Betsy King will be at U.S. Senior Women's Open on a mission, but not to play

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Betsy King will be at U.S. Senior Women's Open on a mission, but not to play

USGA

Betsy King will be at U.S. Senior Women's Open on a mission, but not to play

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At 6 a.m. on Good Friday, Betsy King drove herself to the hospital in Phoenix. She’d Googled her symptoms – upset stomach, flu-like conditions, the right side of her body sore to the touch.

“I couldn’t even remember what side the appendix was on,” she said.

By 1 p.m. that same day, the 63-year-old was having an emergency appendectomy.

“Are you a golfer?” she asked the surgeon.

Turns out the doctor had just returned from the Masters with his son. He pulled up pictures with Tiger Woods. King, a humble woman by any measure, wanted to play the golfer card before she went on the operating table and who can blame her? There’s so much work left to be done.

King’s legal name – Mary-Beth Cameron King – means that in these types of situations people often don’t have a clue that she’s an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer.

“I was named after two aunts,” she explained.

Surgery went well, but King’s plans to make the U.S. Senior Women’s Open May 16-19 her farewell to competition went bust. The doctor said she couldn’t hit balls for a month or lift anything over four pounds.

Raising millions

King’s LPGA career had ended abruptly as well in 2005, when she left the tour to care for her ailing parents.

The next year King went on her first trip to Africa with World Vision, and her life was never the same.

“When I first became a Christian, I kind of said ‘Gosh, am I going to have to go to Africa and become a missionary?’ ” King recalled. “That was in 1980.”

As King’s faith grew, she came to understand that trips to Africa aren’t part of everyone’s calling. It took 25 years before she realized how much they would become part of hers.

Later this year King will make her 23rd trek to Africa. She has raised more than $11 million through her charity, Golf Fore Africa, and is in the midst of a $10 million commitment over a five-year period. This year alone she’s on track to give $2.5 million to World Vision to help bring clean water to Zambia.

“There are a lot of athletes who struggle post-career about what’s next,” said Katherine Kirk. “Betsy never for one moment thought twice about what she was going to do. She just jumped headfirst into making a difference in people’s lives.”

Kirk was in a bible study with King and Lorena Ochoa her rookie year on the LPGA. When King went to Africa, Kirk said, she came back a different person.

Two years later, Kirk had to see it for herself and eventually wound up sitting on the Golf Fore Africa board with her husband Tom.

‘Look beyond yourself’

What King always admired about Ochoa was that she didn’t wait until retirement to jump into charity work. In the U.S., King enjoys talking to young players about finding their purpose.

Even college golf teams have raised money to build mechanized wells in Africa.

“People are going out of their way to meet your needs,” King tells collegians. “You need to be able to look beyond yourself.”

Esther Choe, a former can’t-miss kid who has counted King as a mentor since high school, traveled to Kenya and Rwanda with Golf Fore Africa in 2012.

“That kind of rocked my world,” she said.

It wasn’t long after that Choe was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, an autoimmune disease that attacked her muscles. She was out from competitive golf for a year. Choe tried to rebuild but found that her heart wasn’t into it.

Truth be told, a piece of her heart was still in Africa.

Betsy King, Katherine Kirk, Tom Kirk, Sara King and John King at a borehole site in Mwalumina village, where a well was drilled.

Choe recently graduated from college with a degree in global studies and is currently interning with King’s foundation. She’s never been happier.

“As great as (Betsy’s career) was, what she’s doing now,” said Choe, “she’s literally providing water to almost every Zambian. It’s pretty cool impacting change on a whole country.”

Delivering hope

King will still be at Pine Needles next week raising money for Africa. She has a wine fundraising dinner on Monday night and a clinic –featuring the likes of Laura Davies, Liselotte Neumann, Jane Crafter and Donna Andrews – scheduled for Wednesday across the street at Mid Pines.

King won 34 times on the LPGA, including six majors, and was a three-time LPGA Player of the Year. All that success led her to downsize her home in retirement and personally pledge $1.3 million to help reach the $10 million goal.

King will never forget the woman living with HIV she met on that first trip to Rwanda whom believed that three of her five children were stricken with the virus. She was cooking one egg for the entire family that day.

It was then King learned that the average African ate five meals a week.

King went back to that village one year later to find that the woman was not only still alive but had put on weight and had become a volunteer caregiver. Her children all tested negative for HIV.

King didn’t just file that story in her memory bank and carry on with a comfortable life in the U.S. She became part of the solution.

“I think the word is hope,” King said of what her foundation delivers.

King won’t get that final moment at Pine Needles to bid farewell to a decorated career from inside the ropes.

But she will leave Pine Needles with funds that will change lives.

That’s the ultimate legacy of her career – King of hope.


   

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