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'Playing with an Angel'
Edited by Cameron Morfit
May 03, 1999
It had been 13 hours from Honolulu to Sydney to Gold Coast, where Marianne Morris was to play in the Feb. 25-28 Australian Ladies Masters. On the last leg Quantas had offered nothing but cookies. Starved, Morris and her caddie, Lisa Becka, and Lisa's mother, Pat—the three were planning to tour the outback after the tournament—feasted on scones and turkey sandwiches when they got off the plane. They checked into their condo, and before dusk all three were asleep. At 8 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, deputy LPGA commissioner Jim Webb came to the door.
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May 03, 1999

'playing With An Angel'

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Numbers
Jesper Parnevik's victory at Greensboro was the sixth by a player born outside the U.S. in the 17 Tour events this year. If internationals continue at that pace, their 37.29 winning percentage would be the highest in Tour history. Here are their percentages since 1988.

YEAR

EVENTS

WINS (MAJORS)

PERCENTAGE

'98

45

9(1)

20.00%

'97

45

14(1)

31.11%

'96

45

4(1)

8.89%

'95

44

9(1)

20.45%

'94

44

14(4)

31.82%

'93

43

14(2)

32.56%

'92

45

9(2)

20.00%

91

45

10(2)

22.22%

'90

45

8(3)

17.78%

'89

44

6(0

13.64%

'88

47

10(2)

21.28%

It had been 13 hours from Honolulu to Sydney to Gold Coast, where Marianne Morris was to play in the Feb. 25-28 Australian Ladies Masters. On the last leg Quantas had offered nothing but cookies. Starved, Morris and her caddie, Lisa Becka, and Lisa's mother, Pat—the three were planning to tour the outback after the tournament—feasted on scones and turkey sandwiches when they got off the plane. They checked into their condo, and before dusk all three were asleep. At 8 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, deputy LPGA commissioner Jim Webb came to the door.

His grim news: James Michael Morris, 39, Marianne's only sibling and also her coach, business partner and occasional caddie, had been found dead of multiple gunshot wounds in his suburban Atlanta place of business, a pro shop called the Golf Shack, in what police were saying looked like a robbery. Marianne got the news right out of the shower. Webb held her so she wouldn't hit the floor, but she ended up there anyway, cradled by Pat as she wept. "Why?" Morris asked between sobs. "Why did this have to happen?"

Morris pulled out of the Australian Masters and last week began competing again, at the Chick-fil-A Charity Championship in Stockbridge, Ga. This was the tournament in which Mike, whose home was in nearby Lawrenceville, had caddied for her the previous year. This was where she had stayed with Mike and his wife, Linda. A lot to think about. Yet last Friday, Marianne made seven birdies and briefly took the lead during an opening-round 67 A self-described mediocre putter, she had rolled them in from everywhere and said as she signed her card, "I was playing with an angel today."

Marianne and Mike had always been close. When Marianne was 19 and Mike 24, he caddied for her in amateur tournaments. He would get out of the car and immediately declare, "Morris is the name. Golf is the game. Where's the 1st tee, and what's the course record?" Marianne, the quiet one of the two, would laugh. She set seven course records with Mike on the bag. Big brother could play, too. He tried the mini-tours before he took a teaching job in Cincinnati, eventually counting among his pupils the PGA Tour's Frank Lickliter. "He would play with Frankie, and he could keep up with him," Marianne says. "I think Frankie would tell you that Mike could've played on the Tour."

Instead, he rooted for his sister, talking to her on the phone after her rounds. He seemed to be there on Friday, too. But on Saturday it all fell apart for Marianne, a 10-year veteran who has cracked the top 20 on the money list only once. She bogeyed six of her first nine holes, ending with a missed 18-inch putt on the 18th, where she informed her playing partners, Rachel Hetherington—who would go on to win the tournament—and Jane Crafter, that she couldn't continue. Morris's mother, Barbara, was in tears as she told a reporter, "Everything went right yesterday. Nothing went right today." Marianne, too, had red, puffy eyes and said on the way out, "I really don't feel like saying anything. I'm sorry."

"It was a combination of everything," Morris said the next day. "I was pretty emotionally drained after Friday. Plus I wasn't able to eat much all week, and I was in the bathroom on every other hole. I felt like I was slowing down my playing partners."

Although it has been more than two months since the shooting, police do not have a suspect. There is a lead in the case. At 9:30 p.m. on April 17, during a routine traffic stop of a car containing five passengers, DeKalb County (Ga.) police found two handguns that had been stolen from the Golf Shack "Neither one was the murder weapon," says DeKalb County public information officer Mikki Jones. "The investigation is still under way."

Morris was feeling better by Sunday night, resting at Linda's home, where Morris and her mom and Linda ate pizza. Marianne will try to play again this week at Myrtle Beach, S.C., but after her experience at the Chick-fil-A, she is beginning to understand how hard it will be. "I honestly think there was something going on," she says. "Every day that goes by, he'll be watching."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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