Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a three-part, where-are-they-now series chronicling the careers of Beth Bauer, May Wood and Catherine Cartwright.
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May Wood remembers sitting next to a 17-year-old in German 101 at Vanderbilt University. A then-26-year-old Wood had a husband, two dogs and a mortgage. This was Phase 2 at Vandy. Wood’s first go-round had ended in tears, her mother angrily boxing up Wood’s dorm room while the rest of the golf team headed to the NCAA Championship.
Wood, a 6-foot-2-inch bomber and SEC champion, was declared academically ineligible by Vanderbilt in 2004, just days before the NCAAs, forcing the Commodores to compete with four players. A humiliated Wood, then a sophomore, turned professional.
Wood thinks she was “going through a depression” then. She felt pressure to turn professional and didn’t know how to handle it.
“When I was a pro, I always had this lingering thought in the back of my head,” she said. “It was a sense of failure. It was a sense of giving up on something, and that’s just not my personality.”
As a professional, Wood felt chained. Fearful of letting down sponsors such as Callaway and Under Armour, Wood played timidly.
“As a kid, you go out there and you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be so glamorous; they make so much money, and it’s such an easy, fun life.’ It’s not an easy life.”
Wood’s professional career didn’t amount to much. She played in only a handful of LPGA events.
Phil Ritson has been teaching golf for 61 years. He counts Gary Player, Curtis Strange and the late Seve Ballesteros as former pupils. He calls Wood “the most talented person I’ve ever met.”
“The saddest day for me was when she stopped playing,” Ritson said.
Martha Richards, now the head coach at Texas, recruited Wood to Vanderbilt. She was the first player Richards had coached who could tame the par 5s in two. Richards thought Wood had the physical talent to become a world-beater, but not the love.
“I just think May wanted a different kind of life,” Richards said.
Wood, 27, married Jens Frederiksen in fall 2007 and returned to Vanderbilt to “confront my past.” She had five semesters left, and though Vanderbilt let her back in, she couldn’t get a scholarship. Grants and financial aid allowed her to finish a degree in art history.
Wood had to retake three courses from her sophomore year and wound up with the same professor for Women and Gender Studies. The professor thought Wood looked familiar but didn’t know why. Wood kept quiet and got an “A” in the class. She even wrote an honors thesis and graduated with distinction.
She didn’t touch a club for a year. Driving past a local muni one afternoon in Nashville, she thought: “Oh, that grass looks awesome. I bet it’s perfect to hit 7-irons off of right now.”
Wood planned to attend graduate school after getting her degree, but financial obligations persuaded her to get a job. (Her husband teaches political theory at Fisk University.) She became an assistant pro at Hillwood Country Club in August and does everything from answer phones to give lessons.
She shot 6 under at her 36-hole Playing Ability Test this summer, beating all the guys. The former North & South Amateur champion has visions of playing the U.S. Women’s Open in 2014 when it returns to Pinehurst. Ritson, for one, would be pleased.
“What I tell you is real,” he said. “I just pray that she comes back again.”