ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The golf course is Jon Vanpoucke’s sanctuary, but Lori Vida is his life.
Sit with the former Marine for just a moment and it’s clear that he loves the game. But it’s more apparent that his wife is the reason he wakes up in the morning.
The 35-year-old, who served time overseas in the Gulf War, has both arms tattooed with reminders of Lori, especially the left arm where there is a striking image of his wife with rosary beads next to her. His left ring finger doesn’t have a wedding band, but it simply says “LORI.”
If ever anyone was dealt a difficult hand in life, it’s Lori Vida, although you’ll find a tough time getting her or anyone in her family to complain about the situation. In a nutshell, the 40-year-old who once was a famous hair model, a real mover and shaker in the San Diego area, is sick.
She has hepatitis C, stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and is a diabetic. She takes 21 pills a day (14 in the morning, seven in the evening) and checks her blood sugar at least three times a day.
“To be hit with all of this at once is difficult, but she’s a fighter, always has been,” Vanpoucke said Monday in the clubhouse of St. Johns Golf & Country Club after shooting 88 in the second round of the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship. Vanpoucke shot 90 Sunday in the first round at World Golf Village and is playing in the Palmer Flight for handicaps between 4-7.9.
There are so many different legs to this story that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
The couple met six years ago in a La Jolla, Calif., bar and hit it off right away. Vanpoucke sensed that he had met this woman before and it hit him. She was the same girl who, 17 years prior, kicked him and his buddies out of their beach party because they were too young and not part of the “in” crowd. They married a year after they met.
Over the next four years, Vanpoucke found himself in the emergency room more than 15 times because Lori was ill and would often vomit blood. What they discovered what that Lori was born with the hepatitis C virus because her mother, Margaret, needed a blood transfusion nearly 50 years prior when she was in a severe car accident with a drunk driver. Her mother had contracted hepatitis C and it was passed onto Lori at birth.
It wasn’t much longer until Lori Vida was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.
So Vanpoucke and Vida visited a San Diego-area Scripps Clinic for specialized care. She was told that she wouldn’t live much longer than another five years.
The couple decided to live life to its fullest. Vanpoucke left his job and they took trips around the world, their favorite place being Portugal where they wanted to buy property and live. But the second time they visited Portugal Lori got sick and was in a hospital for a month.
When they returned to the states, Vanpoucke did more research and decided that the best treatment his wife could receive would be at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. So, two years ago, the two lifelong San Diego natives moved to a place they never thought they’d live.
“It was a drastic change,” Vanpoucke said.
Earlier this year was when Vida was told she was a type 2 diabetic and five months ago physicians found a pea-sized cancerous spot on her liver. They told her to return three months later for another cancer checkup and this time, it had grown to the size of a quarter.
There is hope and there is a plan. The Marine and his bride would have it no other way.
Beginning Oct. 6, Vida will enter an intense two-week testing program at the Mayo Clinic which will essentially ensure that she moves to the top of the liver transplant list. Vanpoucke has been told that the latest they could expect the liver transplant would be March 2011. The earliest would be at the beginning of the year.
“We’re not going to conquer it all when the transplant happens,” Vanpoucke says. “But at least we’ll be halfway through the battle.”
Seeing some of the finances whittle away, Vanpoucke now works part-time at a local Home Depot and works late Monday-Friday evening so he can still have each day to spend with his wife and take her to her numerous appointments.
Earlier this year was when Vanpoucke got the golf bug again. He has played golf since he was 4-years-old and was once a teaching professional who played to a scratch handicap, but time off to care for his wife had him rusty. He’s far from a scratch golfer now but made a deal with Lori that he’ll take one day a week to practice and play golf. So he joined the Twin Cities Amateur Tour this summer and qualified for the National Championship this week in Florida.
Lori Vida is in San Diego visiting with her father and her oldest brother this week, which pleases Vanpoucke knowing that his “princess” is being cared for. At first he was happy that she didn’t make the trip with him to Florida, but now, he’s a tad sad because she’s all he thinks about.
“I’m a blessed to be able to take care of a beautiful woman, but when I get out to the golf course it’s my passion and it’s where I can be who I am,” Vanpoucke said. “Golf brings me great balance in my life.”
Great balance in a life that has been quite a rollercoaster the past six years.
To Live and Love
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The golf course is Jon Vanpoucke’s sanctuary, but Lori Vida is his life.
Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best
There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.
Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.
"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."
Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.
"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."
When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.
"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."
Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014
As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.
Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.
Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.
Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.
With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.
Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty
Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.
Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.
The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.
Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.
Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.
"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"
The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin:
It’s absolutely ridiculous. It took us 4 hours and 15 minutes to play a 2-ball (behind pictured guy I’ll add). We were an hour longer than the first guys that teed off. It’s unacceptable. https://t.co/rrlF3xB7bl— Stephen Ames (@StephenAmesPGA) October 22, 2018
Azinger 'lobbied' to captain Ryder Cup team a second time
In 2008, Paul Azinger became the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain in nearly a decade to lead a team to victory, doing so at Valhalla with his innovative “pod” system and a player-driven approach to leadership.
In the wake of that victory there were many, including the vast majority of his players, who said Azinger deserved a second chance to captain, but at the time the 12-time PGA Tour winner appeared to be undecided and the PGA of America named Corey Pavin the 2010 captain.
On Monday, Azinger was named NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst starting next year and among many revelations during an extended interview on “Morning Drive” he explained how much he wanted a second chance to captain.
“I wanted to do it again, I lobbied to do it again after we won in ’08, but I think I waited a little too long and they had already made a decision,” Azinger said. “The excuse I got was that there are more captains than there are Ryder Cups and I thought that was fair, but then they asked [Tom] Watson to do it again shortly afterward and I was like, ‘What, huh?’”
Watson was named captain of the 2014 U.S. team, which lost by five points and led to the creation of the Ryder Cup task force, which adopted many of Azinger’s ideas including his use of four-player pods.
It’s even more curious that Azinger was never given a second chance considering that Davis Love III was also named a captain twice, first in 2012 and again in ’16.
“I didn’t do it again, I didn’t carry the flag to Europe in 2010, which is fine, and now I’m never going to get to do it again,” he said.
As for who may be named the next U.S. captain after another loss to the Europeans last month in France Azinger could only speculate. “Looks like Wisconsin [site of the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits] and Steve Stricker are going to be a perfect match,” he said.