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Many questions, but few answers, in wake of golfer Erica Blasberg's death

Police remain tight-lipped about their investigation, and family and friends are confused.

May 15, 2010|By David Wharton

Reporting from Henderson, Nev. — No one denies that Erica Blasberg had fallen on hard times.

The golf swing she had constructed over so many years — not exactly powerful, but reliable — had gone south on her.

Once considered a rising star on the LPGA Tour, a Southern California girl made for endorsements, Blasberg was playing on limited status and looking at a 2010 season filled with Monday qualifiers, scratching to make the field each week.

So last week's shocking news, Blasberg found dead under mysterious circumstances in her home just south of Las Vegas, was bound to stir rumors.

Police remain tight-lipped about the 911 call they received from inside the house that day. They won't call it a murder case or an accident or anything else.

"It's a death investigation," said Keith Paul, a Henderson Police Department spokesman. "Someone died and we're trying to determine what happened."

Much of the speculation has focused on suicide, this notion fueled by a published quote picked up by a wire service from Blasberg's father, who was also her coach, suggesting that it looked as if she had killed herself. He has since claimed that he was misquoted.

"None of it makes sense," Mel Blasberg said. "There were no prescription drugs there. She might have drunk, but there was nothing to suggest that a 25-year-old in perfect shape should have died."

A coroner's toxicology report could provide some answers, but that is more than a month away. For now, with a memorial planned in Blasberg's hometown of Corona this week, there are only questions.

::

It was the start of a new year, and Cassandra Kirkland wanted to see her former college teammate.

Flying over from France, she spent two weeks with Blasberg. They joked and laughed like old times at Arizona. Blasberg talked about joining Kirkland for a few tournaments on the Ladies European Tour.

"We just thought it would be great and would allow us to enjoy some time together," Kirkland said by e-mail from a tournament in Germany. "She always knew she had an open invitation to stay with me."

This is what confuses family and friends: Blasberg seemed to have turned a corner.

She had qualified for an LPGA event in Mexico and seemed happier after shooting a final-round 70 on May 2 and finishing tied for 44th. Less than 72 hours before her death, she spent time with her father in Nevada.

The director of instruction at Eagle Glen Golf Club in Corona, Mel can be stern and readily acknowledges that he and his daughter had a few blow-ups over the years.

Yet people say his toughness rubbed off on Erica, and when they practiced at a private club near her home two weeks ago, she showed that feistiness.

"It was the Erica of old," he said. "She was working even harder, getting her body even stronger."

By the time he left on a Thursday, Erica had already packed for the Monday qualifier at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala. She had arranged for caddie Missy Pederson to work her bag.

"She can be sick, dragging a leg, her eye falling out. Nothing ever stopped her from playing," Mel said.

But sometime in the middle of the night Saturday, Blasberg texted Pederson to say she wasn't coming, the caddie told the New York Times. Pederson, who did not see the text message until Sunday, asked if everything was all right and received no answer.

About 3 p.m. that day, Henderson police were summoned to Blasberg's two-story home in a development marked by stucco and red-tile roofs.

They will not say who called, man or woman. The 911 tape is being withheld as evidence.

::

The telephone rang at Greg Allen's house, a friend calling with bad news. Allen walked over to his wife and hugged her.

"It was just shock," he said. "We said a little prayer, hoping it wasn't true."

The former Arizona coach, now at Vanderbilt, cannot reconcile Blasberg's death with memories of the highly touted freshman who joined his team in 2002.

On the first day of workouts, a trainer asked the players to loosen up with an exercise that involved skipping. There was a problem.

"Erica didn't know how to skip," Allen said. "She stumbled. She might have even fallen."

Now, shift forward to a college tournament early in her career. Allen told his team to come before sunrise for a pregame breakfast.

When Blasberg arrived the next morning, the club gates were locked, which didn't make sense. Then she looked at her watch. It was 2 a.m.

"I don't know how she did that. She got up [too early] and put a bow in her hair, put on her makeup and her uniform," Allen said. "She couldn't wait to come back to the golf course later and tell us."

The coach was learning something about his new player.

A fiery competitor who would leave school early after two All-American seasons, Blasberg never took herself seriously off the course, quick to laugh at her own foibles. She did not mind that everyone called her "Skip."

Also, on that February day, she shot a 68 to win the tournament.

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