Team Blackwelder seeks return to LPGA

Mallory Blackwelder hits her tee shot at the 2008 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

Mallory Blackwelder hits her tee shot at the 2008 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Most dads – the good ones, at least – will travel to the ends of the earth for their daughters. Take, for example, Worth Blackwelder. He “rushed” home from an LPGA event in South Korea last Sunday to meet his daughter in Lakeland, Fla., on Monday for Duramed Futures Tour Qualifying School. Total travel time: 21 hours. Total hours without quality sleep: 34.

Mallory Blackwelder flew solo in the first round, but her father, the most overqualified caddie in the field, tossed grass and read greens alongside her the rest of the way. On Thursday, Worth was obliged to drive the cart a few times. Mallory walked.

“I think it’s finally catching up with me,” he said on the 16th hole during a water break.

Mallory, 22, feels no pressure this week. She’s tied for third place, with one round remaining: 71-74-66-70. From here, she’ll travel to Daytona Beach for a few days to prepare for the final stage of LPGA Q-School. As soon as that’s over, she and Worth will jet off to Spain for Ladies European Tour qualifying.

The family considered JLPGA Q-School, but then realized she’d have to go through four stages of qualifying to get her card. She’d also have to shell out $1,200 a day for an interpreter and hire a local caddie for the first three stages. Needless to say, that discouraged this recent college grad, which is probably what JLPGA officials had in mind. It appears they are working to “protect” their tour from foreign invasion. After all, the money in Japan is good, and there’s a meaty schedule.

Mallory Blackwelder knows her career is in good hands. Her mother, Myra, played on the LPGA for 12 seasons, and her father has caddied for the likes of Dottie Pepper, Cristie Kerr and Mi Hyun Kim. He’s in his second stint working for Juli Inkster.

“This is what I always said I’d do,” Mallory said of turning professional. 

Worth and Myra have served as head professionals at courses in Kentucky. Mallory transferred from the University of Florida when her mom got the job as head coach at Kentucky, her alma mater. Only recently has Mallory realized the toll keeping up with a 4.0 GPA at Kentucky had on her golf game.

“Mallory wasn’t going to be satisfied being a great college golfer making B’s and C’s,” Worth said. 

While Blackwelder won tournaments in college, her stroke average was never below 75. A good round consisted of two birdies, at best. She knew that kind of golf wouldn’t cut it at LPGA Q-School.

After failing to Monday-qualify for the CN Canadian Women’s Open, Blackwelder “tore her swing down” nine days before she left for the first stage of sectional qualifying. Mom wasn’t thrilled.

“Instead of hitting a fade, I needed a draw,” she said. “I wasn’t very precise.”

She worked hard on her swing path with Steve Geissler in Lexington and felt like a new woman at Rancho Mirage, shooting 72-68-67-75 to sail into the final stage. She carded 18 birdies in four days. Blackwelder’s stroke average since graduating from college has dropped three strokes.

LPGA Q-School holds a special place in the hearts of the Blackwelders: It’s where Worth met Myra in 1980. 

“A buddy of mine said Myra had a crush on me,” Worth said.

Myra secured her card and the pair soon started dating. The second week on tour, she asked Worth to caddie.

By the fourth week, Myra gave him an ultimatum: caddie or be her boyfriend. Both were too stubborn to make it work.

“I told her, ‘You’re going to be one heckuva player. I can find myself another girlfriend,’ ” Worth said. 

Ouch.

“She was rookie of the year (in 1980), so at least my assessment was right.”

Worth “got out of the trap” by sending flowers the next week. They’ve been together ever since.

“Thankfully, she gave him another chance or else I wouldn’t be here,” Mallory joked. Not to mention her older brother Myles, who is 24.

Myra didn’t make it to Futures Q-School this week, as the Kentucky team competed in Austin, Texas. Both parents will be on hand, however, when Mallory tees it up at the final stage of LPGA Q-School. 

One crush plus 30 years just might equal another hard-fought card. Who knew Q-School could sound so sweet?

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