Baldry: Blumenherst turns attention to life off course

Amanda Blumenherst with her husband, Nate Freiman, at the CME Group Titleholders in 2012.

When Amanda Blumenherst was in the second grade, she dressed up as Nancy Lopez for career day. Years later when Blumenherst entered LPGA Q-School fresh off a degree from Duke, Lopez sent her a good-luck text. “Blu” didn’t need luck. She won Q-School by two shots and took to the tour with her unorthodox swing, big sparkling eyes and Nike contract. The most decorated player in college golf history was set to hit the big-time.

Four years later, she’s just about had enough.

“I have not lost my love of the game,” Blumenherst said. The newlywed simply wants a “more normal marriage and life.”

“She wants to be with her husband, and you can’t blame her for that,” said former Duke teammate Jennie Lee.

Blumenherst’s friends on tour threw her a semi-retirement party last Friday at Stanford’s in Portland, Ore. Natalie Gulbis brought a diamond-shaped cake – think baseball, not jewels – and Lee decorated with Duke blue balloons. The gesture brought tears.

Blumenherst and Nate Freiman, a 6-foot, 8-inch first baseman for the Oakland A’s, met at Duke and have been together for seven years. They tied the knot last December.

“It was just getting harder and harder to leave (Nate),” said Blumenherst, who struggled over the summer with their scattered professional schedules.

The couple make their home in Scottsdale, Ariz., but have an apartment in Oakland, Calif., that’s five minutes from the stadium. Blumenherst, 26, likens the apartment to a dorm, with Duke paraphernalia – calendars, mugs, jerseys – strewn everywhere. Golf clubs and baseball equipment double as decor. Globetrotting leaves little time for nesting.

This week, Blumenherst can sit with the other wives in the friends and family section in Oakland during the Texas Rangers series. Next week, she’ll be in France for The Evian Championship for what could be her last event of the year. Freiman, meanwhile, has a full week of away games.

Blumenherst hopes to play a small LPGA schedule in the coming years (status and sponsorships permitting), sprinkling in a few charity pro-ams and corporate outings. With her theater minor, she’s considering TV for possible employment, but also fancies a stab at creative writing. The Dukie has options.

“I’m definitely not hanging up the clubs,” she said.

Young players can, and should, take away a few things from the Blumenherst file.

This young woman was among the best and the brightest the college golf world has ever seen. A three-time Player of the Year, Blumenherst didn’t finish outside the top 10 in a college event until her senior year. She and Freiman graduated magna cum laude and were voted Duke’s respective female and male senior athletes of the year. She organized a Christmas drive for the needy with other Duke athletes, cheered with the Cameron Crazies each winter and led her team to two national championships. In 2008, she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

“I have never seen a player who can will the ball into the hole the way that Amanda Blumenherst can,” UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth once said.

She was a promise of the wholesome, girl-next-door American star whom the LPGA so desperately needed. Blumenherst thrives on corporate experiences. She rocks pro-ams. There isn’t a prettier set of teeth on tour.

But while college rival Stacy Lewis rose to No. 1 in the world earlier this season, Blumenherst ranks 251st. She’s 100th on the money list. Many of Blu’s college contemporaries have won tournaments and played on Solheim Cup teams. Her career-best finish was a tie for fifth at the 2012 Honda LPGA Thailand.

“I practiced harder than I ever practiced in college,” she said.

Here are two realities about tour life: The competition is deeper than expected and, for some, the travel is even tougher.

The list of destinations reads like a vacation bucket list: France, Scotland, Hawaii, Thailand, Singapore, Jamaica, Vancouver, Brazil.

“Golf has given me a ticket around the globe,” Blumenherst said. “I count myself so lucky.”

But LPGA travel is much harder than amateur travel, with players living out of suitcases for a month at a time, only to have one week off before packing again. A strengthened LPGA schedule meant more time away from Nate and the comforts of home. The couple would go three to four weeks without seeing each other, and by the time summer hit, Blumenherst’s heart had hit the wall. In 180 days, Freiman will have played 162 games.

The couple talked and prayed about it. Freiman would never ask Blumenherst to retire.

“Being a fellow professional athlete, he knows what it means to devote your entire life to a sport,” she said.

From the start, Blumenherst knew she’d never play more than 10 years on the LPGA because she didn’t want to have a family while playing professionally.

“Nate would never be able to be with us because of his baseball schedule,” she said.

There would come a day when she would have to make a choice. It probably just came a little earlier than expected.

If Blumenherst had the pro career of Lewis, would she still be slowing down? Tough to say. Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa left the tour while on top to start families.

Only 16 players in the top 100 on the money list are married. Nearly half of those players have husbands who travel with them on a regular basis as caddies or managers. Only 14 players on tour have children, and these moms are considered super heroes amongst their peers.

Duke coach Dan Brooks said he mentions Blumenherst to his current teams four or five times a week. She was the model student-athlete, always pushing through the demands of college life with a smile on her face.

“I had a life people dream about and work so hard for,” Blumenherst said of playing on the LPGA.

But, as Brooks said, those who know the Blumenherst family – a warm and loving glass-half-full kind of group – understand why she’s choosing family life over the tour. She’s slowing down to settle into another one of life’s dreams.

This stage will be even sweeter.

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