Petrovic brothers bond through illness

By Jason SobelMarch 14, 2012, 1:04 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Tim Petrovic is having trouble concentrating while lining up a 15-foot putt on the first green during a practice round for this week’s Transitions Championship. Shoulders heaving up and down, cheeks puffed beyond their default setting, a great big guffaw echoes from somewhere deep within his body. It’s an infectious laugh, and as soon as Tim starts, his brother Stephen joins in, a bit more muted, but no less joyful.

They are recalling a favorite story from their youth in the Hartford, Conn., suburbs. The year was 1984 and in an effort to score prime tickets to a Van Halen concert, the brothers slept overnight in a frigid, beat-up El Camino with limited supplies. At one point in the evening, Tim (pictured above right) handed Stephen (left) a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, only for it to vanish seconds later.

“I look over and he’s going like this,” Tim recalls, brow furrowed and palms upturned in mock exaggeration of his brother’s disbelief. “I go, ‘What the hell are you looking for?’ He says, ‘I’m looking for my sandwich.’ Then he turns toward the window and I look over and somehow the sandwich is stuck to the middle of his back.”

The punchline elicits more roars of delight from the Petrovic boys, who easily segue into other tales of sibling revelry. Like their games of backyard “bat ball,” in which a left-handed blast into the neighbor’s pool was an automatic grand slam. Or the time they traversed the neighborhood armed with only a garage door opener in an attempt to find out where it would work. Or when Tim shot an arrow through a hornets’ nest, receiving about 100 stings in the aftermath.

Separated by two-and-a-half years – Tim was a high school senior when Stephen was a freshman – it wasn’t until after their parents’ divorce that they were separated by life.

“He went on his golf way and I went on my work way,” explains Stephen, who owns a law degree, but builds gas stations in the Northeast. “So it’s tough to spend a lot of time together.” 

That hasn’t been true throughout their entire adulthood, though. After filling in as Tim’s caddie for a tournament in late-2004, Stephen decided to take the role on a part-time basis the next year, helping his brother to his lone PGA Tour win in New Orleans – their very first week working together that season. He remained on the bag about 10 times per year through 2008 before deciding to stay home full-time with his wife and two young daughters.

Since then, the memories of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and garage door openers remain, but the brothers have been further separated by life. Tim has a family and career; Stephen does, too. Like so many grown brothers, they try to stay in touch about once a week, but too often Tim might be at dinner when Stephen calls, or Stephen might be at the driving range with his girls when Tim rings him back. Keeping in touch gets tougher with age, you know.

Until it becomes a necessity.

On Christmas morning at their mother’s house, Stephen wrapped himself in two blankets, but was carrying an elevated fever and couldn’t stop shivering. Thinking it was his annual flu, he was treated for the symptoms by a doctor, only to have them return shortly thereafter, this time accompanied by swelling in his joints. Again, he received flu treatment and again the swelling returned throughout his body, now coupled with lightheadedness.

One month after that Christmas fever, Stephen was once again at his doctor’s office, having blood samples drawn for various tests.

“She called me at noon on a Sunday,” he remembers. “She’s like, ‘You’ve got to go to the hospital right now.’ My white blood cell count was 161,000. Normal is 7,000-10,000. She said, ‘It looks like leukemia and you’ve got to go to the hospital right now.’”

Stephen was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a fairly common and treatable yet still dangerous form of cancer that starts from inside the bone marrow.

He called his brother that day, sharing the news with Tim as he prepared to compete in a Monday qualifier for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Stephen implored him to remain there and continue playing golf, but the next morning Tim showed up in his room at Hartford Hospital, much to his brother’s surprise.

“He kept asking, ‘What are you doing?’” Tim recalls. “I said, ‘What do you mean? I had to be here.’ I think that’s when it really hit him what was going on.”

Stephen started undergoing chemotherapy treatments almost immediately while Tim – the brother with whom he tried to stay in touch once a week – slept on the chair next to his bed, only leaving his side to procure meals from nearby restaurants. To bide the time, they watched “Law & Order” reruns, Stephen mixing in some mental training for his older brother whenever he could.

“I was taking advantage of the time to coach him,” he says. “I was kind of working the ropes, planting little seeds in his head.”

After watching his brother react to the chemo with what he describes as “flying colors,” Tim invited him back on the bag in a cameo role. They each believed a reunion at the site of their only victory in late-April would work best – and they’re still optimistic for a return to New Orleans – but Stephen’s doctors cleared him earlier, and so he’s caddying at this week’s event outside of Tampa.

That doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods. In fact, the worst part is yet to come. Stephen needs a stem cell transplant; when a suitable donor is found, he will undergo that procedure and spend 4-5 weeks in a Boston hospital, followed by approximately nine months of at-home care.

Tim is among those hopeful he’s a donor match. It would require about two weeks away from competition – a small price to pay in order to help his brother. In the meantime, he’s gained some perspective from Stephen, who isn’t afraid to remind him to not take anything for granted.

“If he gets pissy or starts pouting, I’m going to be like, ‘You’re hitting a golf ball. I’m the one who’s fighting,’” Stephen says earnestly. “He’s going to be loose and more focused on me than golf. For him, that’s a good thing. When he’s focused too much on golf, that’s bad.”

If there’s a positive to the disease that has gripped Stephen, a glint of silver lining to this otherwise dark cloud, it’s that two brothers who grew up as best friends no longer talk only once a week. They don’t even limit themselves to once a day, instead checking in on one another every few hours.

That’s when they aren’t together, of course, which has been an awful lot lately. If Tim wasn’t playing a tournament these past two months, he was likely found in the Hartford area, simply providing a shoulder on which Stephen could lean.

This week they’ll lean on each other. Tim will try to play his best golf for his brother, while Stephen will attempt to get the most out of his game. Sure, the conversation during their rounds will turn to such topics as white blood cell counts and chemotherapy treatments, but it will more often include recollections of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and garage door openers and Van Halen tickets.

When it does, the Petrovic boys will laugh their distinctive laughs, putting aside fear and distress in favor of camaraderie. Like so many brothers, they were once separated by life. Like too few, they are separated no longer.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry