PHOENIX – While the South Koreans duke it out over the next four months for Olympic qualifying – a top-10 world ranking doesn’t even guarantee a spot – Laetitia Beck need not look over her shoulder. She’s the first and only female professional golfer from Israel. There’s one male, Asaf Cohen, but he’s not a member of any tour, nor does he compete outside the country.
Beck, who helped Duke win the 2014 NCAA title and then graduated with a degree in psychology, is making her debut at the JTBC Founders Cup after being third alternate in 2015. She grew up on the only 18-hole course in Israel, Caesarea Golf Club. (There’s also a nine-hole track.) She’ll be part of a small contingent of Israeli athletes, roughly several dozen, who travel to Rio in August.
“Hopefully by playing golf, I can show people something else about Israel, other than what they hear about on TV and (in) newspaper(s),” she said.
“I am here to show another side.”
Beck, 24, played every sport should could as a young girl – golf, tennis, basketball, soccer – before dropping them all to concentrate on golf at age 12. Because it takes a plane ride to Europe to find competition, Beck came to the IMG Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla., at age 14.
There were only two girls who played golf alongside a young Beck in Israel, but not at the same time. Now there are 10 who take part in an academy at her course.
Perhaps the Olympic recognition will even spark more interest in her country, though she concedes it won’t be easy nor cheap.
“You have to invest,” Beck said.
When it comes to golf, Israel’s Olympic Federation understandably has limited knowledge.
“Zero,” Beck said.
They need the golf federation to help, but it’s all new to them as well. Thus a lot of questions fall on the slender shoulders of Beck, who became the first Israeli to compete on the LPGA as a rookie last year. She played in 14 events and made eight cuts, her best finish being a tie for 19th at the Manulife LPGA Classic.
Beck, who has three siblings, including a twin sister, will be away from Israel for eight months as she travels the globe this season. She doesn’t get asked too many questions about life back home from others on tour. Some, she says, couldn’t find Israel on a map.
While her home of Caesarea is safe, Beck keeps up with what’s happening elsewhere. Just a few weeks ago, her older sister, Liora, was nearby when a stabbing took place in Tel Aviv. Beck said it was a terrorist attack.
“It happens,” she said. “You have to be aware of your surroundings all the time.”
And with that, Beck carried on down the 10th hole of Wildfire Golf Club, a world away from her Middle Eastern roots.
Poised to represent a nation.