It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Although, in the case of Marriotts Ridge sophomore Lila Becker, the photo she carries with her on the golf course yields two words above the rest.
“Calm and collected,” said Lila, referencing the snapshot of her parents she keeps safely tucked away in her pull cart. “That’s what my mom would always tell me, no matter what’s happening in life to stay focused and don’t let it get you down. When I look at the photo, it reminds me of that.”
Lila’s mother, Kerry, lost her lengthy battle with breast cancer in early August. Just weeks before the high school golf season was set to begin, after a summer filled with high-level tournaments up and down the East Coast, sports were suddenly an afterthought.
Lila put the clubs away and took a break.
But then, as tryouts approached, she began to realize that stepping away was the opposite of what her biggest cheerleader would have wanted.
“It kind of hit me that my mom would have wanted me to keep playing. Even when she was really sick and I had a tournament, she wanted me to go and play and do what I love,” Lila said. “So then, and even more so now, I try to honor her with my play. I feel like she’s still out there with me.”
In both the way she carries herself as a competitor and in her performance, Lila is certainly doing her mother proud as one of the budding stars on the Howard County golf circuit.
She boasts a 24-point scoring average for the undefeated Mustangs this fall, ranking her fourth among county girls with just one week left in the regular season. Lila set a personal-best 9-hole match score of 27 points (even par) under the Modified Stableford scoring system against Reservoir at Waverly Woods golf club on Aug. 31.
She also was a key piece in helping Marriotts Ridge set a new Howard County record for team score in a regular season match on Sept. 14 with 87 points in a victory over Glenelg.
After finishing last season strong, including placing eighth at the 3A/4A state championship tournament, Lila is on track to reach even loftier heights in her sophomore campaign.
“She’s a strong-willed, hard-working young lady who is continuing to grow as a player in all aspects of her game,” Marriotts Ridge coach Mark Dubbs said. “Her skills have definitely improved since last year, but I think it’s the mental toughness she is showing that is the most impressive. Her ability to block things out and focus on what’s right in front of her has been remarkable.”
Lila first picked up a golf club at the age of eight, hitting the driving range and eventually venturing out onto the course under the tutelage of her father, Randy.
It was roughly one year earlier, in June of 2013, that Kerry was first diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. According to her husband, she developed a fighting mentality from the very beginning, adopting a “Faith over Fear” mantra. This helped her battle through into remission in less than a year.
In early 2014, after concluding multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, she rang the “end of treatment” bell.
Kerry returned to normal activities, including seeing her patients as a Podiatrist. She also had a front row seat as their oldest daughter, Joelle, and Lila begin taking an interest in competitive sports. Joelle — now a senior at Marriotts Ridge — developed a passion for soccer, while Lila took her affinity for golf to the next level by the time she reached middle school.
At the age of 11, Lila started entering competitive golf tournaments and working with a private coach. Her first coach was Rick Serrano at Cattail Creek Country Club and just over a year ago she transitioned to working with Damon Lucas at Turf Valley Golf Club.
And while there has been steady improvement over the years, it wasn’t until this past May that Lila said a true breakthrough happened.
Playing at the Country Club of Salisbury as part of the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour stop in North Carolina, she shot a personal-best round of 69 — her first time shooting under par at 2-under — to close out the 54-hole tournament in fourth place.
“That was kind of the moment when I started looking at golf differently. I don’t know, that changed my mindset I guess,” Lila said.
In the grand scheme of things, the timing of the round was special for other reasons as well.
In spring of 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Kerry developed swollen lymph nodes in her armpit. Subsequent testing revealed that her Triple Negative breast cancer had returned in multiple locations in her body, and she was now diagnosed with advanced Stage IV disease.
The long-term prognosis for the aggressive cancer was bleak, but Kerry approached things with the same determination and positive mindset that she had seven years earlier.
Even when she couldn’t provide support for her children in person, she did it from afar. Such was the case for that Peggy Kirk Bell tournament over Memorial Day weekend.
Kerry had been hospitalized leading up to the event and yet still managed to provide the encouragement her daughter needed.
“I hadn’t wanted to even go to that tournament, I really wanted to stay with her,” Lila said.” But she kind of pushed me to play and we talked [over the phone] before that last round, which I think helped me play the way I did.”
The push to pursue her passions has extended beyond just athletics, according to Lila. Her parents have supported her in her growing interest in becoming a pilot the last few years, helping her sign up for the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program. Her long-term goal is to attend the Air Force Academy.
No dream has ever been too big.
“Making sure her children never wanted for anything and were able to chase their dreams, that’s what always mattered the most to [Kerry],” Randy said.
In trying times, support comes in all shapes and sizes.
Lila and Marriotts Ridge teammate Alana Alexander-Giles, for example, have grown closer than ever during the last year. With the need for Randy to stay home with Kerry and to take care of Lila’s two younger brothers — Ethan (12) and Jacob (6) — that meant alternate travel plans were often necessary to get to tournaments.
Alexander-Giles and her mom were more than happy to assist.
“I basically look at her like a sister now,” Alexander-Giles said. “Traveling together, hanging out with her all the time, it’s been great. Seeing how down to earth she is and how much she tries to help other people, it’s nice to be able to be there for her too.”
Kerry Becker lost her battle with cancer on Aug. 3 at home surrounded by loved ones.
Weeks later, when Lila summoned the strength to rejoin the Marriotts Ridge golf team, her teammates were there to lift her up.
“I think there is a safety net and security that goes with knowing that all these kids love and care for her,” Dubbs said. “A golf team is a much smaller group of kids than other sports and I think that makes them closer. That bond helps tremendously in situations like this.”
In honor of Kerry, the Marriotts Ridge golf team is donning pink shirts this season. Additionally, before the team’s first match of the year at Waverly Woods, the Mustangs’ five captains hit pink golf balls in unison off the first tee as part of a remembrance ceremony.
“It kind of caught me off guard, I didn’t know they were going to do that at all. But it obviously meant a lot to me,” Lila said.
With the postseason quickly approaching, beginning with the District V Championship tournament on Oct. 3 at Crofton Country Club, Lila says her game is rounding into form. She has big goals both individually and for Marriotts Ridge as a team.
Finding motivation and inspiration certainly won’t be an issue.
“I see a lot of Kerry in Lila. Her patience, grace and ability to think through things when she’s out on the course, I think she got a lot of that from her mom,” Randy said. “And she’s come through this with a perspective and resolve that very few teenagers have. I’m very proud of her and I know Kerry is too.”
The Patient Care and Comfort Fund out of the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center functions to support and provide a variety of resources to assist patients and their families during difficult times. It epitomizes how strong the community can be when it comes together and supports a struggling member. If you would like to donate to the fund in honor of Kerry, and help other families in their fight against cancer, then please feel free to use this link: https://www.umms.org/bwmc/giving/patient-care-comfort