The contrast was startling. Just two days after birdieing the last hole of the last tournament of the season to steal away her third LPGA Player of the Year title, Betsy King was surrounded by orphaned street children in Romania, handing out food and candy. "I went from celebrating an incredible win and season to extreme sadness," says King. "I was so happy, and then it all became very, very clear. I said to myself, How important is golf, anyway?"
Important enough, at least, that it affords King the opportunity to share her time and faith with those less fortunate. In mid-November, King and four fellow LPGA players traveled with a group called Alternative Ministries to Romania for a week of work with an orphan-relief group in Bucharest headed by an American named Gary Malkasian. The trip followed one of the most exciting weeks in King's brilliant 17-year LPGA career. Needing a victory to claim Player of the Year honors, she shot a final-round 67 at the Toray Japan Queens Cup near Kobi to win by a stroke. The victory also earned her the 1993 LPGA money title and the Vare Trophy (low 18-hole scoring average). King then flew overnight from her title-clinching victory in Japan to her home in Scottsdale. Ariz., where she unpacked and packed again in a day and boarded a plane for Bucharest. There was little time to celebrate the victory or the titles or the $595,992 she had won during the season.
"We were standing in snow, freezing, dealing with young children who live under a train station," King says. "It gave me a perspective that has changed my life."
Outreach programs had already become increasingly important to the 38-year-old King. But though she has worked extensively with charities in the U.S., the Romania trip was her first charitable endeavor abroad.
The group traveled to two other Romanian cities to deliver clothing and food to orphanages before returning to Bucharest, where King and Alison Nicholas were so taken with a family they lived with that they gave them money to buy indoor plumbing. "We experienced firsthand what it was like to live without the basic necessities that we take for granted," she says. "Their home was barely heated, but in spite of their poverty, they gave us everything they had. We ate all the time, it seemed. Their faith was so strong that it made mine even stronger."
One of the best experiences, King says, was singing with a church group of Romanian teens at a train station one night. "Hearing Amazing Grace so far from home and in those circumstances was very moving."
The LPGA group also sought out a five-year-old boy, Daniel, who was being adopted by a family who lives near Seattle. When they picked up Daniel in a orphanage, they dressed him in an outfit they had brought from his adoptive parents. "Otherwise lie would have had nothing to wear," King says. Daniel stayed with the visitors during their trip and became so attached to them that he cried when they separated in Bucharest, before the boy's flight to his new home. "He is one of the lucky ones," King says. "It was wonderful to be able to help make things better for him. The whole country is so poor. It's sad to think about the children we left behind."