The game brought the two together. A golfer at the University of Southern California and a golfer from the University of Arizona, becoming buddies as they competed through the ranks of high school and college and then professional.
Irene Cho was Erica Blasberg's best friend, an incredible golfer who I've been lucky enough to spend some time around. With the news that Erica passed away on Sunday night, it has been as tough a week for Irene as just about anyone outside the family. She's been bombarded with questions from reporters and friends. She's been consoled by nearly everyone on the LPGA. Her caddie, Missy Pederson, a former collegiate basketball player and Futures Tour player, was supposed to carry the bag for Erica as she attempted to Monday qualify for the Bell Micro LPGA Classic.
Golf was the last thing on Irene's mind heading into Thursday, especially after a memorial service was held for the players on Wednesday night. But, as is often the case with tragedy, real life intervenes, and you have to get back to the grind.
Irene told me Thursday after her round, "I wanted to keep it lighthearted and less serious. I have no pressure. This whole day, I hit the ball really good and I just didn't make any putts, but I never got frustrated. When I started making putts I thought, `Oh cool, it went in.'"
Irene was the first off Thursday, and put together a round that honored her friend in the best way. She shot a 3-under 69 and is currently in second place at the LPGA event in Mobile, Alabama.
Irene said her caddie and friend Missy, "has helped me so much through this. She is almost like a mentor. She knows a lot, she's a great friend besides a caddie."
Before the round, Missy told Irene that Erica would want her to "play your heart out." Irene said every time she made a birdie on Thursday (she made four, including three in her last four holes) she would kiss the pink bracelet Puma sent out to the players with the letters "EB" printed on it.
"I made my last couple of birdies and I was like, "Finally, Erica!" Cho said. "My group was awesome. [Azahara Munoz and Stephanie Louden] are two of the nicest people I've ever played with in my life."
"I have no pressure. With golf, I'm taking it one day at a time, because there are a lot worse things in life. I'm thankful to be out here and thankful to be playing and thankful for all these people that care about me and Erica and that's what I'm focusing on, not 'Oh man, why did I hit that shot.'"
If there was ever an award for a first-round performance, Cho deserves it. She could have taken this tournament off to go mourn the loss of her best friend and everyone in the world would have understood. But Irene wanted to play this week in honor of Erica.
She did that better than anyone could have imagined. Great round, Irene. We're all very proud of you.