WILLIAMSBURG — By the time she'd finished her second round Friday at the LPGA's Kingsmill Championship, Irene Cho had put her newest on-course stress management mechanism to good use multiple times.
In the last three years, coping on and off the course has been a full-time job for Cho.
There was a time when hitting just seven of 14 fairways in a round like she did Friday in blustery conditions would've resulted in a litany of negative thoughts that would've hung around until the start of her next round.
After dealing with the suicide death of her best friend on the tour, a debilitating injury and the loss of her LPGA Tour playing card all in the last three years, her perspective has changed. She works hard to make sure something like an errant tee shot doesn't ruin her day.
"I'm just like, 'Well, at least I'm not out of bounds,'" said Cho, who overcame her erratic tee shots to shoot a 2-under 69 on the River Course and put her at 3-under for the tournament — tied for 13th place, four shots behind leader Ariya Jutanugarn.
Cho was one of 10 golfers to post a score of 2-under or better in the second round, a significant change after 38 golfers in the field finished 2-under or better in the first round. After beginning the day at the 10th tee, she went on to birdie the 16th, 17th, first and sixth holes, and bogey the 18th and fourth holes.
Her 3-under is her best score this year at the midway point in any of her four tournaments. Failing to make the cut last week in Texas precipitated the need for a change in her approach. At the University of Southern California, she was a three-time All-American, so she knows consistent play is within her reach.
"I talked to my caddy after last week, and I was like, 'Man, I just have to be more positive, and it'd be helpful if you could be the same way,'" said Cho, who entered the tournament 446th in the world rankings. "We had this talk and we decided if it's a bad shot, we're going to keep it positive and be like, 'Well, at least we didn't go in the gutter.'"
Cho, a native of La Habra, Calif., has had far more to handle than just a few pessimistic thoughts on the course. After a sixth-place finish at the LPGA Championship in 2008, she's missed 30 cuts in her next 65 tournaments, and finished in the top 10 in just one other tournament (ninth at the Tres Marias Championship in 2010).
Just a week after that ninth-place finish, Cho's best friend on the Tour, Erica Blasberg, committed suicide by asphyxiating herself at her home in Henderson, Nev. She was 25.
Cho chose not to talk about Blasberg's death Friday, but Cho discussed it with the Golf Network the week after the tragedy:
"Life is too short. Always tell the people you care about that you love them. This totally puts things into perspective for me. You don't appreciate the little things in life. I do now."
After Blasberg's death, Cho finished 33rd or worse in all but one of her remaining 13 tournaments in 2010. She went on to miss all of the 2011 season with a left thumb injury that caused her to have to change her swing.
Excruciating pain in the left thumb at impact every time she swung through a golf ball caused her to seek the advice of three doctors, all of whom told her she needed to stay away from golf for four-to-six months. With the LPGA schedule consisting of 25 tournaments in 2011, but only 13 on U.S. soil, Cho decided it would be a good year to take off.
"I had a lot of physical therapy," said Cho, who missed the cut last year at Kingsmill. "It was three times a week, and it was kind of brutal. I did a lot of treatment in my forearm."
With a revamped swing designed to take pressure off her left thumb, she finished 125th on the money list last year after earning just $24,639 and had to earn her tour card back in qualifying school. She did just that by draining a two-foot birdie putt on the fifth playoff hole in a seven-player playoff to pick up the last fully-exempt card.
"I don't want to remember (last year)," Cho said. "I pretend I didn't even play last year."
"Q school gave me a lot of confidence and let me believe in myself and in being out here playing. I'm trying to keep that momentum going a little bit."