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Reading the Green

Missy Pederson ’02 is one of those people who can make seemingly anything look athletic, including sitting in the Anderson Student Center atrium. Despite the fact she “lives” just a few miles away, this July was Pederson’s first trip back to campus in years; she visited the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex for the first time and looked out on a different court than the one she dominated as one of the best basketball players in St. Thomas history.

Pederson was at her alma mater during a rare static stretch in her life before jetting off to Europe, Canada and Asia. Her full-time job takes her all over the world, but that’s the case for everyone in the small, select community of Ladies Professional Golf Association caddies. Her career – for which Pederson recently was profiled by ESPN as a “cool sports job” – was not exactly something she set out to do. A series of “How the heck did I get here?” moments have defined her journey.

“You just have to follow what you love,” Pederson said.

Hard Courts to Fairways

Pederson developed her tenacity and taste for sports while playing basketball at the park with her older brother and other boys. Those skills led to a standout basketball career: During her final game as a Tommie senior she posted a career-high 36 points against Carleton. She was twice named All-American; named the best Division III women’s player in the country her senior year; finished with the then-best career free-throw percentage in NCAA history (83.8 percent); was the conference’s MVP twice; and was the first female in conference history to have 1,500 points, 300 assists and 300 steals.

“Missy Pederson will be remembered as one of the most productive, efficient and competitive guards ever to play MIAC women’s basketball,” St. Thomas sports information director Gene McGivern said. “Any all- time top-five list of MIAC guards should include her name.”

There were many post-graduation moments, though, that were not highlights. Facing the end of a storied basketball career after missing the opportunity to play in Europe, she was feeling “pretty bummed out.” Then Pederson attended the Solheim Cup – professional women’s golf’s biennial international team competition – in Edina.

“I thought it was the coolest thing. There were 100,000 people out there and it was just so exciting,” Pederson said.

Pederson was hooked. Despite the fact she had never played golf, she dove into the sport full time.

“I told my mom, ‘I’ve decided I want to play professional golf; I’m moving to Florida.’ She was like, ‘I’m sorry, what? Could you repeat that? You’re going to take your biology degree to Florida to play golf?’” Pederson said. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

Pederson arrived in Clearwater, Florida, in late summer 2004, in the middle of one of the worst hurricane seasons in years. Bunkered down in her apartment, Pederson experienced “How the heck did I get here?” moment one.

“Power’s out; cellphones don’t work; I had boiled just this small amount of water because I’d heard that’s what you’re supposed to do; I don’t know anybody,” Pederson said. “But you know, the sun rose the next day. Three weeks after I moved down to Florida I got a job at a country club for $7.75 an hour … and they let me practice and play for free.”

Pederson quickly improved, winning a couple city amateur tournaments, playing in statewide tournaments, and eventually she turned pro and qualified on a limited status for the Futures Tour. It became apparent over time, though, that her late arrival to the sport was too big a deficit to make up.

“Every time I’d get a little better I’d look and see someone who was just way better,” Pederson said. “No matter how hard I worked there were just things I had missed not playing from a young age.”

Carrying the Sticks

Friend and roommate Danielle Downey was one of those better players and also served as Pederson’s introduction to caddying. Pederson first caddied for Downey in the LPGA’s professional qualifying tournament in 2007. While caddying for Downey and still playing, she learned which she preferred: Her basketball background helped her look at caddying “almost like a coaching position” and she set to tackling the learning curve of becoming a professional caddie despite the fact that – by her own estimate – less than 10 percent of professional- level caddies are women.

Unfortunately, that included learning the volatility of the position (“We’re hired to be fired,” Pederson said). In 2008, Downey let Pederson go for a more experienced caddie.

Cue “How the heck did I get here?” moment two: Committed to caddying, Pederson stood
by the practice green for two-and-a-half days as players came through before the McDonald’s LPGA Championship’s first round, hoping to catch on with someone – anyone.

“It was the most humbling experience of my life. You invest all this time and energy and money … and here I’m standing on a putting green basically begging to let someone have me carry a bag,” Pederson said.

A player named Irene Cho ended up requesting a caddie and Pederson jumped at the chance. Cho finished sixth that week and kept Pederson on for the next two years.

Pederson said she learned the “nuts and bolts” of caddying pretty quickly, and that the most difficult aspects of the job are the psychological and relational. “The hard things to learn are what to say, when to say it, how to react. There’s no manual on how to do this,” she said. “It’s so individual. It’s literally a relationship.”

For the past three seasons that relationship has been with Brittany Lincicome, a six-time LPGA tour champion (and two-time major winner) from Florida.

“If I could have had her as my caddie from my rookie year we would still be together after 12 years. She’s that good,” Lincicome said. “Being able to calm me down in a tense situation, playing on Sunday and in contention, she just knows the right things to say.”

Pederson (left) celebrats with Lincicome and Linciome’s fiancee (far left) and father after Lincicome won the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course April 5, 2015. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Pederson and Lincicome both said they have a great working relationship and friendship on and off the course, which helps both handle a high-stress, high-demand career.

“Lines can get blurred [with friendship and work], but Brittany and I, I think, do a really good job with it. We’re very close. She’s married and she’s spent more time with me than with her husband. That’s the truth,” Pederson said. “You have to develop a trust and know you can say what you want, be who you want and not be judged or mocked. We have a really good relationship in that way.”

Lincicome said Pederson works harder than almost any caddie she’s seen – both mentally and physically. Being a caddie can mean lugging up to 60 pounds of gear several miles each round. And, in lieu of taking a day off, Pederson often will scout a course.

“My whole goal is to have every answer ready for a round, whether she asks it or not,” Pederson said. “I might do 25 hours of work and she doesn’t ask a single question, but it’s my job to have the answer whenever she does.

“Golf has literally become a science,” she added. “But that’s part of the beauty of it. …You can be scientific, very much so, but there’s an art to it and if you don’t have the ability to transition between the two it’s going to be hard to be successful.”

Enjoying the Moments

While Pederson stressed that 100 percent of the credit goes to Lincicome for their results, her support certainly has helped bring success. That success was on display in 2015 at ANA Inspiration. Just the year before, Lincicome and Pederson had grinded just to qualify for the weekend portion of the major tournament before tying for 59th place. Fast forward a year later, and cue another “What the heck am I doing here?” moment for Pederson: A victory leap landed her alongside Lincicome in Poppie’s Pond at Mission Hills Country Club after Lincicome won in a playoff – an annual tradition for the tournament champion and her caddie. That season cemented Lincicome as one of the great American players in modern women’s golf.

“Those times are why I love what I do: It’s up and down and it’s hard, but it’s so rewarding,” Pederson said. “You watch somebody fight through that and get through their low points and find some sort of strength in themselves.” Pederson cited getting to caddie in the 2015 Solheim Cup, the same event that drew her to golf, as another favorite moment of her career – but there are almost too many others to count: She meets heads of state, learns different cultures, and experiences foods and places that locals recommend. But the hectic schedule is the norm for Pederson, and every bit of it adds to her growth as a person.

“That [desire to keep growing] is something I learned at St. Thomas, which was probably lost on me at my time there. But there was always an initiative here to grow as a human being, which I’ve carried with me,” Pederson said. “Now at 35 when I look back at what I experienced at St. Thomas and how it has contributed to my desire to learn, to grow, to be part of other cultures, [to see] different ways of approaching situations and problem-solving, it’s something that’s invaluable.”

It’s hard to guess how many more “How the heck did I get here?” moments still await Pederson. Someday she hopes to help athletes as a personal trainer, but for now there’s another plane to catch. Another course to take notes on. Another yardage to gauge and club to recommend. Another tournament to win.

Such is life for Missy Pederson, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

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