates and said, ‘Before I go in, I want to look at the golf course.’ ” – Bob Tomisak, Douglas’ closest friend.

And from Gail Graham, a former LPGA player and friend of Brecht’s for 30 years: “He was like a toasted marshmallow: soft on the inside.”

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