As Myra Blackwelder watched her daughter, Mallory, compete in this week’s 70th U.S. Women’s Open, an idea came to her.
“I saw the money clip that the USGA gives players for its championships, and there’s so much tradition with that,” said Blackwelder, who competed on the LPGA Tour for more than a decade after a decorated amateur career. “Both Mallory and I have them from the [U.S.] Girls’ Junior, the Women’s Amateur and the Women’s Open. I counted 21 in all – eventually we need to put those on display.”
Not right away, because this family’s golf record is far from complete. It might have seemed so in the early 1990s, when Myra abandoned her full-time pursuit of an LPGA Tour career so that her young son, Myles, could begin elementary school.
Consider, though, that this week at Lancaster Country Club, Myra tagged along as Mallory, 28, competed in her second U.S. Women’s Open, with brother Myles, now 30, on her bag. The family involvement didn’t end there – far from it. Husband/father Worth, 61, is caddieing for Kim Kaufman, and Mallory’s husband, Julien Trudeau, had a week off from his caddie duties for PGA Tour player Graham DeLaet and was able to follow his wife at Lancaster.
It is just that dedication to the game that led the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association to name the Blackwelders its Golf Family of the Year in 2014 for their contributions to the game. Although Mallory’s championship ended after 36 holes (she shot 75-74 to miss the cut by five strokes), Kaufman rallied with three late birdies to extend Worth’s week by making the cut on the number (144).
And the 36-hole cut was not a factor in Myra’s continuing efforts on an initiative to create “America’s Golf Team,” an Olympic-style national development program.
Myra was the LPGA Rookie of the Year in 1980 as Myra Van Hoose. After she and Worth were married – a relationship that began as player-caddie – they traveled the LPGA circuit with their young family in a motor home for five years. In 1987, Myra placed 16th in the S&H Golf Classic while seven months pregnant with Mallory, lending further credence to Worth’s comment that “Mallory was around the game all the time.”
Mallory followed in her mother’s footsteps by qualifying for U.S. Girls’ Juniors and Women’s Amateurs, and enjoyed two standout years at the University of Florida. She transferred to Kentucky the summer after her sophomore year, when Myra was named the women’s coach at her alma mater. Worth shook his head and chuckled when recalling how the move was facilitated.
“Mallory was playing in the Women’s Amateur, and Dottie Pepper and Steve Melnyk were the TV commentators,” said Worth, who began his caddieing career in 1976 with Hall of Fame player Chi Chi Rodriguez and went on to tote for Pepper, Patty Sheehan, Juli Inkster and Cristie Kerr, all major champions. “Mallory wanted to stay at Florida, but she didn’t want to play against her mother. So Dottie, who has never been at a loss for words, says on the air, ‘Her father used to be my caddie, and we really feel like they ought to grant her an exemption to play for her mother.’ And Steve, a Florida grad, calls on Jeremy Foley, the Florida AD, to let her go.”
Myra played in her final Women’s Open in 1989 at Indianwood in Lake Orion, Mich., and although she competed part-time for several more years, teaching the game became her avocation. Under her tutelage, Mallory qualified for the LPGA Tour in 2010, making them the first mother-daughter tandem in Tour history. Injuries that included elbow surgery and a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis have hindered Mallory’s career, which also included a stint on the Ladies European Tour. She regained her Tour card with a solid 2014 on the developmental Symetra Tour, but has made just one cut this year.
“I’m just making too many mistakes,” said Mallory after recording two birdies against 11 bogeys in her 36 holes at Lancaster. “That’s kind of how I’ve been playing all year. I’m just making too many unforced errors and not taking advantage of opportunities. I need something to turn it around.”
Mallory got into the field on Monday as a sectional-qualifying alternate, and flew to Pennsylvania from Iowa, where she had played that day in Zach Johnson’s pro-am event. She crammed to learn the course with her brother, who began caddieing for her in May at the Kingsmill Championship in Virginia, having previously caddied for English professional Jodi Ewart Shadoff, among others.
Myra played in two Women’s Opens as a collegian, at Hazeltine National in 1977 and the Country Club of Indianapolis in 1978.
“What’s so cool about this championship is that you have a blend of junior golfers, college golfers, young professionals and world-class pro golfers,” said Myra, who founded a golf academy in 2010 after leaving the Kentucky program. “It’s a huge opportunity for players to test their game against the best players in the world. Being able to compete in those events made me understand that I could compete on the LPGA Tour.”
For the past five years, Myra has worked on creating a national player development program
“It would be an Olympic pathway,” she said. “We have an advisory board of golf instructors and professionals. Our goal is to raise money for scholarships for training, while making sure to stay within bounds of amateur status. At the end of the day, we want to pick the best players, and not have it be such an elite game anymore.”
Blackwelder is quick to note that the organization would not compete with current programs such as LPGA-USGA Girls Golf. She pointed instead to national programs that have elevated the game in Canada, Sweden, Ireland, France and Australia, among others.
“Everyone’s doing it but us,” Blackwelder said. “What we did was study what the rest of the world was doing, then try to scale it to the United States, because we’re so big. We want to introduce the game to youngsters, have them train and compete, then try out for a select team in their state.”
Meanwhile, the Tour life continues for the rest of the Blackwelder family. Julien and Mallory met on the Golf Channel reality-competition series “Big Break Ireland” in 2011.
“We weren’t there to try to find a significant other,” Mallory said in a 2013 interview. “I was there to play golf. It wasn’t like I looked at him and thought, he’s the one.”
Not long after the show ended, with Trudeau finishing as runner-up in the competition, he became Mallory’s caddie. Like mother like daughter, she ended up getting engaged to her caddie, and they were married last September. Julien now works for DeLaet, who has earned more than $8 million in five-plus seasons on the PGA Tour, including a fourth-place finish two weeks ago in Hartford, Conn., which landed him a spot in next week’s British Open.
After Worth and Kaufman complete their weekend at Lancaster – a working relationship that was facilitated by none other than Hall of Fame player Nancy Lopez – the family will scatter to various points, bound as always by the pursuit of a little white ball.
“Sometimes I feel like an air traffic controller when people ask me where my family is,” said Myra in an interview last year.
“I’ve seen how my parents made it work,” Mallory said in 2013. “I joke around with them, like, why did you let me do this? There aren’t too many families as into pro golf as we are.”
There is no doubting that.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.