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Ex-USC golfer catches a break

On what she calls a “typical day” recently, Adrienne Gautreaux was working behind the pro shop counter at Cedar Creek Country Club in Kemp, Texas, while running a high school golf tournament and conducting a telephone interview. Later, she would give golf lessons and teach her karate class.

So it’s no surprise that Gautreaux, a former All-American for the South Carolina women’s golf team, was hardly fazed by the competition during Golf Channel’s “Big Break: Ka’anapali” series, which began Tuesday night. (Gautreaux will produce a weekly video blog diary of her experiences exclusively for www.thestate.com).

If the self-described “feisty redhead” from Mabank, Texas, can juggle all those balls on a regular basis — plus help her new husband, Brent McDonald, raise his 7-year-old daughter — what can 11 female competitors do to throw her off-stride?

“It hasn’t been an easy go,” the 26-year-old said of her oft-frustrating golf career and life in general. “But I don’t expect it to be.”

When we last saw Gautreaux at USC in 2004, she was helping the Gamecocks make a run to the NCAA regionals. A 2003 graduate, she turned professional after her eligibility expired — and ran headlong into reality.

“I played the (LPGA’s) Futures Tour a few years but ran out of money,” Gautreaux said. “I played one full season, then it got to the point I was trying to play so I can play next week, having to pay (entry fees) weeks in advance.

“It’s hard to make putts when they’re all do-or-die — your livelihood.”

It was while competing on the Dallas-based Ladies National Golf Tour that she heard about auditions for the Big Break. Gautreaux figured she was perfect for the series — not just for her golf skills, but for her life, which producers liked for dramatic tension.

“I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got a great story,’” she said. Gautreaux dealt with the death of her mother while in high school and the loss of friend Courtney Howard to cancer.

She also had an “in” with Big Break producer Martha Mae Tucker, who “was fighting for her fellow redhead,” Gautreaux said. After auditioning twice without success, she was selected to fly to Maui, Hawaii, for 15 days of videotaping in December.

Golf Channel rules prevent Gautreaux from revealing any details of the show, which as in previous Big Breaks involves competitions that “test physical skills and mental toughness,” a Golf Channel spokesman said.

“It’s exciting, different and new, but I can’t say how,” she said.

Gautreaux knows about exciting and different. Take her marriage to McDonald, who owns a plumbing business and is five years older. They met when he was one of her karate students — “I called him by the wrong name for a while” — and knew each other for three years before they began dating; they were engaged three months later.

“I thought, ‘Man, this guy is an awesome Christian,’” she said. “He’s all I wanted in a soul mate. He’s like my superhero.”

The Big Break winner receives a paid-for year on the Futures Tour, a golf equipment endorsement contract, $10,000 and a BMW Z4 coupe — plus a berth in this year’s Navistar LPGA Classic.

Gautreaux hopes to parlay her appearance into sponsorships or a shot at a TV sports career.

“I’ve got everything in the world but money,” she said. And, of course, free time.

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.

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