Erica Blasberg is dead and all but buried — with her father’s initial statement to a newspaper, her own text and deteriorating diary entries and lack of visible trauma all pointing toward suicide. It seems that Blasberg, a beautiful, talented, much-loved 25-year-old on the LPGA Tour, couldn’t handle not being the golf star she thought she should be. Meanwhile, arguably the most successful golfer of all time, Tiger Woods, faces the spectacular unraveling of a carefully-constructed life — his marriage, his reputation, his golf game all in various states of chaos.
There’s no comparing the tragic death of a young woman, of course, with the serial adultery of a sports fake. Except maybe when it comes to the pressures of golf, and the unrelenting toll of this cruelest of sports.
It sounds laughable at first blush.
Surely, the body-crushing physical demands of the NFL — combined with the average pro football player’s career lasting as long as reality TV star fame — make football the king of mental pain, too. Maybe not.
Consider that in golf, there truly is no safety net, no teammate or coach to blame (not that Tiger hasn’t tried with Hank Haney). It’s really just the golfer, that little white ball and oodles of time to think.
That alone differentiates golf from even other individual competitor sports, such as tennis, track or swimming. In those sports, it’s still a reactions game.
You either return Roger Federer’s serve or you don’t. You either get out of the blocks cleanly or you don’t. There is no time to agonize over every decision. And in golf, there is nothing but time.
Line up a putt and think about it. Miss and think about it some more. Pros are on the course for almost five hours a round — time mostly spent in their own heads. Is it any wonder that some of them have trouble getting out of that cranium when they’re off the course?
I watched Erica Blasberg throw her putter with a fury the old Tiger would appreciate and break into tears in the middle of a round at the 2007 LPGA Championship. Like many golfers outside the spotlight, Blasberg battled herself just as much as she fought the course.
When you win six times in 20 college tournaments (a Tiger-level clip), when you earn Pac-10 Player of the Year honors as a freshman, when you’re as beautiful as Blasberg was (Puma clearly thought of her as the next Natalie Gulbis when it signed Blasberg as its first-ever golf endorser), you’re not supposed to struggle to stay on Tour.
Only, that turned into Blasberg’s life.
Maybe Donald Trump is right after all. No, not about the Miss USA Pageant revolutionizing lingerie. Trump is the one who blamed golf for Tiger’s transgressions — and was largely lambasted for it. “I really think that there’s tremendous pressure you wouldn’t understand from the world of golf,” Trump said.
Athletes in other sports aren’t immune to the shame of coming up short. But golf seems to bring another level of burden. Heck, weekend hackers have been known to get so unnerved by the game they have to give it up. It’s the stuff of comedy bits. When a 25-year-old is getting fitted for a coffin, any laughs disappear fast.
– Chris Baldwin covers the sports media for Metro
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