1994. Poway, California. Less than 20 miles from both Torrey Pines and the Miramar Naval "Top Gun" Aviation Fighter school...but then again...distances can be deceiving.
The popular Hamburger Factory hummed as the family cleaned and prepped for the next onslaught of customers. Despite the restaurant's success, as with any new venture, most of the profits were poured back into the business. The owners, first generation American, Guiseppe (known as Zip) and Lisa Lucidi needed to talk with fourteen-year-old Becky. She was the youngest of their four children. Three older brothers. Four college tuitions is a lot of money. "Becky you are a great athlete and smart. Between softball, basketball and soccer which would be the most likely to get a scholarship and have a future in the sport?"
As anyone who has ever coached youth sports will attest, always draft girls with older siblings. They are faster, stronger, and tougher. Title Nine was in the news. An athletic scholarship seemed difficult but logical. But what sport?
“How about golf?”
As they sat at that table, what should have been going through their minds? Let’s break this down.
“We are from San Diego? Top Gun is nearby, maybe she could go to Annapolis then become a naval fighter pilot? Instead, their brains went ten miles further to Torrey Pines and golf.
The math says it is easier to become a pilot. A lot easier. The Navy admits about 1000 new pilots each year. In contrast, at the time, only about 300 freshman girls got a golf scholarship and about half of them came from other countries. This was Mission Impossible. Yes, I intentionally mixed Tom Cruise movie metaphors.
You might even ask yourself, “But Becky hadn’t flown a plane, had she? Did I miss something at the beginning of this story?” No. You didn’t miss anything. She had never flown a plane. Here’s the kicker...she had also never played golf. Not a typo. So, to get this straight...this family was building a plan to get a golf scholarship in less than four years for a person who didn’t play one of the hardest sports to learn.
Let me ask you. From the moment you started playing, when did you break 90? How about 80? How about 75? Did you hole every putt? Move your ball? Take a mulligan? For this family getting Becky a golf scholarship from a standing start in ninth grade was a triumph of hope over experience or analysis.
Let’s examine a few other obstacles...not that she needs them.
Her high school didn’t have a girl’s golf team. Hmmm... that’s a problem. Her father Zip, and his five first generation American brothers had been Marines. Tell them something can’t be done. See how they react. That will be entertaining. Oorah!
And if we need to make this more difficult, just like learning to flying a jet, golf requires lessons and expensive equipment. For Becky Lucidi, the asset column was long on grit, determination, and drive. Money for lessons, tee times and equipment? That stacked up in the liabilities column.
Had to get creative.
People at golf courses eat, right? They offered to trade food for tee times and lessons at the local executive course (3 nine hole tracks). If I were a teaching pro, I’d love to teach a hardworking kid and then go eat for free at the Hamburger Factory. My doctor might not like the effects on my cholesterol. Onion rings are a vegetable, right? The now full-bellied local golf club provided all the access she needed.
Her instructor taught her to swing hard and hit down. She was strong. From the beginning, she compressed the ball and created a low, boring flight better suited for a Scottish links than target golf on a U.S. course. Almost every day she took a shag bag to a local park and hit wedges to designated trees. She knew the exact distance to each one. This was Dave Pelz before Dave Pelz. She tried out for the high school boys’ team. Played from the Men’s tees.
She made it.
Her older brother Joey was on the team as well. He would occasionally spend the night in his car to get a tee time at Torrey Pines. Zip Lucidi believed in Title Nine, but not in having his 14-year-old girl sleep in a car of a parking lot with older boys. I’m with you Zip.
After one year of playing golf, Becky was ready to leave her muni and play against the top girls in The California Girls State Championship. Bring it on.
It was a long day.
123…123…123…trancelike, she numbly thought...123...
The number crashed around in her head like a demolition derby car.
She and the leaders each hit 14 drives, but Becky added a lifetime supply of bunker shots, chips and putts. Embarrassed. Likely. Despondent? For sure. Fiery and Determined? Even more so.
Recapping that round many years later, she recalled, “Counted every stroke even when it was hard to keep track. Kept playing hard.’ Even as the numbers climbed higher than a Dubai skyscraper, she played every shot as if it were the The Masters on live TV. No quit in that girl. Jim Nantz would have waxed eloquently about her spirit and the importance of golf as a life lesson.
But that 123 showed there was a Nebraska wheat field between Becky and a college golf scholarship. The recruited golfers were running a different race. Reflecting, now fifteen, Becky Lucidi knew that here was a lot of work to be done. Ben Hogan said, “Every day you miss playing or practicing is one day longer it takes to be good.” As Becky had only been playing one year, she didn’t even know who Ben Hogan was. But she was about to live by his ethos.
Year two. California Girls State Championship. All that practice. All that dedication. Little private time. School... Restaurant...Driving range...Homework...School...Shag bag in the park. Over and over. A sophomore now and having fully focused on golf as her only sport. Time to face the beast. Reflecting on the first tee, the memories of the 123 were quickly drowned out by the hard wiring of her practice. Fired a tidy 76!
By Senior year, she was the State runner up. California...not exactly North Dakota or Vermont. Woods. Lopez. Miller. Mickey Wright. Mickelson. Miller. Billy Casper. A few passable players.
But, because Becky had started playing so late, she missed the college recruiting scene. The schools she wanted didn’t want her. Becky accepted a full ride to the only team that offered her one – the University of New Mexico. She was the best player on the team. After two years, she wanted to be closer to San Diego and wanted to be part of a team with as much competitiveness and drive as she had. Her coach at New Mexico wouldn’t release her.
She left anyway.
Transferred to USC. Had to walk on. Because her academic credits from the University of New Mexico weren’t acknowledged at USC, she started college from scratch. So what did she do? Sat for a year. Figuratively, of course. Took extra classes. Sharpened her game.
Graduated from USC in three years. All-American. NCAA Team Championship.
Sleepy Hollow 2002. Nine years from her first playing golf...U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR CHAMP!
BECKY LUCIDI MCDAID OF FRIAR’S HEAD, if you had decided to become a fighter pilot at the Top Gun school, Mav, Goose and Iceman wouldn’t have stood a chance. I’d be your wingman anytime.
Luke Reese is the author of the critically acclaimed One for the Memory Banks.
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