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Local golf pro heading to LPGA Championship

Nate Peterson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” Dede Cusimano teaches golf six days a week, but to earn the right to get back to another women’s major, the LPGA pro at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale said she had to become a student again.

After a year spent refining her swing and honing her mental game, the hard work paid off for Cusimano on Tuesday. She drained a six-foot putt on the final hole of the two-day LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Southeast Section Championship in Boynton Beach, Fla. to claim a one-stroke win over Annette DeLuca.

The victory ensured Cusimano a berth in May’s 2009 LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock, Maryland. Cusimano has played in four previous majors, but next year’s championship will be her first in five years. It also will likely be her most memorable, considering she will be playing against the world’s best players just a month shy of her 50th birthday.

“I cried when the putt went in,” Cusimano said of her win. “It was so emotional for me, because last year I kept coming so close. I missed winning the Colorado Women’s Open by two shots. I came in third in the National LPGA Teaching Club Pro Championship. I wanted this win so bad.”

It didn’t come easily. After grabbing the lead after the first round with a five-under-par 67, Cusimano didn’t play as well with the lead during a trying second round Tuesday that included a two-hour rain delay. DeLuca, meanwhile, refused to fold, making a charge from seven shots back to nearly steal the win.

Cusimano made sure that never happened. She parred the final three holes of her round, which included the huge putt on the par-4 18th after she hit her second shot into a bunker. That shot left her with a 73 and a four-under-par 140 for the tournament. DeLuca finished one back after her final round of 67 left her with a three-under-par 141.

If nothing else, the win once again proved to Cusimano that hard work and determination does get rewarded ” a lesson that she said she tries to instill in her clients on a daily basis.

“I don’t play that much competitive golf anymore,” Cusimano said. “I stand on a lesson tee six days a week. But I just kept at it. I wanted to get back to another LPGA Championship, so I rededicated myself to my game.”

That included working with a swing coach based out of Palm Springs, Calif., and squeezing in practice sessions whenever a free hour ” or even 30 minutes ” presented itself.

“My coach, more than anything, he helped me with the mental part of golf,” Cusimano said. “I just needed guidance. It’s not like he made a huge change in my swing. I didn’t have a lot of moving parts to begin with, and he just tightened everything up a little bit. More than anything, he gave me the guidance and the encouragement to go out and compete.”

Hitting it further and straighter than she ever has, Cusimano now feels ready to compete against golf’s best again.

She played in her first major in 1999, when she qualified for the U.S. Open. She played in three LPGA Championships between 2002-2004, which included a personal best 60th-place finish in 2003 after she made the two-day cut.

A former scholarship tennis player at Boise State University in Idaho, Cusimano didn’t take up golf until her early 20s. She quickly took to the game, however, winning an amateur title in Idaho at age 24.

She took a circuitous path to her first LPGA major, however, after pulling the plug on a career as a professional golfer in 1989 after just one season trying to make headway on the LPGA Tour.

She transitioned into a job as a tour representative for Callaway Golf, where she had a knack for recruiting young talent. Most notably, she signed Annika Sorenstam to her first pro contract after seeing the young Swede while she was an amateur on scholarship at the University of Arizona.

The constant travel took its toll on Cusimano’s personal life, however, and she left Callaway after eight years to pursue a career as a teaching pro. For the last two years, she’s worked at River Valley Ranch. Before that, she spent two years at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt.

Cusimano doesn’t regret any of the turns she’s taken. While her personal accomplishments as a player have brought her joy, her teaching career has been equally rewarding, she said.

“There’s nothing better in my line of work than seeing someone’s swing change and their scores getting better,” she said. “That’s what keeps me doing it.”

npeterson@aspentimes.com


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