Before completing the 11th grade last year, Courtney Ellenbogen had drawn raves in two professional golf tournaments, cracked the top 10 of the national junior rankings and accepted a full scholarship to Duke.
Her talents flashed at the 2008 Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill, where she shot 69 in a Monday qualifier and 70 in the opening round before missing the cut. So enamored were tournament officials that they granted Ellenbogen, a Blacksburg High senior, a sponsor's exemption for this year's event.
But Ellenbogen, shaken by her first prolonged slump, withdrew from the tournament last Monday.
"She's had a real nice career track," said Bill Ellenbogen, Courtney's father and a former Virginia Tech football player. "But as in life, in sports there are setbacks."
Bill Ellenbogen knows first-hand. All athletes do, regardless of skill level, sport, or age. Declines are inevitable, often pronounced and prolonged.
How an athlete responds can make or break a career.
Five years ago, Michelle Wie came to Kingsmill a 14-year-old wunderkind. She had finished fourth in an LPGA major, missed the cut by a shot in a men's professional tournament and was drawing comparisons to Tiger Woods.
Hounded by injuries and pressure, she's yet to win on the LPGA Tour. Still wrestling with athletic mortality, Wie has played better of late and arrives at Kingsmill 22nd on this season's money list.
Legacy: To be determined.
Nancy Lopez won 17 times in her first two seasons, 1978 and '79, an unprecedented pace that no one could maintain. She added 31 victories over the next 14 years to earn induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Legacy: Among the top 10 all-time.
Hampton Roads native Curtis Strange won the second of his back-to-back U.S. Opens in 1989. He was 34 and in his prime. He never won again.
Legacy: A Hall of Famer who should have won more.
An offensive lineman at Virginia Tech during the early 1970s, Bill Ellenbogen was cut four times by NFL teams before playing 23 games over two seasons with the New York Giants. He's quick to share that history with his daughter.
"I don't want to make it sound like her game is completely in the toilet, because it's not," Bill Ellenbogen said. "But she just doesn't feel that she has a realistic chance to make the cut."
A year ago, Courtney had a very realistic chance. She shot a Thursday 70 that prompted Gov. Tim Kaine to seek her out, only to miss the cut by five after a second-round 77.
Ellenbogen oozed such potential almost from the moment she picked up a golf club as a 5-year-old at Blacksburg Country Club.
"She just flourished," said Steve Prater, her instructor then. "She fell in love with the game and the competition. She practiced the most, had the most concentration and was the most dedicated, and that's what it takes. You can teach them all you want, but they (have to do it)."
Ellenbogen won junior tournaments by the handful and competed against boys at Blacksburg High. She qualified for the 2007 U.S. Open the summer after her sophomore year and missed the cut by a meager stroke, outplaying past Open champions Karrie Webb, Hilary Lunke and Meg Mallon.
LPGA at Kingsmill
Blacksburg teen Ellenbogen fighting slump
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