By Matt Cooper | Jul 26, 2016
Special to espnW.com
American Beth Allen is the reigning ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters champion, owns 31 top-10 finishes around the world and is currently the No. 1-ranked player on the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit.
WOBURN, England -- Beth Allen might be the best American golfer you have never heard of.
A native of San Diego and graduate of California State University at Northridge, the 34-year-old is also the reigning ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters champion, owns 31 top-10 finishes around the world and is currently the No. 1-ranked player on the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit.
She's good. She's very good. And what's more she has achieved most of it with just one kidney.
Hang on, one kidney?! Yes, just the one -- she donated the other to her brother and it didn't just transform his life, it changed hers as well.
It wasn't fate that played the crucial hand at this point -- it was one-time player and now caddie Mardi Lunn.
"We were in an airport after a pro-am in Illinois," Allen told espnW ahead of the Ricoh Women's British Open. "I was struggling, not making a lot of money and not really enjoying it. Mardi thought Europe would suit me. It's less intense, more communal, she encouraged me to give it a try."
The rewards were not immediate but something clicked.
"I hadn't traveled much then," she explained. "But a couple of friends joined me. The first year was a bit of a struggle, but 2009, the first full year, was different. I was happier on and off the course and the results improved. I had a bit of money which was helpful."
Life was good and yet she had failed to crack the top 50 in the rankings; there was room for improvement. Again there was an intervention, again it was not fate responsible. This time it was family.
Her elder brother Dan, now 43, had spent five years virtually chained to a dialysis machine. In early 2011, Beth donated one of her kidneys and, although it "felt like I'd done a million sit-ups", within weeks she was back playing.
The transplant was successful.
"His life is completely changed," Allen said with a smile. "He used to have zero social life. Now he's playing golf and going to every baseball game there is. He's a completely different guy, it's awesome to see. My mom was worried all the time so now she has more of a life. It's changed all of us.
"It's sort of put life into perspective," she went on. "Dan is so grateful it's hard to describe. Golf used to be all I had in my early 20s, well not quite all, but if I had a bad day you felt worthless. Now I don't feel like that anymore. It's helped me build relationships. It's lightened my outlook."
It also improved her golf: she finished 19th in the Order of Merit that year and has stayed in the top 25 ever since. All the same, something was missing: she was racking up the top-five finishes, but she couldn't convert the win.
"I think I was kidding myself a little bit," she admitted. "I had a few seconds and I'd say 'Oh well if it happens, it happens, it will come', but I was definitely kidding myself on."
In early July 2015 she made her way to The Buckinghamshire GC near London for the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters. It was a course that had hurt her in the past. Twice she had missed out on qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open there, on both occasions cruelly so in playoffs. Two years previously she had led the tournament playing the penultimate hole only for her chances to be blown by a poor shot and outrageous ill fortune (the ball buried itself in the face of the bunker leaving an unplayable shot).
David Cannon/Getty Images
Three-time Solheim Cup winner Sophie Gustafson has been a source of inspiration, and a successful caddie, for Beth Allen.
"It was one of the worst things that ever happened to me," Allen said. "I didn't sleep for a week afterwards. But also? That day was a big change for me mentally, because it proved to me just how badly I wanted it. If it could haunt me like that, it made me realize how much a win mattered."
But how could victory possibly come at the very venue which so spooked her? Another intervention, another friend: three-time Solheim Cup winner Sophie Gustafson, who wanted to caddie for her.
They had first discussed the idea, somewhat half-heartedly, earlier in the year. "We've been friends for so long, but then Sophie texted: Shall we do it? Are you up or it?
"I could tell she was really excited about it. It's one thing for a player like her to do it for a laugh, but she presented the idea that she had faith in me, that she knew I was going to do well, that she could help and that she really wanted to. It was so flattering and so exciting too."
Allen played well all week, accelerated Sunday and, on the back nine, Gustafson came into her own.
"I had a long wait to hit into the green on 16 and Soph gave me a little talk that I will never forget," said Allen. "She talked about a Solheim Cup match she had played, about what she had been thinking, how she had told herself to dig deep, how she stood over every shot telling herself to forget everyone else. That was a special moment."
With victory came confirmation that she had really, really wanted it after all and also a sense that, for it to happen where it did, maybe fate had intervened this time. "The relief after it happened, being able to say that I'm a winner, especially in that event, on that course. I still think to myself, wow, there's something going on in the universe."
Spin forward a year and she has continued to ride the wave. She was fourth in the LPGA co-sanctioned Women's Australian Open and third last week in the Scottish Open, an event that is now close to her heart since earlier this month she married her long-term girlfriend Clare Queen and lives in Edinburgh.
"A lot of my friends from America stayed after the wedding," Allen laughed. "My mom was there, and Clare works for Scottish Golf so I help out. There were a lot of kids following me, it really felt like home. I was smiling all the way round, it was awesome."
The immediate future offers the opportunity to improve on her best finish at the Ricoh Women's British Open (T30 in 2011) and the parkland Woburn layout should suit her, but this week she will also decide whether to compete at LPGA Q school.
"I'm pretty sure I'll give it a go," she said. "It's not that I'm unhappy on the LET, I still love it. I just feel that as I've got a bit better I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't give myself a shot at the LPGA."
The grave truth is that her earnings this year in Europe (€109,425) equate to about the same earned by the 81st-ranked player on the LPGA money list. "I don't really want to leave, but it's not easy to put away money in Europe. I have to think of my future."
If she returns to the LPGA the journey will have been circuitous, but also brave. She describes her kidney donation as a "no-brainer" and yet, as tour osteopath Adam Olarenshaw put it, "Any surgery is a risk and she'll have been made aware of that prior to the operation."
More to the point he adds, "At a time when every athlete is looking for that extra one per cent, Beth went the other way, she sacrificed a percentage."
She may indeed have taken one step back with the donation, but it allowed her to take two steps forward with her life and career. She didn't, and she hasn't, stopped. There's more to come.