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Canada's Beisiegel breaks golf's gender barrier

Isabelle Beisiegel acknowledges the gallery on the 13th hole during the Canadian Professional Golf Tour's Spring Qualifying School, in Parksville, British Columbia, Canada on Friday, May 27, 2011. Beisiegel has become the first female golfer to earn a playing card on a men's professional tour. (AP Photo/James Clarke)

James Clarke/AP

Isabelle (Izzy) Beisiegel seriously thought about withdrawing from the Canadian Tour's spring qualifying tournament last week in Parksville, B.C.

Her practice sessions did not go well and her confidence was at a low point after a stretch of poor performances that included shooting a career-worst 92 in a qualifier for the men's U.S. Open. More importantly, she felt overwhelmed by Morningstar Golf Club, which is excessively long for a woman at 7,000 yards and played even longer last week because incessant rain.

A deeply religious woman, Beisiegel, of St. Hillaire, Que., says she turned to God on the eve of the Q-school and felt a sense of resolve to compete.

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She went ahead and played. The rest is history. Literally.

The 32-year-old former LPGA Tour player tied for ninth place at the Q-school to earn her Canadian Tour card for the remainder of 2011. She's the first woman in history to become a member of a major men's professional tour.

"I was at the point where I was questioning my playing in this event," Beisiegel said on the weekend in a telephone interview. "Why should I persevere? I looked to God for the answers. He just gave me that sense of perseverance."

Beisiegel has been nothing if not perseverant over her professional golf career.

A Quebec Women's Amateur champion in 1997 and a star in her U.S. college days at the University of Oklahoma, she made a smooth transition to the pro game, earning her card on the LPGA Tour when she won its 2003 Q-school.

But her progress was slowed by Graves' Disease, a thyroid illness that causes severe fatigue. By the time she was diagnosed in November of 2005, her golf game was in tatters. Surgery to remove her thyroid gland followed in March of 2006 and it wasn't until 2008 that she felt truly healthy again. Since then, she's been trying to put her career back on track.

She made a huge commitment last November, quitting her day job as a financial adviser in Broken Arrow, Okla., where she now lives with her husband, and dedicating herself full-time to golf.

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She's playing on the LPGA Futures Tour, where she's made four starts this year, and the CN Canadian Women's Tour. She started the season positively with a victory at a mini-tour event in Florida.

But it is her dabbling in the men's game that gives her the most notoriety. While stars such as Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam have made famous forays into men's golf, Beisiegel has been a consistent campaigner. In 2004, she became the first woman to enter the PGA Tour's Q-school and it was the first of many attempts to join the world's top men's tour. She has also tried qualifying for such tournaments as the men's U.S. Open and had been to the Canadian Tour's Q-school twice before.

Beisiegel insists she isn't trying to make any gender statements or put herself above other female players by competing against men. ("I don't think I deserve it. Other women are more talented than me.") She said simply she grew up watching men's golf on TV and to this day sees the PGA Tour as something to strive for.

"I just felt like it's part of my purpose to pursue it," she said. "I thought … I might even fail all the way but that's okay."

She had failed - until last week.

She made a steady start in the first two rounds at Morningstar, then exploded with a four-under-par 68 in the third round that vaulted her into the top 10. Beisiegel described the round as the best of her life. "It's No. 1. Not even close."

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Only one man in the field of 39 had a better score that day.

In the final round at Morningstar, she grinded out a 75 in cold, miserable conditions. But it was good enough to keep her in the top 10 and earn one of the non-exempt or conditional cards up for grabs.

She finished eight shots behind medalist Andrew Kelly of Australia.

"Qualifying for a PGA Tour event, that would be just so amazing," she said. "That's just a big dream out there. Before it looked a little bit possible. Now [after reaching the Canadian Tour]it looks a little more possible."

While her status doesn't make her automatically eligible to get into any Canadian Tour event, she likely will be able to enter most, if not all, of the tournaments she chooses.

The developmental circuit begins its Canadian swing this week in Victoria. Beisiegel said she won't be able to play because she has a prior commitment to compete in a qualifier in California for the U.S. Women's Open.

There is a chance she will play the following week in Kamloops but has to map out her schedule first.

Whenever she comes north again, the tour will welcome her with open arms.

"It's great for her. It's great for the tour," said Reegan Price, the director of business and tournament affairs.

He said the circuit will get a boost of publicity from Beisiegel's presence and he doesn't expect there to be any backlash. "I don't think any modern person wouldn't have a problem with it [a woman playing against men]" he said. "She proved she is capable. She is a great player and she went out there and beat the course and [most of]the field. She earned it."

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