Diagnosed with acute mylogenous leukemia shortly after the 2002 Nationwide Tour Championship a year ago, Jace fought bravely and optimistically to the end. In a phone conversation with close friend David Branshaw Tuesday evening, Jace said, 'Im feeling good. Still having a little trouble getting up the stairs, but Im going to be all right.'
A couple of unwavering faith, Jace and Misty faced this challenge with amazing strength, believing the entire time that their miracle was coming and Jace would someday return to his second love'that of playing professional golf.
Those who knew and loved Jace had prepared themselves for this moment since Jace was advised to return home to Kentucky just before this years Nationwide Tour Championship a month ago. Prior to that he was undergoing treatment in Houston, Texas, where his team of physicians felt that all treatment options had been exhausted and it was time for Jace to be with family.
A winner on both the Canadian and Nationwide Tours, Jace was also a winner in life. Battling unfavorable odds since his diagnosis, Jaces optimism and faith never wavered. When chemotherapy wasnt successful, Jace knew his cure was just around the corner. When a bone marrow transplant sent Jace into remission earlier this year, Jace thought his prayers had been answered. When he relapsed, Jace sought more treatment with the confidence he so often displayed on the golf course. And when doctors told him that all hope was lost, Jace quietly knew they were wrong. You see, Jace knew a thing or two about overcoming odds.
Jace Bugg didnt have an all-world playing resume when he embarked on his professional quest. His collegiate consisted of a couple of years at Rend Lake Junior College. His amateur career was highlighted by a quarter-final appearance in the 1997 U.S. Amateur. But his determination to prove himself was stronger than his pedigree showed. When Jace won on the Canadian Tour in the spring of 2001, he did so in dramatic fashion by shooting a final-found 63 to overcome a six-shot deficit and win by three. He was obviously thrilled, but he knew it was just one step along the way of getting to the top. His wife, Misty, was caddying and it was obvious that sharing it with her was more important than any trophy could ever be.
When he Monday qualified for the First Tee Arkansas Classic early last year, he was just hoping to find a way to play himself onto the Nationwide Tour. A final-round 65 gave him a one-stroke victory and more importantly, an exemption through 2003 and a realistic chance to get to the PGA Tour.
Somehow, Jace managed to finish the season 29th on the money list despite an abundance of nagging injuries. Bothered by sore joints for most of the year, Jace thought he had a feisty case of tendonitis, but he never complained. When he didnt respond to therapy after a four-week hiatus from the tour is when doctors decided to test for potentially more serious causes of his soreness. He learned the cause just before he was to leave to go to Q School.
Although his time on the Nationwide Tour was brief, he managed to touch many hearts. In an individual pursuit like professional golf, acquaintances are many, but true friends are rare. Jace Bugg was rare.
Never the type of guy to engage in idle gossip, and never the type of guy to cast a stone, Jace never had a cross word to say about anybody. Jace had an ego the size of a Titleist, and a heart the size of a giant.
When his good friend David Branshaw was in contention at last years Gila River Golf Classic last fall, Jace left his sponsors home in Las Vegas, packed his stuff in his RV., and drove the six plus hours to Phoenix to see his friend win his first Nationwide Tour tournament. That happened at the end of his four weeks of treatment, and his body ached mightily the entire time. He never complained. When Branshaw was fighting back tears at the trophy presentation ceremony, Jace and Misty could be seen in the stands with more than a few tears welling up in their eyes. And when David called Jace this past Tuesday night, Jace didnt care that David was calling to check on him, all he wanted to do was wish his buddy good luck on the eve on Q School finals.
We all believed that Jace would someday tee it up again. We all knew that every tournament he played, every person he met, and every town he visited were all better off when he left than they were before he was there.
If the true measure of a man is whether or not he leaves the world a better place than it was before, then Jace was, indeed, a giant.
Jace Bugg was 27.
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