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Published: Saturday, 7/4/2009

Welcome return to old days for Diaz

Laura Diaz took a trip down memory lane late yesterday afternoon and said there was a time she was, and we quote, an OK pro golfer.

We would respectfully disagree.

There was a time, and 2002 is the year that most readily comes to mind, when Laura Diaz was not far removed, if at all removed, from a select group of the best women golfers in the world.

She won twice that year on the LPGA Tour, posted eight other top-10 finishes, and scored three points for the victorious U.S. team in the Solheim Cup matches against Europe.

Then came an ankle injury, then came a baby boy, and then came Thursday morning when Diaz, borderline depressed (her words, not mine) because of the worst stretch of her career, trudged to the first tee at Highland Meadows probably hoping for the best and expecting more of the worst in the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

They have played 36 holes now, halfway to the finish line, and Diaz is tied for the lead after rounds of 64-67.

That matches the number of scores in the 60s she produced in her 22 most recent rounds entering the Farr, a stretch that has seen her miss cuts in seven of nine tournaments and, since early March, earn a grand total of $11,771.

"It has been quite a struggle," she said. "So it's nice just to be playing on a weekend."

For two days, the 34-year-old Diaz has been playing like the golfer who lived for the weekends, and the afternoon tee times that went to the leaders, not so long ago.

She went from one persona to another in about three strides yesterday.

On her last hole of the day, No. 9, Diaz stroked a 12-foot putt from above the cup that never threatened to be on line. She disgustedly started walking after the ball, seemed startled when it took a sudden dip left, then hopped into the air when the ball disappeared into the cup.

"It didn't look like it was going in at all, ever," she said, laughing.

That closed her round with four birdies in the last six holes after opening with a string of 12 pars. But there were some good ones mixed in considering she missed four greens along the way. Three times she blasted out of greenside bunkers to within three feet to save pars.

"Those kept my momentum going even without birdies," she said.

There was no early panic over all the low scores surrounding her because she wasn't paying any attention.

"I haven't been in any position for the last several months to worry about watching scoreboards," Diaz said. "I'm just staying in my own little world. I have enough trouble with that."

A lot has happened in her little world. For the first couple years after her son, Robert Cooper, was born in mid-January of 2006, he suffered from serious respiratory infections and pneumonia. Late in '07 he began coughing uncontrollably at night, struggling to get oxygen, which scared mom and dad to death and baffled many a physician. Finally, he underwent surgery to remove his adenoids and most of the problems have been solved.

Along the way, wins disappeared and late tee times on Sundays fizzled and top-10 finishes dwindled, not that Diaz would have had it any other way.

"Golf was my passion, but it didn't touch motherhood," she said. "I used to spend hours on the range and practice green, but I don't have that desire when Cooper's out here with me. There's absolutely no win that compares to being a parent."

Cooper is always out there with her, even on weeks like this one when he's home with dad and his grandparents. Right there on Diaz's golf bag it says, "Cooper's Mom."

Mom has made it home for a lot of weekends this year, which is nice for Cooper and an acceptable consolation prize for mom.

But Diaz long was one of golf's fiercest competitors. And when the bottom fell out this year, she admits she didn't cope well.

The weekend begins today, and Diaz is teeing off at 1 p.m. These are the moments for which she used to live and, most likely, remembers well.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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