Wednesday, May 6, Greeneville, South Carolina
A wash of lightheadedness hit me as I walked off the eighteenth green. The flush of heat and sweat that followed left me clammy and tense.
But we’d all suffered this week with the early season heat wave. Besides, I’d been edgy lately anyway. This damn day meant too much. Every one of us—veterans, rookies, and amateurs—wanted to qualify for the US Open. Desperately wanted to qualify. It’s only the most prestigious tournament in women’s golf. Solid middle of the pack professional golfers who earn money every week on the tour have nightmares about missing the cut in a qualifying round and losing their place to an unknown who has one great day. No one wants to hover at the bubble—where I was right now—waiting for the other players to finish their rounds and find out whether you’ll be facing a sudden-death playoff for one of the last three spots.
The group playing in front of us hadn’t helped. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about anyone else’s performance. Play one shot at a time and all that good mental hoo-ha. But all morning we’d watched the gallery swell ahead of us. And had to back off our balls when we heard their roars—the kind of noise a crowd makes when a hot player is racking up birdies and eagles and heading for a record round.
Dizzy made sense under the circumstances.
Today I’d been paired with a skinny seventeen-year-old who’d competed in enough junior golf to know her 85 stood no chance. We dragged into the blue-and-white striped scoring tent that had been set up just off the eighteenth green.
I handed the girl her scorecard and patted her bony back. “Tough day out there.” Her eyes filled with tears.
I slumped into a folding metal chair to check my own numbers, sign my name, and wait. The pencil trembled in my fingers. I took a deep breath, grimaced a pseudo-smile at the official waiting for my card, and tried again. My hand only shook harder and I could feel the sweat beading on my forehead. I supported my right wrist with my left hand, scribbled my signature, and stumbled out into the bright sun. A horde of reporters blocked the way to the clubhouse.
“Congratulations Amber!” one deep voice called out. “Can you take us through the highlights of your round?”
I recognized the player in the crowd’s center—a slight girl with coffee-colored skin and a long braid: Amber Clancy. She’s golf guru Lucien Beccia’s most recent rising star. Shooting star is more like it—he’ll have to hold on for his life if she keeps the pace she’s on. Amber, a college freshman out of Arizona with intentions to turn pro in the future some day, alienated half the women’s golf world this year by comparing herself to Ernie Els and Tiger Woods. (Female stars aren’t good enough?) Her father, an African-American man with an Indian wife and a chip on his shoulder the size of Plymouth Rock, was even worse. Thing is, Amber probably will make history. But let’s see a few years of golf before voting her into the Hall of Fame.
Two reporters broke off from the outer fringes of the mob and headed my way.
“Miss Burdette, are you planning to accept the offer to play in the PGA’s Buick Championship?” A fellow in an Atlanta Braves cap and a striped polo reached toward me with a small, portable tape recorder. Then he laughed. “And a follow-up to that question, please: did you find any dead bodies out on the course today?”
“Cassie! What’s your game plan for a play-off for the final position if it’s needed?” This man stood short and squat, his pen poised above his notebook.
“Sorry guys. I’m not feeling so great.”
I turned and bolted toward the clubhouse. My heart banged against my chest and I gasped for air. Then I was choking and grabbing at the pain that gripped my heart and squeezed. A heart attack, I was sure of it.
Unusual for a healthy woman in her twenties, tried my logical mind. I ran past the security guard, flashing my LPGA badge, and burst into the locker room. Two women on the bench in front of a row of lockers were talking about dinner menus. The mention of seafood made me instantly queasy and I ran for the toilet, slammed the door closed, and threw the bolt.
Pushing down a wave of nausea, I lowered the seat cover, sat, and leaned sideways to rest my head on the cool metal of the stall. I tried to breathe, forcing air into my lungs. I pictured a pink balloon rising softly as the good air flowed in. But the sharp pain in my chest started up again and began to spread down one arm. I dropped my head to my knees, dizzy and sick and scared. This was it. I knew it.
“Cassie?” Fingernails tapped on the metal door. “Cassie, are you okay?”
“Not really,” I croaked, slumping to the floor. “I think I might be having a heart attack.”
“Oh my god! Stay right there—I’m calling 911!”
Julie Nothstine, a sophomore year golfer who’d made four cuts already this year, held my hand in the back of the ambulance all the way to the hospital. She kept up a steady calming stream of chatter, stories about her little brother, a shopping trip she’d taken for new shoes, a recipe for her grandmother’s cake that she’d made to impress a former boyfriend. It hadn’t risen and he’d asked for maple syrup, thinking she was serving some sort of pancake.
I didn’t mind. As long as I could hear Julie’s voice, I wasn’t dead yet. Then she sat in the waiting area for two hours along with her caddie, Jason, and my best friend and caddie Laura, while hospital personnel tested me from head to toe.
Physically, I was fine. The psychiatric resident they called in to consult suggested that mentally, I might need some work.
“Panic attack,” he announced. “Your symptoms are classic: heart palpitations, sweating, choking, trembling. And the feeling that you were dying or”—he set his clipboard on the counter and made quotation marks in the air with his fingers—“going crazy.”
Quite the bedside manner on this bozo.
“No way,” I said. “My symptoms were classic heart attack.”
“People say it feels like that. I’m sure it’s very uncomfortable.” He squeezed my shoulder and adjusted the stethoscope that hung around his neck. “But you’re a fine physical specimen. Now let’s talk about follow-up. There are new medications that are quite useful for some patients with this condition. I’m going to recommend a clinician who can monitor the meds and work with you on some cognitive behavioral adjustments. We’ll have you back on that golf course in no time.” He gave me another reassuring pinch and turned to reach across the desk and pull out a directory from a shelf along the wall. “What town did you say you lived in?”
“I already have a shrink.” I dug through my wallet, found a dog-eared business card, and presented it to the resident. “I’ll call him when I get back home and set something up.”
The resident scribbled Dr. Baxter’s particulars on my chart and handed me a release form. “Sign here and we’ll send him the test results.”
He put the chart down on the desk and crossed his arms over his chest, looking worried. His scalp glowed pink through carefully arranged strands of blond hair.
“Perfect.” I signed the paper and slid off the examining table before he could change his mind.
Julie, Laura, and Jason stood when I emerged into the waiting area.
The two women rushed over.
“Are you okay?” asked Julie.
Laura pushed past Julie to hug me. “What did they find out?”
“Anxiety.” I rolled my eyes. “How embarrassing is that? I feel terrible that you guys waited so long.”
“Nothing would have ruined this one’s day,” said Jason, punching Julie’s arm lightly.
Julie grinned. “We both made the cut. We’re going to play in the US Open, girlfriend. Mount Holyoke College here we come!” she crowed. Then she picked me up and whirled me around the reception desk.
My heart felt a thousand pounds lighter than when they’d wheeled me in.