What do you know? The Canadian Tour has gotten some international press. No, amend that. Not some, but plenty. That’s good news. But then again, the news that attracted attention on Golf Channel, where the Tour’s commissioner Rick Janes was interviewed, and as far away as Japan, wasn’t really about its tournaments. It was about the fact, an impressive fact, to be sure, that Isabelle (Izzy) Beisiegel had become the first woman to qualify for a men’s professional tour.
Beisiegel is 32 and lives in Broken Arrow, Okla. She is originally from Mont St. Hillaire, Que., and it has been her goal for some years to qualify for a men’s tour. She succeeded late last month, when she tied for ninth at the Canadian Tour’s spring qualifier in Parksville, B.C. The top five won fully exempt status, while the next five won conditional status. The University of Oklahoma graduate will divide her time between the Canadian Tour, the LPGA Futures Tour, and the CN Canadian Women’s Tour.
Speaking from Marion, Iowa, where she was playing in last week’s Ladies Titan Fire Challenge on the Futures Tour, the personable and deeply religious Beisiegel described her victory – and that’s what it was, a victory, even if she didn’t win the tournament – as a “miracle.” She has said for years that she is on a journey, and that it has nothing to do with making a particular point that women can play against men. She is testing herself, simple as that. Beisiegel grew up watching men’s golf, and she figured, why not try to qualify for men’s tournaments or a men’s tour?
With that in mind, Beisiegel had tried twice before to qualify for the Canadian Tour. She was the first woman to try to get through PGA Tour qualifying school, which she tried in 2004. She finished last in the 78-player field in the first stage of qualifying school. But again, this was all about the journey. Meanwhile, critics were wondering why she was trying to play in men’s tournaments. She acknowledged, and acknowledges, that many people feel she is wasting her time. Her response is, consistently, maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. She feels called to continue her journey.
That journey hasn’t been about playing against men exclusively. Beisiegel won the 1997 Quebec Women’s Amateur and was third in the 1998 Canadian Ladies Amateur. She played on the University of Oklahoma women’s team. She won the 2003 LPGA Tour’s qualifying school, and finished 79th on the 2004 money list with $120,586. By then, however, she was dealing with some medical issues that affected her performance.
Beisiegel was diagnosed in November 2005 with Graves Disease, a condition that causes muscle atrophy and a rapid heart rate, among other problems. She had surgery in March 2006, when her thyroid glad was removed, and has been on thyroid hormone replacement therapy. She has been healthy since March 2008.
But that doesn’t mean she was ready to play the golf of which she thought she was capable. Beisiegel went to work as a financial advisor, but quit in November 2010 when she decided to go all-out at competitive golf again. She went to the LPGA Tour qualifying school the following month, but tied for 63rd. She has been playing the LPGA Futures Tour, where she finished in the top 10 last week on rounds of 75-72-72.
“I’m so glad I came out to the Futures Tour this week,” she said. “It has been great to see my friends. I’ve gotten a lot of hugs and a lot of encouragement.”
Players at the Canadian Tour qualifying school also encouraged her. “Everyone was so nice,” she said. “I felt really welcome.”
The Morningstar Golf Course in Parksville played even longer than its 7,000 yards because of recent rains. Beisiegel was playing from the same tees as the men. She shot 68 in the third round, a course record for women from the back tees. The club’s officials were so proud of her accomplishment that they decided to create a plaque to recognize it.
Beisiegel hits the ball a long ways, so she could handle Morningstar. Rob Houlding, a highly regarded teacher in Surrey, B.C. said her clubhead speed is similar to a man’s, and that she needs only to work on smoothing her swing out. Houlding has worked with many elite players, including Nick Taylor. Taylor, the 2007 Canadian Amateur champion, was the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world for 20 weeks during the summer of 2009. He is now a professional. Taylor has been given six sponsors’ exemptions for Canadian Tour events this summer. Who knows? Maybe he will be in a group with Beisiegel during the season.
“My goal is just really to enjoy the time I have to do this,” Beisiegel said.
It is going to be very interesting to follow her this summer, as she continues her remarkable, and even brave, journey. Wish her well, and applaud her personal strengths.