Memories of Willie Kane

By Jerry FoltzJanuary 15, 2006, 5:00 pm
The eerie silence was all to common to those of us in the team van one spring day in 1984 as we pulled away from the Sanford Intercollegiate en route to our next college tournament in Northern California. Once again, we had performed well below our capability, and our coach wasn't impressed in the least.
The University of Arizona was considered to be a premier college golf program, yet once again, we didn't deliver.
Shortly into the trip to Stockton, we disguised our own disappointment with a game of high ball-low ball. As a six-man team we went through our hole-by-bole scores to determine our team best ball followed by our team worst ball. Sixty-seven was the best we could do, meaning that out of six players, we only had five birdies for the entire day. But when we started calculating the worst ball, we quickly realized that we couldn't be touched. Surely no one could match 98.
I pitched in two doubles and a triple. Dave Pooley added a couple of 'others' of his own. But it was Willie who brought it home with a 9 on the final hole. It was understandable if coach Rick LaRose didn't share in our enthusiasm for this unequivocal title assumption, but the rest of us were enjoying our own personal carnage assessment nonetheless.
Knowing that our conversation was the only way to make the long drive to Stockton tolerable, we continued. We proceeded to sound-off our three-day individual totals. Par was 216, and John Schoonover started the procession with a proud team-low proclamation or 224. Next was Magnus with something like 228. Myself, 242, and on down the line. Willie was last to speak, and instead of stating a 34-over-par 250, Willie drew the biggest laugh when he proudly proclaimed his score -- two............and...........a half.
Last Saturday, Willie completed another challenge in two and a half, but the result couldn't be further from the humor we found in his first.
Last Saturday, Willie Kane completed the Disney Half-Marathon in roughly two and a half hours. Moments later, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
The 43-year-old father of two lived, and died, his worst nightmare.
Willie was just 5-years-old when his father died at the age of 42 of a brain tumor. Being the youngest of six children, Willie only knew of the void in his life left by the early passing of his father. His memories weren't near as vivid as his siblings. But his goal in life was to not leave his two boys with the same void. And Willie knew how to accomplish goals.
It's reported that Willie essentially talked his way onto his high-school golf team. It wasn't his talent that got him a roster spot, just an undeniable and contagious belief in himself that his coach accurately sensed. From there, he walked-on to the University of Arizona golf team with little hope of ever achieving a spot on the traveling squad. But nobody told Willie that. He worked harder than any human I've ever met, and he knew deep in his heart that someday he would earn that spot regardless what others thought. By the time he received his degree, Willie had earned All Pac-10 honors as a standout on the golf team.
During college, Willie earned his way by working ridiculous hours at the Randolph Municipal driving range. His boss was former PGA Tour star Homero Blancas, and Willie revered him. Homero took Willie under his wing and taught him what it took to not only be a good player, but what it took to be a champion.
At the time, Homero had what was considered to be one of the cushiest head pro jobs in the area. Head pro at a public facility meant very few headaches with members, and little to tolerate in terms of politics and oversight. Homero could have handled any situation, but this one seemed to fit him perfectly. And Willie used to talk about it all the time. Somehow, the rest of us knew that someday, Willie would end up with Homero's job, and for the last five years, that's exactly what Willie had'his 'dream job.'
As a professional golfer, Willie chased the dream for quite a few years. That quest took him to the far-off reaches of the globe. It found him struggling to make ends-meet on many occasions. But somehow, everyone who knew Willie knew that he would succeed -- that he would be ok.
Eventually, Willie settled on the life of a club pro. Sometimes life happens, and for Willie, that life would entail getting married and starting a family. Willie pursued life, and golf, with a passion, and now his passion was redirected. His passion became that which he really never had -- to be the best dad in the world and be there for his two boys the way he'd often dreamed his dad could have been there for him.
Before Willie landed his dream job at Randolph, he spent time as head pro at another public course. From time to time, our paths would cross, and each time Willie was the same exact person that I met in 1982.
Willie and I were roommates when I first got to U of A, and of the many memories that I'll take with me forever, none are more prominent that his ability to make you smile and feel good about yourself. You see, Willie took his responsibilities very seriously. He took his golf and his education seriously. He took his role in the community seriously and volunteered to help coach his old high school team. He gave of himself anytime a junior golfer needed advice, or instruction, or just somebody to listen. Obviously, he took his role as a father very seriously. Willie took everything in the world seriously, except himself.
Willie never once complained when things didn't go his way. He never got discouraged, he never looked back. He just continued to astound when he would grit his teeth, work harder, keep a positive attitude, and finish whatever job he set out to do. He might have seemed like a dreamer, or a hoper, but he wasn't. He was a doer. Willie got things done -- he never stopped until his goals were accomplished.
Willie started to train and get into shape for a number of reasons. He still had some things to accomplish as a player and conditioning was a big part of the process. But mostly, he wanted to be as healthy as he could to insure that he would be around long enough to watch his kids grow. He saw jogging and running the marathon as one step in that direction.
While training, Willie would get frustrated when his body wouldn't cooperate. When he couldn't make it that extra mile, he got mad, but he pushed. He had seen a doctor to make sure that he could handle the physical exertion, and although some caution was urged, nothing was detected that would suggest he couldn't handle the training.
Willie Kane finished 4,871st out of a field of 11,761 in the Disney Half Marathon, and although we'll never know what Willie was thinking coming down that final stretch, we do know that Willie was going to finish the race.
Willie Kane finished every race.
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    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.