2016-06-22 / World News

Israeli pro golfer Laetitia Beck looking toward Rio Olympics

By ART WOLK For the Voice

Laetitia Beck at the Seaview Course in Galloway, New Jersey, site of the annual ShopRite LPGA Classic. Photo by Art Wolk. Laetitia Beck at the Seaview Course in Galloway, New Jersey, site of the annual ShopRite LPGA Classic. Photo by Art Wolk. This summer you’ll be able to watch not only the U.S. team vying for Olympic gold medals, but also more than two dozen Israeli athletes. One Israeli athlete in particular should be familiar to you, but probably is not.

He name is Laetitia (pronounced La-tee-see-ah) Beck; and, at 24, she’s the first Israeli golfer good enough to play on either the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) or men’s PGA tour.

You rarely encounter a Jewish player on the LPGA or PGA tour, which may be why there are only two golfers in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. But having one from Israel is somewhat unbelievable because there’s only one 18-hole golf course in the entire country.

I recently talked with Beck during a practice round before the annual ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, New Jersey.

Laetitia Beck showing perfect form at the Shoprite LPGA Classic. 
Photo by Art Wolk. Laetitia Beck showing perfect form at the Shoprite LPGA Classic. Photo by Art Wolk. Beck said she lived in Belgium until she was six. Then she, her three siblings, and Zionist parents (her mother’s parents were Auschwitz survivors) moved to Israel.

For the next eight years, she lived within walking distance of the course in Caesarea. Beck started playing golf at seven years old, and soon showed considerable talent. By itself, this wasn’t surprising, because she’s always been an incredible athlete who excelled at soccer, running, and tennis.

Then why golf?

When Beck was 12, she won the Israeli Women’s Golf Championship; then did it again and again. At face value, this doesn’t seem earth shattering, because of the lone Israeli golf course. But as a former assistant golf professional at Wilmington Country Club, I can tell you that no 12-year-old could have won the women’s club championship. There were simply too many talented adult golfers. And the same is true at virtually all golf clubs.

Still, every so often child prodigies like Tiger Woods or Michelle Wie come along.

But Beck did something neither of them had to do: To advance her skills, she left home at age 14 to attend high school at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, along with other teen athletes.

Just think of yourself at 14 and how you would have handled going 6,600 miles away by yourself for four years.

What that takes is inner fortitude, confidence, hard work, and a good measure of control over your emotions—the exact attributes needed to succeed in golf. You simply won’t get very far if you throw expensive clubs into a pond after bad shots. No one is allowed more than 14 clubs in the bag.

After high school, she earned a golf scholarship to Duke University. Beck was an All-American twice and part of Duke’s 2014 NCAA Championship team.

That fall she entered the LPGA Qualifying Tournament and earned her 2015 tour card. Beck wasn’t one of the top-80 money winners at the end of 2015, so she went back to the Qualifying Tournament and again earned her card.

This year she’s doing much better. As of late May, she was in 82nd place on the money list.

So where does Beck live in America?

Simply put, she told me, “everywhere.”

Each year there are 35 LPGA tournaments, mainly in the United States, but also around the world. Beck has neither an apartment nor a house, so she relies on host families at every tournament site. She handles everything required to live the nomadic lifestyle that takes her to tournaments from here to Australia and back.

Beck keeps kosher on tour, and feels that she represents not just Israel, but Jews everywhere. Her golf bag has an Israeli flag on it, and Stars of David adorn her clothing accessories. She doesn’t consider herself religious; her Judaism is more cultural. But there’s a burning pride in being an Israeli.

What’s occupying her thoughts most this year is Rio de Janeiro. Golf is an Olympic sport for the first time since 1904, and Beck is thrilled to be part of the Israeli team.

If you asked her whether she’d rather be awarded an LPGA trophy or a gold medal, I’m sure she’d choose the medal around her neck while Hatikvah plays on a loudspeaker.

And I’m not so sure she’d be able to control her emotions at that point. s

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