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Isabelle Beisiegel from St. Hilaire, Que. follows her drive on the 13th hole at the BMO Canadian Women's Open at the Glen Arbour golf course in Hammonds Plains near Halifax on Thursday, July 14, 2005.

ANDREW VAUGHAN

CALGARY - She had said to meet her at the putting green and there are two at the Bearspaw Country Club, each with a head-snapping view of the Rockies and each littered with golfers wearing much the same clothing, doing much the same things.

"I'll be easy to spot," she had predicted. "I'll be the only girl."

The only woman, yes; but not just any female golfer.

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Isabelle Beisiegel is the Montreal-born, University of Oklahoma-trained golfer who became the first OU athlete to qualify for the U.S. Open as an amateur. She's battled Graves' disease, a hyperthyroid condition that sapped her strength, skewered her vision and almost ended her career. She's a devout Christian, the wife of a former Oklahoma football player and, come Thursday, she'll be one for the history books - the first woman to qualify and play as a member of a men's professional golf tour.

It's quite the achievement teeing off with 155 male rivals at the Canadian Tour's ATB Financial Classic at Bearspaw. And the 32-year-old Beisiegel is unabashedly "honoured" to have such a chance.

But for her, this isn't about advancing women's rights or proving which sex is better. It's about being the best golfer she can be, the best person, too. It's about competition and doing something she loves, especially since it was almost taken away from her not so long ago.

"I play against the course. I root my competitors on," she said of her style. "I've learned I can't control the results. At times I've played well and had bad scores so I prepare myself to finish last or first and be at peace with that."

It was in Portland, Ore., six years ago that Beisiegel's world began to crumble. Her tee shot had landed on the green of a par-three at the LPGA Safeway Classic. Everything was seemingly fine. Beisiegel had even notched a couple of birdies earlier in her round.

Then, she lost it. She couldn't find the hole with a GPS. The more she tried, the worse it got. Her vision and concentration were so off-kilter she six-putted from two feet out and finished with a tournament-killing eight. Doctors told her it was stress.

But things got worse. At one point, her resting heart rate was 145 beats per minute. Her body was so overworked she slept until late afternoon every day. Finally, she was given a thyroid test and diagnosed, first, with Graves' disease and, later, with Hashimoto's thyroiditis, another autoimmune ailment. She sought out two people for advice: former Olympic gold-medal-winning sprinter Gail Devers and golfer Ben Crenshaw, both of whom had suffered from Graves' disease.

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Devers told Beisiegel to undergo surgery; Crenshaw wrote, "Don't give up hope." For two years, Beisiegel had to cut back on her golfing and take a regular job to pay off her five-figure medical bills. It was a tough time made easier by her faith.

"All our savings, I drained us out," acknowledged Beisiegel, who used her international business degree to secure a job at an Oklahoma branch of Merrill Lynch. "It sounds funny to say but I'm glad I went through the [Graves']experience. Looking back I see God's hand in this, teaching me the right things, the preparation and what's important."

Beisiegel's comeback started slowly. She competed in only a handful of events. She played in qualifiers and made finals, and earned her status on the LPGA Futures Tour. Last month, healthy for two years, she competed in a Canadian Tour Qualifying School and shot a four-under par third round in Parksville, B.C., to earn her spot. It was a happy, reflective moment. Both she and her husband see it as part of a grander struggle that goes beyond keeping tab on a scorecard.

"My dream as a kid was Oklahoma football, just getting on special teams my senior year," said Daniel Beisiegel. "I ended up starting my red-shirt freshman year [at defensive back] After two weeks of euphoria, my question was, 'What's next?' … [Isabelle]had the same feelings after making the U.S. Open. Those two weeks weren't enough to fill that hole in us."

Who knows what the next few weeks hold for Isabelle Beisiegel, but this much is known: she is back on course and ever so thankful for being afforded another round of hope. History beckons and it's not about the pressure, she insisted, it's about priorities.

"I'm just a humble servant of God, a wife and I happen to play golf."

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