Remembering A Year of Loss

By George WhiteDecember 16, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Stories of the Year Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is story No. 4 from this past season.
 
They were the legends: Byron Nelson and Patty Berg. And they were related to famous golf names: Earl Woods, the father of Tiger; Norma DiMarco, mother of Chris; and Heather Clarke, wife of Darren.
 
Byron Nelson
Byron Nelson was regarded as golf's greatest gentleman.
Now all five are gone. All, however, will live in memory long past 2006, their last year on earth. All made a huge impact and the memory of each will light the way for many, many years to come.
 
Nelson and Berg cast giant shadows across the golf landscape with their deaths. Each owns an enviable record -- Nelson with his 11 consecutive victories in 1945, Berg with her 15 LPGA major championships.
 
Nelson died Sept. 26 at his home in Roanoke, Texas, at the age of 94; Berg Sept. 10 at 88 in Fort Myers, Fla.
 
Nelson won his first professional tournament in 1935 at the age of 23, and the years from 1944 to 1946 were some of the best in PGA TOUR history ' Lord Byron entered 75 tournaments and won 34 times, finished second 16 times, and only once was out of the top 10.
 
But in 46, he retired from tournament competition, having made enough money to purchase his Roanoke ranch at the young age of 34. He later became a television commentator, and then lent his name to the tournament outside Dallas that has grown with his help into one of the best on the PGA TOUR.
 
A man regarded for his character, Nelson was called golf's greatest gentleman.
 
It's very unfortunate for all of golf, said Woods in the wake of Nelson's death. Mr. Nelson actually passed on his best wishes this year at Augusta through Ben (Crenshaw). I got a note from him not too long ago saying that hopefully he can make it to see us play at the Byron Nelson, but it wasn't likely that he was going to be able to do that. He must have known something, but unfortunately hopefully he went easy. Hopefully there wasn't any complications, and he moved on to a better place.
 
Jim Furyk seconded those sentiments. I think he's so special because he went out of his way to do the very most he could to help other people, he said. You know, that's what I think, why we should all learn so much from him. He'd be a really tough role model to follow because he was so wonderful.
 
Berg, a founder of the LPGA, was one of the greatest women players in history. From 1948 through 1962, Berg had a run that will endure as one of the best in the history of professional golf. She won 44 titles in that span, including nine majors.
 
If it weren't for her, said Cristie Kerr, I wouldn't have been interested in the game. She has led a very blessed, a great, long life, and her contribution to the game will be forever commendable. There's a lot of things that she did do that you can't put your finger on. I know she had a great lust for life, a very long life. She meant the world to me.

Earl Woods was 74 years of age when he died on May 3 of cancer. He had been in failing health for approximately 10 years. Son Tiger missed nine weeks of the season after his death, stretching from the Masters Tournament until the U.S. Open. He then missed the cut at the Open, the first such occurrence in a major in his professional career.
 
I had so many great memories of Dad, said Tiger ' Dad with the game of golf, things that I kind of had forgotten about. But since I was out there practicing alone, it would come back to me. As I said, it always put a smile on my face.
 
The love that we shared for one another and the respect that we had for one another was something that's pretty special, it really is. To have had my dad in my life and have him be that supportive and that nurturing, it's pretty cool because obviously there are times when I would have easily gone down the wrong path. But Dad was always there.
 
Norma DiMarco died suddenly on the Fourth of July during a family vacation, leaving behind her husband of 46 years and family. With her help, son Chris became one of the world's best golfers.
 
She was a special lady, obviously touched a lot of lives out here and at home, DiMarco remembered. The outpouring was amazing. It was solace for me to know that there were that many people that actually cared about her, and she was a special woman. She touched everyone's lives that she met. In that way it's a good thing.
 
I know she's going to be watching every shot I hit. Obviously my mindset is perspective, without a doubt. I mean, I'm going to go out and try and give it my all and be there, but bad shots aren't really going to matter so much as they used to, at least for a while, and I'm still going to have my drive and give it my all. I know she wouldn't want me to play any other way.

Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke received overwhleming support at this year's Ryder Cup.
Heather Clarke, who was only 39 at the time of her death, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. It returned last year and spread throughout her body. She died Aug. 13, a little more than a month before the Ryder Cup. Making the death even more tragic was the fact that she was the mother of two young sons, ages 8 and 5.
 
Woods and Darren shared a warm embrace at the Ryder Cup, which Darren participated in for the European side. U.S. team captain Tom Lehman also made it a point at his opening news conference to welcome Clarke back to the game.
 
'I think having him here means a great deal, probably to him personally and to his teammates, as well as to the U.S. team and all the fans,' Lehman said. 'I think having him as part of it makes this Ryder Cup significantly better. When it comes right down to it, we're all human beings, and whether or not we're playing in the Ryder Cup, you see a man who has had a tragedy like he's had to go through with he and his kids and you have an incredible amount of empathy for him.'
 
Clarke was obviously overwhelmed by the vast outpouring that he received. Close friend and fellow Irishman Paul McGinley even pulled out of the PGA Championship to attend Heathers funeral.
 
A lot of people have helped in a lot of different ways, said Darren. You know, I've had a lot of support from all sorts of people from all sorts of different walks of life around the world. The people that have been close to me have been very close to me and have given me lots of words of support and wisdom some of them and some of them not so much wisdom but the majority of them have.
 
It's great to feel that much support from a lot of people, but all of the people that have helped me with my golf have continued to do so and probably even more. So they are all delighted I'm back doing what I'm doing and they are all wishing me well this week.
 
Clarke, Woods and DiMarco all shared their grief together at the Ryder Cup.
 
Obviously Tiger, losing his father and Chris DiMarco, losing his mum - you know, there are more important things than trying to win this week, Clarke said at the Cup. But in the end, we're all professionals. We all want to win for our teams. And as friendly as we are, I'm sure we're going to try to beat each other as soon as we stand on the first tee. But I'm sure that we'll be - what's the right word? - in a friendly manner, we're trying to beat each other. But at the end of the day, it's not life and death.'
 
DiMarco said there is nothing that can replace Heather, but Darren had chosen the right place to search for healing.
 
'His only solace is the golf course, because that's what he does,' DiMarco said. 'That's a way for him to get away and not be thinking about it all the time. It's great for him to be around friends and around people that are going to care for him. The only thing that's going to heal him is time.'
 
Related Links:
  • Reviewing 2006; Previewing 2007
  • Earl Woods Succumbs to Cancer
  • Byron Nelson Dies at Age 94
  • LPGA Founder Berg Dies
  • DiMarco's Mother: Best Seat in the House
  • Heather Clarke Dies After Battle with Cancer
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