Lori Atsedes, the veteran of the 10 professional golfers competing in this weekend’s Northwestern Mutual Lady Pro-Am at Lawrence Country Club, sent a gentle reminder Saturday in the direction of the four LCC members on her team as she walked off the second green.
“I’ve played Oakmont,” she said, “I’ve played Augusta, I’ve played golf in 19 countries. You guys have no idea how lucky you are to have this golf course. Greens make courses, and these greens are great.”
Atsedes, raised in Ithaca, N.Y., played five years on the LPGA Tour, now competes in Senior Tour events and is a teaching pro. She qualified for the Wegman’s LPGA Championship (June 7-10), a major, at Locust Hill in Rochester, N.Y., her birthplace. She figured this would be the perfect tune-up because the greens remind her of the ones on which the best players in the world will putt next week.
Atsedes shot a 73 and is tied for second with LCC pro Kristen Samp in the event that concludes with today’s second round, two shots off the pace set by Nicole Smith of the Futures Tour. Smith is a star on the Golf Channel’s popular reality show “Big Break (Ireland).” Atsedes has been on the “Big Break” in two different seasons.
“You can’t overpower this golf course,” Atsedes said. “You have to have artistry. You have to have game. The girls now come out of college stacked, strong, straight up and down, hitting it far, but when they have to shape a shot, or when they have to figure out how to caress a shot, or play a 14-foot, breaking putt, they can’t do it. They don’t have that creative mind. It’s just being lost.”
The slick, undulating greens that don’t hold shots easily demand creativity, a factor in why Atsedes so deeply appreciates LCC.
“You have an incredible golf course,” she said. “I’d love to see a group of high-ranked LPGA players play here in the spring from the tips, when the rough is up and the greens are fast, see what they can do.”
Atsedes didn’t travel a conventional path to TV stardom. At 13 she expressed an interest in learning to play golf. Her father was a well known amateur competitor in upstate New York. He said he wouldn’t teach and would only play with her if she hit the ball in the air.
“I figured out when I hit down, the ball went up, so I told him I was ready to play with him,” she said. “… I was a bad kid, and at 18 I got shipped off to Florida to live with another family for a short period of time.”
She got a job at a golf course in Florida and then became a chef at The Outback. A man from Ithaca who owned a golf course in Orlando told her she could practice there if she moved to Orlando.
“He didn’t tell me I had to work at the golf course to get to practice there,” she said. “So I was a chef at the golf course, so I could practice there, and I was a chef at The Outback so I could play on the mini-tour (which requires entry fees to play). So I would cook all night until 3 in the morning and then go play the mini-tour (events) at 8.”
Another pro convinced her to try the Futures Tour, which required a $2,000 buy-in. Four backers pooled $500 apiece, and she was in. Still, each week she had to pay $300 to get in the tournaments. So in order to keep making it to the next tournament she had to make money. How’s that for pressure? She was up to the task. She would have a member of the host family — that often is how Futures Tour players can afford to travel, by staying with a family that volunteers a bed — take her winnings check to the bank and cash it and would put the money in her briefcase.
After a few years of that, she became an LPGA rookie at the age of 34.
The limited Senior Tour schedule has enabled her to reunite with some of the sport’s biggest names, including Nancy Lopez.
“I put on Facebook last year, ‘How great is my life? I dreamed of beating Nancy Lopez on tour, and now I’m having dinner with her, and she’s telling me about her sex life.’ Really, I have a great life,” Atsedes said.
By winning her first LPGA teaching division tournament, she qualified for the Wegman’s LPGA Championship.
“Locust Hill is a lot like this course,” she said. “Up, down, funky-greens kind of golf course. I really want to play well. I don’t want to be the teaching pro that finishes last. I want to play well. Plus, I’m from there. My brother’s caddying. My whole family’s going to be there.”
Some Lawrence golfers will be there for her in spirit as well. It’s easy to root for golfers who had to earn their way to the big-time.