Game of Life: Parkinson's Place

By Mercer BaggsApril 25, 2011, 11:36 pm

LUTZ, Fla. – He’s about what you would expect in person. He’s very casual in a slightly wrinkled, light brown golf polo and knee-length plaid shorts, deck shoes with no socks. There’s still a hint of youth in his features, but when you do the math in your head, you realize he’s nearing 50 years of age – which only serves to remind you of how old you've become.

He’s wearing sunglasses, but politely removes them in anticipation of the impending interview.

He’s fidgety, but not shaking uncontrollably. His hands are in constant motion as he talks, like a conductor directing the words, and his legs are bouncing like those of an unprepared teen taking a final exam.

Twenty years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Michael J. Fox is outside Tampa for the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, an event on the Champions Tour. He played in the amateur portion of the tournament the last two years, but his schedule would not allow it this time around.

Still, he’s here. His Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is a benefactor of the Pro-Am’s charitable distributions.

If ever anyone was put behind golf’s 8-ball, it would be Fox. He didn’t start playing until five years ago, and that was only because he wanted to show support for those hosting fundraising golf tournaments. By then he was 44 and 15 years into his battle with Parkinson’s.

“I wish I had played it earlier, but I was so wrapped up in my work and being Michael Fox. Everything moved at such a fast pace, I didn’t take time to slow down,” said the actor known for his roles on the TV series 'Family Ties' and the 'Back to the Future' movie trilogy.

'Now, I play about two times a week. It doesn’t do me any good,” hecracked about trying to improve his game. “But I enjoy it.”

Tom Hutchinson loved the game. He once took off an entire month from work just to play golf every day. Now 68, he sits in a wheelchair, confined by Parkinson's disease which he was diagnosed with over a decade ago.

“I really miss it,” he lamented, not with a look of sadness, but with an air of fondness. “I played every course in Hawaii [while in the Navy], then came to Florida and played every course down here.”

Tom said he usually shot in the 90s, but once carded a personal-best 77. He also said he caddied for Jim Ferree in the Hawaiian Open. Lee Trevino was in that group, according to Tom.

“I loved his personality,” Hutchinson said of Trevino. “He was my favorite. He was so mouthy.”

Tom doesn’t remember exactly when that took place – sometime in the ‘60s, he figured. He also said it had been 11 years since he last played golf – at the time of his diagnosis. His wife, Martha, countered with six.

“He has lost some of his memory,” Martha Hutchinson said. “He played some after he was diagnosed, for four or five years. He was such a perfectionist, though …”

Her words trailed off. You knew what she meant.

The Hutchinsons take part in a Parkinson’s support group in Orlando, Fla. On a Thursday morning in March, at the Seventh Adventist Church at Florida Hospital, there were 25 people in attendance: 13 with the disease, 12 providing care.

They all shared introductions and stories. Those in battle performed physical therapy, both with their bodies and with their mouths. They moved to music like “Shake It Up, Baby.” They sang songs like “This Land is Your Land.” They voiced words like “lips,” “teeth,” “tongue” and “jaw.” They worked on their breathing and volume control.

They did all these things because they are difficult to do in their condition, and without proper exercise they would become impossible.

Parkinson’s disease makes the easy, arduous: walking, talking, breathing, remembering. It’s a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, resulting from the death of dopamine-containing cells in the brain. It is, in the present, incurable.

The National Parkinson Foundation reports 50,000-60,000 new cases of the disease each year in the U.S. One million Americans have Parkinson’s, according to the foundation, and 4 million to 6 million suffer from the condition worldwide.

The economic burden is staggering, estimated at $6 billion in the U.S. and more than $23 billion worldwide.

“Money helps, but it’s not enough,” Fox said of what is needed to find a cure. “It’s about getting top researchers to take our case. We’re competing against other diseases for money and research. Science is hard. It’s as much about failure as it is success. It can smell of failure, but it’s a process. You have to find what doesn’t work and rule it out in an effort to eventually find out what does work.”

It took 2 ½ years for one of the ladies in the support group to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Doctors originally “assured” her that she did not have multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s. But they couldn’t rightfully tell her what was wrong. It took a hand doctor to finally properly diagnosis her.

It was like that for Don Thomson as well.

“It just became a process of elimination over a period of years,” Don’s wife, Faye, said. “Nothing is for sure. He actually went on Parkinson’s medication and got worse.”

Don’s symptoms started with memory loss. He would play golf and couldn't remember where his ball went or what his score was. He never had the tell-tale signs of bodily shaking, but Parkinson’s is like an open-ended question, one without conformity of answers.

Don was an engineering manager for IBM. He used to play golf with his work buddies and volunteered for the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill for eight years, directing the player’s parking lot.

Three years ago, he had to quit both.

Now 70, Don has three sons, four granddaughters and four grandsons. “Being around family makes him happy,” Faye said.

Don moves with a tempered gait. He struggles to express himself, in part because the memories have been shuffled to unknown places inside his head. But this he recalls: “Arnie was the one I loved to watch play. [I would] say 'hi' as he was buzzing around on that golf cart.”

Dick Reihm’s favorite player was Payne Stewart.

“He was such a character. He reminded me, with the way he dressed, of one of the old guys,” Reihm said.

Reihm is originally from Detroit. He started playing golf when he was “seven or eight.” He’s now 83.

It’s been four years since he last teed it up, since the time of his diagnosis. When asked what he misses most about the game, he says in his soft, barely audible voice, “When I hit it 250 [yards].”

He smiles, as if recalling one of those drives.

Two decades into his Parkinson’s journey, Fox has been making people feel better about themselves and their situation. Sometimes it’s encouraging words, maybe a handshake or a hug, perhaps a smile. Sometimes it’s just the knowledge of a shared experience.

“There was this young lady,” he told of someone to whom he was introduced at the Outback Pro-Am pairings party on the eve of the event. “She had a stroke. I could see her getting overwhelmed [when they met]. There is an affinity, a connection. I get that all the time. For all of the deepest conversations I’ve had with people, there is an unspoken connection that is so much more powerful. You see it in life, with tragedy and affliction. But it’s not a sadness. It’s an understanding.”

It took Fox a while to come to terms with his affliction. Diagnosed in 1991, at just 29, his initial reaction wasn’t ‘Why me?’, but rather, 'This can’t happen to me. I’m Michael Fox – the actor, the movie star.'

It took seven years for Fox to open his personal door for others to see what had taken control inside.

Now, as he sits at a circular table in the TPC Tampa Bay dining facility, facing a reporter who grew up watching him on screens small and large during both their adolescence, he – along with Muhammad Ali – has become the personification of the Parkinson’s fight.

“Bio markers,” said Fox, who advocates stem cell research. “That’s the key. There is no early diagnosis for Parkinson’s, not until you show the symptoms. By then, 80 percent of your dopamine cells are gone. That’s why you need a bio marker. That would help us target the disease from the outset. You could begin early treatment and that could be crucial to quality of life.”

April is National Parkinson’s Awareness month. The Orlando support group embodies the theme, “Shaky but Not Shaken.”

It was a constant quiver in Charlie Herring’s right hand, back in 1995, which first concerned him.

“After mowing the grass my right hand would shake. Whenever I did something physical, it would do that. Then, my [right] leg started to shake,” he said.

“I was referred to a neurologist. He told me to take some pills and come back in a week. When I went back, he said, ‘Did the pills work?’ And I said, ‘Yes. No more shaking or trembling.’ ‘You have Parkinson’s.’ Because I reacted to the medication, it showed that I had the disease.”

People associate trembling, often violent in nature, with Parkinson’s. They think of Ali. They think of Fox during his 2006 television ad stumping for U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

But most don’t see how it truly affects those and the ones that love them.

The don't see the insecurities. 'You can feel very conspicuous when you are in public,' Herring said.

They don’t see the “freezing,” which Herring describes as, “The body doesn’t respond to the brain. It happens a lot when you enter hallways or try to go through doors. Your brain is telling you to take a step and you can’t.”

David Aiken has this problem. His wife, Marti Miller, tells him, “’Stop.’ That gets his brain to stop and reset. Then I say, ‘Shift your weight to your right foot. Now to your left foot.’ That will get him started moving again.”

Marti is one of the handful of spouses in attendance this Thursday. While the patients are exercising, some of the caregivers move to an adjacent room to talk amongst themselves.

“We watch a lot of old movies. We dance a lot,” Marti tells the group. “We look for normalcy. When we go out to eat, I like to sit at the bar, just to talk to other people.”

Marti’s a talker. She’s been aptly nicknamed the “Mouth of the South.” A native of South Georgia and long-time resident of Winter Park, Fla., she and the rest of the group – four other ladies and one man – share experiences. They talk about what medications their partners are on. They talk about the past. They wonder aloud about the future.

They unburden themselves.

“We try and assume we can do everything until we can’t,” Marti said of her and David’s approach to life. “You’ve got no choice but to be positive.”

“You know,” she continued, “what we grieve about is the loss of our partner. This is not the man – or woman – that we married.

“The other day, I called him and told him to get a painting from the bedroom. He said he couldn’t find it. I told him, ‘It’s right there, by the bed.’ He still couldn’t find it. Sure enough, when I got home it was there. He just didn’t know that was the one I was talking about. It didn’t process. I got mad at him – then I get so mad at myself for getting mad at him.”

Patience is more than a virtue when dealing with this illness. It’s a necessity. And it can be damn hard to come by.

As support group leader Anissa Mitchell said, “They don’t get to leave this disease at the door when they leave here – patients or caregivers.”

The stress is evident, hanging in the air in the main room where the patients and the caregivers congregate prior to the start of their meeting. But as people go around and introduce themselves, relaying how long they’ve been suffering with Parkinson’s and how they are feeling on this day, the mood seems light, jovial even.

“My specialty is falling,” joked of one elderly gentleman during his introduction. Later, when the subject of golf was broached, he interjected, “That Tiger … he’s got a 22-year-old girlfriend.”

Because some of their words are methodical, because many of their reactions are delayed, because most rely on others for subsistence, don’t underestimate their capacity for comprehension.

“Wonder what Tiger Woods is going to do?” questioned Reihm. “He seems to have a mental block.”

Golf was a big part of Reihm’s life, the same as it was for Tom Hutchinson and Don Thomson. The same as it is for Michael Fox at the moment.

“Golf is a lot like life,” Fox said. “You whack it in the pond, hit it in the bush, whiff three times in the trap. You have to keep moving forward. Have to buckle down and saddle up.”

Fox has put into practice that which he preaches. The Michael J. Fox Foundation, according to its website, has donated $233 million to Parkinson’s research since its inception in 2000. He’s tireless in his efforts to fight this disease, leading the life of activist over actor.

Golf has provided him with an avenue to meet new people, to preach from his soap box, to raise money and awareness.

“It’s a great vehicle for charity. I’m amazed, all the time, how people come together and get involved at every level. A lot of people laugh when I say this, but I think [golf] brings out the best in people in a lot of instances,” he said.

Fox isn’t much for keeping score when he plays, not afraid to pocket a ball or mark an 'X.' He just loves to be engaged; so much so that he will plan family vacations around courses he wants to tackle.

That’s Michael Andrew Fox [The “J” is homage to character actor Michael J. Pollard]. A husband of 20 years to Tracy Pollan. A father to Sam Michael (21), twins Aquinnah Kathleen and Schuyler Frances (16), and Esmé Annabelle (9). An iconic actor. A tireless activist. An enthusiastic golfer.

A man comfortable with his lot in life.

“Absolutely, no doubt about it,” he said. “I was given so much when I was young. I had so many blessings. This was a wake-up call. I found out there is more to life than just my career. This was an opportunity to be of service. To motivate change. I’m in a position to make this more public, increase awareness.

“I accept this as a privilege.”


Editor's note: GolfChannel.com is running a Game of Life seriesthroughout the year, which highlights human interest stories, fromthose of inspiration to those of caution and woe. If you have or know ofsuch a story, please submit an email to mbaggs@golfchannel.com.

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LPGA schedule features 34 events, record purse

By Randall MellDecember 13, 2017, 2:02 pm

The LPGA schedule will once again feature 34 events next year with a record $68.75 million in total purses, the tour announced on Wednesday.

While three events are gone from the 2018 schedule, three new events have been added, with two of those on the West Coast and one in mainland China.

The season will again start with the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic on Paradise Island (Jan. 25-28) and end with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla., (Nov. 15-18).

The LPGA played for $65 million in total prize money in 2017.

An expanded West Coast swing in the front half of the schedule will now include the HUGEL-JTBC Championship in the Los Angeles area April 19-22. The site will be announced at a later date.

The tour will then make a return to San Francisco’s Lake Merced Golf Club the following week, in a new event sponsored by L&P Cosmetics, a Korean skincare company. Both new West Coast tournaments will be full-field events.

The tour’s third new event will be played in Shanghai Oct. 18-21 as part of the fall Asian swing. The title sponsor and golf course will be announced at a later date.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of our schedule is the consistency — continuing to deliver strong playing opportunities both in North America and around the world, while growing overall purse levels every year,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement. “There is simply no better [women’s] tour opportunity in the world, when it comes to purses, global TV coverage or strength of field. It’s an exciting time in women’s golf, with the best players from every corner of the globe competing against each other in virtually every event.”

While the Evian Championship will again be played in September next year, the tour confirmed its plans to move its fifth major to the summer in 2019, to be part of a European swing, with the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

The Manulife LPGA Classic and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational are not returning to the schedule next year. Also, the McKayson New Zealand Women’s Open will not be played next year as it prepares to move to the front of the 2019 schedule, to be paired with the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

The U.S. Women’s Open will make its new place earlier in the summer, a permanent move in the tour’s scheduling. It will be played May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek Golf Club outside Birmingham, Ala. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (June 28-July 1) will be played at Kemper Lakes Golf Club on the north side of Chicago and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (Aug. 2-5) will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

For the first time since its inception in 2014, the UL International Crown team event is going overseas, with the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, scheduled to host the event Oct. 4-7. The KEB Hana Bank Championship will be played in South Korean the following week.

Here is the LPGA's schedule for 2018:

Jan. 25-28: Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic; Paradise Island, Bahamas; Purse: $1.4 million

Feb. 15-18: ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open; Adelaide, Australia; Purse: $1.3 million

Feb. 21-24: Honda LPGA Thailand; Chonburi, Thailand; Purse: $1.6 million

March 1-4: HSBC Women's World Championship; Singapore; Purse: $1.5 million

March 15-18: Bank of Hope Founders Cup; Phoenix, Arizona; Purse: $1.5 million

March 22-25: Kia Classic; Carlsbad, California; Purse: $1.8 million

March 29 - April 1: ANA Inspiration; Rancho Mirage, California; Purse: $2.8 million

April 11-14: LOTTE Championship; Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii; Purse: $2 million

April 19-22: HUGEL-JTBC Championship; Greater Los Angeles, California; Purse: $1.5 million

April 26-29: Name to be Announced; San Francisco, California; Purse: $1.5 million

May 3-6: Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic; The Colony, Texas; Purse: $1.3 million

May 17-20: Kingsmill Championship; Williamsburg, Virginia; Purse: $1.3 million

May 24-27: LPGA Volvik Championship; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Purse: $1.3 million

May 31 - June 3: U.S. Women's Open Championship; Shoal Creek, Alabama; Purse: $5 million

June 8-10: ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer; Galloway, New Jersey; Purse: $1.75 million

June 14-17: Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Purse: $2 million

June 22-24: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G; Rogers, Arkansas; Purse: $2 million

June 28 - July 1: KPMG Women's PGA Championship; Kildeer, Illinois; Purse: $3.65 million

July 5-8: Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic; Oneida, Wisconsin; Purse: $2 million

July 12-15: Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-I; Sylvania, Ohio; Purse: $1.6 million

July 26-29: Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open; East Lothian, Scotland; Purse: $1.5 million

Aug. 2-5: Ricoh Women's British Open; Lancashire, England; Purse: $3.25 million

Aug. 16-19: Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim; Indianapolis, Indiana; Purse: $2 million

Aug. 23-26: CP Women's Open; Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; Purse: $2.25 million

Aug. 30 - Sept. 2: Cambia Portland Classic; Portland, Oregon; Purse: $1.3 million

Sept. 13-16: The Evian Championship; Evian-les-Bains, France; Purse: $3.85 million

Sept. 27-30: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Purse: $1.8 million

Oct. 4-7: UL International Crown; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $1.6 million

Oct. 11-14: LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship; Incheon, Korea; Purse: $2 million

Oct. 18-21: Name to be Announced; Shanghai, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Oct. 25-28: Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship; New Taipei City, Chinese Taipei; Purse: $2.2 million

Nov. 2-4: TOTO Japan Classic; Shiga, Japan; Purse: $1.5 million

Nov. 7-10: Blue Bay LPGA; Hainan Island, China; Purse: $2.1 million

Nov. 15-18: CME Group Tour Championship; Naples, Florida; Purse: $2.5 million

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 4, Jordan Spieth

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 1:00 pm

Dismissed because he’s supposedly too short off the tee, or not accurate enough with his irons, or just a streaky putter, Jordan Spieth is almost never the answer to the question of which top player, when he’s at his best, would win in a head-to-head match.

And yet here he is, at the age of 24, with 11 career wins and three majors, on a pace that compares favorably with the giants of the game. He might not possess the firepower of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but since he burst onto the PGA Tour in 2013 he has all that matters – a better résumé.

Spieth took the next step in his development this year by becoming the Tour’s best iron player – and its most mentally tough.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Just a great putter? Oh, puhleeze: He won three times despite putting statistics (42nd) that were his worst since his rookie year. Instead, he led the Tour in strokes gained-approach the green and this summer showed the discipline, golf IQ and bounce-back ability that makes him such a unique talent. 

Even with his putter misbehaving, Spieth closed out the Travelers Championship by holing a bunker shot in the playoff, then, in perhaps an even bigger surprise, perfectly executed the player-caddie celebration, chest-bumping caddie Michael Greller. A few weeks later, sublime iron play carried him into the lead at Royal Birkdale, his first in a major since his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters.

Once again his trusty putter betrayed him, and by the time he arrived on the 13th tee, he was tied with Matt Kuchar. What happened next was the stuff of legend – a lengthy ruling, gutsy up-and-down, stuffed tee shot and go-get-that putt – that lifted Spieth to his third major title.

Though he couldn’t complete the career Grand Slam at the PGA, he’ll likely have, oh, another two decades to join golf’s most exclusive club.

In the barroom debate of best vs. best, you can take the guys with the flair, with the booming tee shots and the sky-high irons. Spieth will just take the trophies.

THE MAJORS

Masters Tournament: Return to the 12th; faltering on Sunday (T-11)

Spieth pars 12, but makes quad on 15

Spieth takes another gut punch, but still standing

Article: Spieth splashes to worst Masters finish

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U.S. Open: 1 over usually good ... not at Erin Hills (T-35)

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The Open: Unforgettable finish leads to major win No. 3 (1st)

Spieth survives confusing ordeal on 13

Photos: Spieth's incredible journey on 13

Take it, it's yours: Spieth gets claret jug

Chamblee: Spieth doesn't have 'it' - 'he has it all'

Article: Spieth silences his doubters - even himself

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PGA Championship: Career Grand Slam bid comes up well short (T-28)

Article: Spieth accepts that Grand Slam is off the table


TWO REGULAR TOUR WINS

AT&T Pebble Beach

Article: Spieth rising from 'valley' after Pebble Beach win

Travelers Championship

Spieith wins dramatic Travelers in playoff

Watch: Spieth holes bunker shot, goes nuts


FUN OUTSIDE OF TOUR LIFE


PHOTO GALLERIES

Photos: Jordan Spieth and Annie Verret

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Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 13, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."