U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Allen’s Homecoming Rocky, But Rewarding
July 14, 2017 | BEDMINSTER, N.J.
By Lisa D. Mickey
Californian Beth Allen has taken a circuitous route to the first tee of this week’s U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
She’s 35, has played professional golf for 13 years, posted 31 top-10 finishes around the world, and won three times in Europe.
This is her third Women’s Open and the 2017 season is also her first full year back home in the United States in eight years.
So where in the world has Beth Allen been? The answer is, just about everywhere.
“I’ve mostly been in Europe since 2008, playing on both the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour (LET),” said the native of Ojai, Calif., who opened with a 3-over 75 on Thursday. “I made the full move to the LET from 2009-2016, so that’s where I’ve been.”
Allen became the first American to win the LET’s Order of Merit in 2016, a season that included wins in France and Abu Dhabi. Riding a new wave of confidence, she returned to the LPGA’s Qualifying Tournament and finished tied for sixth to earn a place on the 2017 LPGA Tour, where she launched her professional career in 2005.
But it’s been a bumpy ride for most of the year. Allen’s best finish is a tie for seventh in February at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and she only managed a tie for 49th in March at the Kia Classic back home in Southern California. There have also been eight missed cuts – including the last six events in a row – and far too many missed 5-footers.
“It’s hard to linger on the cut line because it’s emotionally draining,” said Allen. “Sometimes it’s harder to make a putt to make the cut than it is to make a putt to win.”
Allen has certainly experienced both. But after finishing 2016 as the LET’s top player, her stateside return has required an adjustment to playing courses she has never seen or has not seen in nearly a decade.
Also, the LPGA’s depth of talent has expanded since she was last here. Thirty-six hole cut scores are lower, and players are younger and more solely focused on attaining top world ranking. Gone is the more casual camaraderie of the European tour.
“It’s almost like being a rookie again,” she said. “I have to get better if I want to be one of the best American players on the tour. I was No. 1 in Europe last year, so the things I was doing must have worked for me. I just need to remember that.”
Allen originally went to Europe thinking it was a way to see the world and play golf as “a tax write-off.”
“Maybe that’s why things worked out,” she said. “I went over there with no expectations, just being very free and trying to enjoy myself. As soon as I got a little bit of success over there, I wanted more of that.”
The daughter of Jim Allen, a PGA Class A professional who served as the director of golf at Torrey Pines Golf Course for seven years, Allen was more free-spirited and easy-breezy than she was razor-focused on golf in her life.
Her father, a fine player himself, knew that his daughter had the talent to become a top player, but he didn’t know that her path would take her around the globe before bringing her home as the 93rd-ranked player in the world.
Sometimes there was push and pull in their relationship, but always support – like one particular week in Allen’s 2003 season of amateur golf. She wasn’t playing particularly well that summer, but she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at Ocean Hammock Golf Club in Florida.
Allen’s father opted to stay home. After she shot 68 in the first round of stroke play, she called home to talk to her dad. Her mother, Carolyn, picked up the phone and said her father was already on a plane, en route to Florida.
Allen advanced into match play that week, where she won four matches before losing in the semifinals to Thailand’s Virada Nirapathpongporn – who fell in the final to champion Michelle Wie.
“My dad was proud of me and that was the best feeling,” said Allen. “He could be tough, but that’s what I needed with me being such a free spirit. If it weren’t for him, there’s no way I would be the player I am today or have the drive to do this.”
One of Allen’s greatest memories with her father came in 2002, when he hosted USGA officials in an effort to get the USGA to consider bringing the U.S. Open to Torrey Pines. Still a collegiate player at California State Northridge, Allen joined her father and his guests on the course.
“My dad really wanted the Open to come to Torrey Pines and I knew it would be a big, big deal to him for the championship to go there,” Allen said.
Sadly, the PGA professional passed away in 2006, before the dramatic 2008 championship in which Tiger Woods prevailed over Rocco Mediate. His daughter also played her first U.S. Women’s Open in 2006, and Allen recalled looking down the fairway that first round and seeing her mother cry when her name was announced on the tee.
Two years later, it was Allen who was overcome with emotions when she returned to Torrey Pines to walk the course at the 2008 U.S. Open. She could feel her father’s thumbprint on the event and it both hurt and lifted her spirit to know that his dream had come true.
A big change in Allen’s overall fitness came in 2011, when she donated a kidney to her brother and began making better choices about nutrition. She lost weight, felt better and her golf performance improved. She emerged as one of the LET’s top contenders, week after week.
Allen missed a 6-foot putt to miss the 36-hole cut in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif.. a tough moment because family and friends were there to support her in her second championship.
But one week after that disappointment, Allen flew back to Europe and married Clare Queen to start yet another chapter in her life. Queen, who competed for seven years on the LET before ending her competitive career, works as a performance program coordinator for Scottish Golf. The two will have been married for one year on Sunday and are based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
That’s a long way from Ojai, but Allen said the balance in her life is what works for her.
“I’ve never said I wanted to be the best player in the world,” said Allen. “I’m not willing to make the sacrifices it takes to be No. 1 in the world and I’m very honest with myself about that.”
“I also never said I wanted to be the best player in Europe, but it happened,” she added with a laugh. “I just need to be myself because it has served me well. I have a life outside of golf that I’m really into.”
Immediately after getting married, Allen finished third in the Women’s Scottish Open and 16th in the Ricoh Women’s British Open – her best finish in a major.
Last year was a huge steppingstone in Allen’s growth as a golfer. She hired former LPGA Tour winner Sophie Gustafson as her caddie and the Swede was able to tighten Allen’s on-course thinking and weekly preparation.
Venturing back into the deeper talent pool of the LPGA this year, Allen has been aided by Gustafson, who has helped Allen see that her length and accuracy off the tee could be a true benefit in this week’s championship.
Most of all, Gustafson has helped Allen believe she is exactly where she needs to be.
Allen and her coach, Ian Rae, traveled to this week’s Women’s Open venue to play practice rounds in early May and to begin planning for competition. During their visit to New Jersey, the two visited the nearby USGA Golf Museum. While they were there, they watched a film of Mickey Wright winning the 1964 U.S. Women’s Open at San Diego Country Club.
As they watched the black-and-white footage, Allen saw a familiar face. There was her father, carrying the bag for Ruth Jessen. Wright beat Jessen in an 18-hole playoff to win her record-tying fourth Women’s Open, and Allen’s dad was right there for the best view of the action.
“Here I was, preparing for my Women’s Open and I see my dad on a TV screen,” said Allen. “That’s just crazy.”
Allen had her dad’s initials – JRA – tattooed on the inside of her right wrist several years ago. With every swing of the club and with every pump of the fist, her father is right there.
And in her third Open this week, Allen still feels her father’s presence.
“It’s been a grind for me, but I think he would be really proud that I’ve stuck it out,” she said.
“And at this week’s [Women’s] Open, I know my dad would be glad that I’m here,” she added. “But he would also remind me that just being here is not good enough and that I should do my best to make it my week.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.