Memories of Willie Kane


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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