But soon after last year's Michelob, Ellenbogen lost her mojo.
Scores in the 80s, even a ghastly 94. Scattered shots and lost confidence. A self-imposed break and a three-month escape to Florida for some fresh instruction.
"I definitely wasn't comfortable with the physical aspects of my swing," Ellenbogen said. "There was a little lack of confidence, too. … But it was more my swing. I was putting (the ball) in places where it was impossible to recover."
Beth Daniel understands. From U.S. Amateur championships as a teen in the 1970s to 33 LPGA victories, she navigated many a peak and valley.
A 2000 Hall of Fame honoree, Daniel said that stepping away from tournament competition is the prudent course.
"I always went back to basics," she said. "I went back to grip, setup and all that kind of stuff with my teacher and basically started from scratch.
"You can't relax, and I think that's true of the high level in any sport. ... When you're on top and slack off, that's when it comes back to haunt you."
Ellenbogen qualified for a second consecutive U.S. Open last summer but didn't sniff the cut with two rounds of 79. She returned to American Junior Golf Association events and continued to struggle. Even less rigorous high school competition in the fall offered no respite.
At the Polo Junior Championships in late November, Ellenbogen shot 84-85 to finish last among the 79 girls vying for a place in the event's match-play phase.
Her opening round included but two pars and embodied bizarre. She triple-bogeyed two par-3s and double-bogeyed three consecutive holes to more than negate five birdies.
Prater, a former pro at Blacksburg Country Club now teaching at Roanoke CC, noticed technical flaws but considered Ellenbogen's issues "more mental than anything. There might have been a little bit of burnout, and she didn't want to admit it. It was a growing-up stage."
Indeed, Ellenbogen took pride in her hectic tournament schedule and daily workout regimen. But during December she took two or three days off per week.
Then she and her parents headed south. Ellenbogen withdrew from Blacksburg High, enrolled in a Naples, Fla., private school and, on a referral, began working with Mark Durland, the lead instructor at the Naples Grande Golf School.
Durland tinkered with Ellenbogen's setup and suggested one swing adjustment. Mostly he tried to ease her mind.
Durland saw a naïve teenager make the transition from the fun of playing for trophies to the work and business of chasing professional goals.
"Her (swing) action was very good," Durland said. "She's got a lot of natural ability. The girl works harder and is more dedicated than any student I've worked with. That's one of those things you can't teach. From there I just tried to stay out of her way."
Durland was scheduled to meet Ellenbogen at Kingsmill, help her map Pete Dye's River Course and work with her on the range. He believes she'll regain her form.
Moreover, he glimpsed that form during their on-course sessions.
"She helped me," Durland said. "She elevated my game. I couldn't let her beat me."
Ellenbogen said Durland "was great for my swing and my game." She's encouraged about "the direction my game is headed" and late last month re-enrolled at Blacksburg High, where she'll graduate with friends in June.
LPGA at Kingsmill
Blacksburg teen Ellenbogen fighting slump
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