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Winning, losing and then sorrow

Posted Aug 24 2010 2:05pm
I've looked at pictures of Erica Blasberg over the past few months, and I couldn't help but fall into that black hole of stereotypes that define the culture of mental illness.

I asked myself, "How could a woman who looks like that commit suicide?"

When I read the news reports now, I ask, "How could we not see this?"

Nearly four months after the LPGA golfer was found dead in her home, officials declared her death a suicide on Tuesday.

The coroner's office of Clark County, Nevada said Blasberg died of suicide due to asphyxia, coupled with the presence of toxic levels of prescription medication in her system, including prescription headache, cough, pain and anti-anxiety medications, according to news reports.

Erica was a 25-year-old golfer who made more headlines for her looks than her wins. She was a number-one amateur performer whose modeling masked the lack of success she had as a professional.

But it's obvious now that it was her career that mattered more. She never lived up to the sky-high expectations that were set for her. She never fit that role of perfection that was created for her.

Most importantly, she may not have had the people around her that she needed, the kind of people who could have guided her through the disappointments and the troubles that plagued her, and blocked the path to success that eluded her.

Her suffering parents even acknowledged that she recently appeared to turn things around, even as they acknowledged that she had had a year filled with trouble and heartache.

Perhaps it was those troubles that ultimately caused her to wrap a plastic bag around her head, and cause her to suffocate? It's tough to say, and no coroner's report in the world could ever make sense of that.

Perhaps Chris Baldwi n, from the Culture Map website that's based in Houston, was the most qualified observer of them all. In his Tuesday column, he was able to point out the signs that few others were able to see, only because he is not only a fan of sports but also an observer of life.

Chris Baldwin, as his bio tells, worked at traditional newspapers and online publications, covering everything from the World Series to New York City politicians to Justin Timberlake. CultureMap, he says, is a daily digital magazine that presents an "intelligent, provocative, needed voice" on culture.

It was from this place that he crossed paths with Blasberg, at an LPGA event in 2007, when he was able to identify the signs that are too often taken for granted whenever anyone is suffering silently from mental illness.

Here is Baldwin's post
The last time I saw Erica Blasberg , she was in tears on a golf course — and her putter was flying through the air.

This was at the McDonald's LPGA Championship in June 2007, almost three years ago. Even back then, Blasberg often fought the expectations she put on herself, the belief that she should be a star. She'd been a huge one in college — the No. 1 ranked player in the country and the Pac 10 Player of the Year as a freshman, six wins in that year at the University of Arizona, a winning percentage that was in the Tiger Woods' range.

She was absolutely beautiful, the kind of beauty that can put you in the Danica Patrick and Natalie Gulbis crossover discussion in the world of female sports — the kind of beauty that attracts both stalker types and fawning Internet pages.

In some ways, Erica Blasberg came onto the scene as one of women's golf's great hopes.

But it never really happened for her. She turned pro at age 20 and within two years she was scuffling to stay on Tour, going in and out of qualifying school. I didn't follow her at that 2007 LPGA Championship because she was one of the big stories of the week. In fact, it was opposite. For my column, I was looking for a young golfer who'd fallen out of the spotlight to compare to Michelle Wie, who was at the height of her disqualification struggles and right in the red glare.

Blasberg provided good material too — slamming that putter, unsuccessfully trying to hold back the tears of another disappointing day as the sun started to go down in the sky on a plush course outside of Baltimore.

I can't help but think back on that scene as mysterious death of Erica Blasberg at age 25 this week starts looking more and more like a suicide.

It's hard to fathom if you look at it from the outside — after all Blasberg was a fun, beautiful, talented woman with so much life ahead of her. Did it really matter that she probably wasn't going to be a sports star?

You never know what anyone is fighting inside though. You never know when someone is slamming clubs on the ground from Tiger Woods-level competitive fury or from some deeper pain inside. And considering what we've found out about Tiger himself in the last five months, who knows if his legendary outbursts didn't have something behind them too?

It's now come out that Blasberg texted her caddie late on the night before the afternoon she was found dead in her suburban Las Vegas home, suddenly canceling on a golf tournament she was supposed to play in less than 48 hours later with no further explanation. Caddie Missy Pederson, had been hired to carry Blasberg’s bag on Monday. In the wee hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning, Pederson told the New York Times that she received a text message from Blasberg, telling her that the golfer wouldn't be making the trip.

Pederson says that the hour of the text and the strange sudden cancellation concerned her. She sent Blasberg a text message back asking if everything was OK. Pederson never got a reply from Blasberg.

Instead, the young golfer was found dead Sunday afternoon with no apparent signs of trauma.

Blasberg's father told a California newspaper on Sunday that his daughter's death was an apparent suicide, but he's backtracked since then, saying there are too many unanswered questions. And who can blame him? Who wants to even consider that their kid may have taken their own life?

The Las Vegas police say it could take six weeks for the autopsy results to come back.

I didn't know Erica Blasberg very well at all. I probably interviewed her a half dozen times at tournaments back when I worked as a golf writer. Anyone who talked to her couldn't help but be struck by her energy level and her interest in others. She'd ask reporters questions about their lives too. This is one of the reasons Blasberg — a player out of the Top 100 — still did more interviews than many players in the Top 40 of the LPGA's rankings.

People were drawn to her.

Sportswriters routinely made up excuses to interview Blasberg. Her looks had something to do with it — golf writing is still an overwhelmingly male-dominated profession. But she was more than that, even if her hotness seemed to increasingly define her.

Blasberg's beauty helped land her an endorsement contract with Puma when other better, more highly-ranked golfers weren't getting deals (in fact, Puma chose Blasberg as their first golfer endorser). Blasberg's beauty is part of the reason her death has become such a national story — fodder for Nancy Grace and the like.

It's even brought out this absurd argument that Blasberg couldn't have committed suicide because she's so beautiful. As if the better looking are spared from life's problems and pressures.

You never know what's underneath someone's skin.
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