My year in golf: Beth Ann Baldry

Ai Miyazato during her Golfweek For Her photo shoot in California in early 2011. The shoot happened only weeks before a earthquake and tsunami devastated Miyazato's home country of Japan.

Ai Miyazato during her Golfweek For Her photo shoot in California in early 2011. The shoot happened only weeks before a earthquake and tsunami devastated Miyazato's home country of Japan.

The year started off delightfully on California’s Highway 1, a gorgeous stretch of coast that took photographer Tracy Wilcox and me to our first photo shoot of the year, for Golfweek For Her. We were there to meet Ai Miyazato, a five-time winner in 2010 and owner of a home nearby. Miyazato grew up on an island, so photographing her beautiful smile beachside seemed appropriate.

Wilcox decided to secure a beach cruiser for our shoot. Miyazato, a native of Okinawa, Japan, did the interview on top of a lifeguard stand, and then we went down to the shoreline to shoot pictures of her attempting to ride this bike through the surf.

Months later, the layouts of these pages hung on the cubicle walls of our editorial office. The opening spread to my feature story had a darling photo of Miyazato beaming with her yellow bike, the waves gently crashing around her. The headline: “Making a Splash.”

That layout never made it to print. The copy was rewritten and all images of the ocean were replaced after a devastating earthquake and tsunami wrecked Miyazato’s homeland in March. The mindset, the goals she had talked about on the lifeguard stand were never realized. Miyazato spent months trying to find ways to help her countrymen. Her summer victory at the Evian Masters in France delivered hope.

Ten months after that photo shoot, Miyazato summed up her year in three words: “I feel tired.”

• • •

photo

With Face Rock on the left, a spectacular view of Bandon at sunset.

Only in Bandon: I came just short of begging to cover the Women's Amateur Public Links this year. Having been to Bandon Dunes twice before, this was a must-cover event. By the time I got around to securing a hotel, the rooms at the resort were filled with players, and the Best Western that’s on the beach was booked.

My colleague got a room at the La Kris Inn, a “boutique motel” in Bandon, Ore. He warned me that it may turn out to be La Pit. I did a little research on Trip Advisor and decided that I’d rather not make the drive from Coos Bay into Bandon each day.

La Kris turned out to be small but clean, and, to my boss’s delight, the cheapest place I’ve ever stayed in during 10 years at Golfweek. I couldn’t help but wonder how many semi-truck drivers had slept in the bed before me.

It was next door to the Dairy Queen and around the corner from these magnificent rocks along the beach. I got quarters from the grocery and did laundry with the locals, as this was the middle of a three-week stretch on the road.

There’s nothing glamorous about the town of Bandon. I’d practically sleep on Face Rock to get the chance to tee it up at this playground of natural beauty. On Sunday, before heading to The Broadmoor, I played Old MacDonald for the first time.

Definitely could have stayed at La Kris another week.

• • •

photo

Mike Whan, right, and Shirley Spork at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup in Phoenix.

Honoring the past: The LPGA’s decision to honor its founders and other trailblazers of the game at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup in Phoenix gives the media a chance to open up a treasure chest of memories. It was a special moment when three of the 13 LPGA Founders – Louise Suggs, Marilynn Smith and Shirley Spork – sat down to talk with Golfweek last March in Phoenix.

Spork, 84, said she was the first female professional invited into the Royal and Ancient clubhouse. The year was 1951, and Spork was in the U.K. putting on a series of clinics.

In a boardroom inside the clubhouse, members who were impressed with Spork’s wedge game asked for a demonstration.

“There wasn’t room, so they said get up on the table,” she said.

And so Spork, in one of her most memorable golf lessons, stood on top of a boardroom table in the Royal & Ancient clubhouse and showed an alternative to the classic bump-and-run.

Can’t get enough of those stories.

• • •

Are you going to eat that?

Mike Whan sat down next to me on the back row of a Lexi Thompson interview at the CME Group Titleholders in Orlando, Fla. I had brought back an enormous sugar cookie from media dining and had eaten only half of it. Whan finished off my dessert before being whisked away by a member of his staff.

Considering that the last commissioner, Carolyn Bivens, barely made eye contact with the media in her latter days at the LPGA and certainly stayed away from small-talk in the media room, Whan, through his gesture, said a lot in terms of how comfortable he is working with members of the press.

Either that or he’d had nothing but Diet Pepsi that day.

• • •

photo

Playing the seventh hole of the International Course at ChampionsGate near Orlando, St. Louis radio host Ron Godier got the idea that he’d aim for the large gator that sat basking in the sun just short of the green.

Dumbest on-course move: My playing partner tapped an alligator with his 56-degree sand wedge. Crazy snowbirds.

While standing in the middle of the fairway on the par-4 seventh hole of the International Course at ChampionsGate near Orlando, St. Louis radio host Ron Godier got the idea that he’d aim for the large gator that sat basking in the sun just short of the green. From 170 yards out, it looked like Godier’s ball one-hopped off the gator’s nose, but the reptile didn’t flinch. (It was Godier's most accurate shot of the day.)

When we approached the green, Godier stood in front of the gator for a photo, his TaylorMade ball lying just in front of its snout.

As if that weren’t dangerous enough, Godier walked over to the gator and gently poked it with his wedge. The gator began to hiss. Godier dropped another ball several paces away and hit his third shot.

This Florida girl was in the cart, throwing her own hissy fit.

• • •

photo

Senior writer Beth Ann Baldry gets a one-eyed glance from a monk in Longshan Temple in downtown Taipei. Yani Tseng goes there to pray annually.

A season of thanks: Yani Tseng sent a couple of media members a post card from Niagara Falls, N.Y., this summer. She’d gone there after demolishing the field at the LPGA Championship in nearby Rochester and wanted to send a note of thanks.

At the LPGA tournament in Taiwan, Tseng let Golfweek into her hotel room for a short portrait session on the evening before the final round. That kind of access is unheard of from a player who is leading a tournament going into Sunday, much less a World No. 1.

In November, Tseng held a Thanksgiving dinner party at her home in the Orlando community of Lake Nona for national print media and Golf Channel talent. She wanted to show her appreciation to those who covered the LPGA in 2011.

And at her final event of the year in Taiwan, the weather was so cold and miserable that Tseng passed out a box of hand warmers to her fans for braving the conditions. She won her 12th event worldwide that week.

Seriously, who is this girl?

The LPGA is lucky to have her.

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