Laetitia Beck is well on her way to becoming the Sandy Koufax of women’s professional golf.

Like Koufax, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who famously refused to play in Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, Beck, a Duke University sophomore from Israel and rising star on Blue Devils golf team, has opted out of this Saturday’s Tar Heel Invitational. Instead, she’ll spend the holiest day of the Jewish year fasting and praying at the nearby Chabad-Lubavitch at Duke University.

“I chose not to play because it’s one of the most important holidays,” explains 19-year-old Beck of her decision. “I keep kosher, my Judaism is very important to me, and I keep all the other holidays. On Yom Kippur, no matter what, I have to fast.”

Beck, whose family moved from Belgium to Israel when she was six years old, is familiar with resolve and determination. She first picked up a golf club at the age of 9 and at age 12 won the Israeli Open Golf Tournament. At 14, Beck left her home base of Caesarea, a picturesque town on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, to train at the renowned IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

“I [tried to keep] kosher at the Academy even though they didn’t have any strictly kosher food or meat,” recalls Beck, her voice a smoothed-over Israeli accent with a faint trace of her Belgian birthplace. “I just ate the vegetarian option like pasta or pizza and fish. But some of the tournaments don’t have any vegetarian options like pasta or rice, so it can be kind of a challenge, but I’m pretty used to it by now.”

This August, Beck became the first golfer from Israel to play in a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) event. To display her pride in Israel, she pinned a small blue and white Israeli flag on her shoes, something that she continues to do in all tournaments. Sometimes she’ll wear the flag on her hat, other times on her clubs.

“We are just beginning to see the meteoric rise of Laetitia as she rises steadily in the world of golf,” says Rabbi Zalman Bluming, director of the Chabad House where Beck is a steady fixture, eating meals in its dining hall and turning up for weekly Friday night diners.

“That she chooses to use the limelight to unabashedly present Israel in the most stellar of light and carries her Jewishness and identity in the forefront is really exemplary and refreshing,” Bluming continues. “At a time when so many Jews struggle with how to merge their Jewishness within the secular world, Laetitia serves as a role model to so many in this community.”

Laetitia Beck swings at the 2010 Caesarea Golf Club Championship. (Photo: Yoav Etiel/Hamoshavot Magazine)
Laetitia Beck swings at the 2010 Caesarea Golf Club Championship. (Photo: Yoav Etiel/Hamoshavot Magazine)

In turn, Beck also expresses her own deep gratitude for both the professional and spiritual support of Bluming and his wife, co-director Yehudis Bluming.

“It’s so great to have them here,” effuses Beck. “The Chabad House is a very special place. Everybody that comes there is always happy and very excited to meet new people. It’s great to have a friendly and warm place to go on Passover and Shabbat and all the other holidays, with everybody celebrating being Jewish.”

Moishe Menacker, a friend of Beck and active member of the Chabad House, calls the talented golfer “very special.”

“She’s very modest and very friendly with everyone,” says Menacker. “On the one hand she’s a very sensitive person, but on the other hand, she’s very determined in her athletic life and very strong in representing Israel. It’s not simple for anyone to represent Israel and talk about Israel, especially in [an] academic environment, but she does this in a very firm and precious way.

“A lot of Jews prefer to be quiet, but Laetitia is not afraid to be proud of being Jewish,” he adds. “This is what makes her a good person, a good Jew and a good athlete.”

Beck, who has yet to declare a college major, has her sights set on turning pro, but she’s also resolved to maintain her strong ties to Israel and become its de facto ambassador on the Duke University – and worldwide – golf course.

“When I play golf I’m very proud to represent Israel,” says Beck. “My goal is to represent Israel and the Jewish people.”

Editor’s Note, Oct. 9, 2011: In a search of its archives, JTA identified Clara Spitz as refusing to play in the 1926 Virginia State Golf Association amateur championship in deference to Yom Kippur, likely making her one of the first such athletes to opt out of competition on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.