Esteve's key to beating cancer? Beating golf balls

By Nick MentaJanuary 18, 2017, 3:00 pm

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Hours after making the cut at the Latin America Amateur Championship, Puerto Rico’s Jeronimo Esteve settles into a chair at a hotel restaurant and recounts his Friday at Panama Country Club.

Of issue: the wind, the firm conditions, the tight tee shots, the jumpy lies, the bumpy greens, the slow play.

In the end, as afternoon scores ballooned on Day 2, Esteve, 35, followed a first-round 68 with a second-round 78 for a two-day total good enough to advance him to the weekend.

After going through the round, nearly hole by hole, and laughing about having to move a sign on 10 and flying a 180-yard 9-iron to the back edge on 18, he asks a straightforward question:

“How far back do you want go?”

Esteve was 30 years old in 2011 and living outside Orlando, Fla., with his wife, Mari, and their 2-year-old son, Jeronimo V. A former mini-tour pro who spent time on the Tour de las Americas, the Hooters Tour, the Golden Bear Tour, and even the European Challenge Tour, Esteve decided to give up the pro game when he "ran into" Mari in Spain in 2004. The couple married in 2005, and Esteve had his amateur status reinstated a year and half later. Shortly thereafter, he went into business as the general manager of a collection of car dealerships, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Miami since the age of 10, Esteve found himself back in South Florida playing in the Indian Creek club championship, where he had just advanced to the final. That same afternoon, he went to get fitted for a suit for his sister’s wedding.

“I go and the guy is measuring my neck, and the guy tells me I’m a size 18 ½ neck. And back then I was working out. I was actually in good shape. So I’m like, “Man, you know, that’s weird. That’s not right. But okay, I have been working out. Maybe my traps are getting bigger,'” Esteve says, laughing at himself.

“So we put on the suit and this and that and then we’re trying on shirts, and when I take my shirt off, I look at my neck.”

It was at that point that Esteve realized his traps weren’t getting bigger.

“I had a giant tumor,” he says. “I had a giant, swollen piece, and I show the guys [at the suit store], and they don’t know what it is. They just go, ‘That doesn’t look good.’”

Esteve quickly called Mari, who wanted him to go to the hospital that night, but he had plans the following morning. He wanted to play the Indian Creek final. So they made a deal: Esteve would play the 36-hole match the next day and go the hospital the minute he was done.

“I won like 7 and 6,” he says. “I played really good, and then right afterwards went to the hospital. I went right in there and the guy is like, ‘Listen man, at your age, the way you’re describing it, the way you’re feeling’ – I didn’t feel anything – ‘there’s a 95 percent chance you have cancer.’”

Esteve was eventually diagnosed with Stage I Hodgkin Lymphoma, which after doing some reading is exactly what he wanted, assuming of course that he had to have cancer. He found out that there are these things called Reed-Sternberg cells, and that “if you have these little Reed-Sternberg [MF-ers], you have Hodgkin. … And if we have this, we’re going to have to go after it as hard as we can. So what’s the best place in the world?”

Esteve’s father had a friend who previously had Lymphoma himself and who recommended both a hospital and a doctor: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Dr. Luhua (Michael) Wang.

Two days after his diagnosis, Esteve flew to Houston to see Dr. Wang, who confirmed that he indeed had Hodgkin Lymphoma and then almost immediately changed the subject.

“He goes, ‘Oh Jero, you like to play golf?," Esteve recalls. "'I want to go play golf with you tomorrow.’”

And so Esteve, his father, Dr. Wang and a second doctor from MD Anderson, Richard Champlin, played Westwood Golf Club the following day, with Esteve and Wang riding together in the same cart. Before the round, Wang, who had reviewed all the test results, looked at Esteve and assured him: “I am going to cure you.”

And so, Esteve says, “I went out and shot the easiest 62 in the history of 62s.”

He remembers that he missed a 3-footer for a front-nine 29, that they stopped for nearly an hour between nines for lunch, that he 3-putted the 10th hole for bogey, and that he got up-and-down on 18 for a 62, which remains the Westwood record.

That round of golf set the tone for his next six months of treatment. As an institution, MD Anderson instills in its patients the belief that the fight against cancer is as much about an attitude as it is about a treatment. And so Wang encouraged Esteve to keep playing, to play as much as his body would allow him.

Wang was serious enough about it that when Esteve started receiving eight-hour treatments of rituximab, he offered him an alternative to the normal chest port.

Wang told him: “‘You won’t be able to play golf [with a port]. ‘But, if you can take it, we’ll put an IV in your arm every time.”

That went on for four weeks before the chemotherapy started.

“Chemo hurts, man. It burns your veins,” says Esteve, who remembers those same veins hardening and turning black.

The key to getting through the treatments was his new routine. He would undergo chemo on Tuesday, rest Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, and then head to the driving range on Wednesday afternoons at Champions Golf Club, founded in 1957 by Jackie Burke and Jimmy Damaret. By this time, Esteve had secured himself a temporary residence in Houston to limit his flying back and forth between Texas and Florida. A friend had referred him to Champions, where he worked his way as a non-member into a Saturday afternoon men’s game and won the pot.

“It was such a relief,” he remembers, “to be able to play golf and not think about crap. We ended up joining the club, and we made that our routine. Chemo on Tuesday, and then hit balls Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I would play – in the middle of the day I couldn’t do it, because my skin would hurt from the chemo.”

Of note, prior to his arrival, the club had a strict no-eating policy in the locker room, a rule that was tabled for Esteve, who needed to eat regularly to keep up his strength. "The guys used to joke with me," he laughs. "They say I'm probably the only guy who's ever eaten in the locker room at Champions."

After weeks of chemotherapy – and golf – Esteve began radiation therapy, which, he understates, “is when the Mid-Am thing happened.”

The 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship happened to be at Shadow Hawk Golf Club, just outside Houston. While still undergoing chemo, Esteve secured a practice round with a member: “I told him, ‘I’m coming back here. I’m playing the Mid-Am.’ The guy just looked at me, like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’”

Of course, to make the Mid-Am, he had to go through a qualifier, and because he needed radiation treatment each day, that posed – at bare minimum, to say nothing of the effects of the treatment - a logistical problem.  And so, the day of the qualifier, Esteve arranged to receive radiation in the afternoon, leaving him free to play the tournament that morning at Pine Forest Country Club.

He went out and made seven birdies but also some mistakes coming home for a round of 2-under 70. When he reached the clubhouse, he was doubtful his score would hold up throughout the day, but he also didn’t have time to wait around. So he signed his card, left the course, and headed to the hospital as planned.

“So they hook me up with my mask, and I get in the machine, and I get treated for about an hour,” he says. “And so we get done, and I look at my phone, and I go, ‘Holy s---, I think we might go to a playoff.’ I look at my dad, and I’m like, ‘We gotta go back out there.’ He says, ‘What?’ And I say, ‘We gotta go back out there.’”

They did. Fresh out of radiation, Esteve drove 45 minutes back to the golf course to find out he had made his way into a 5-for-4 playoff to qualify for the U.S. Mid-Am.

“I wasn’t even nervous in the playoff,” he remembers. “I just got treated for cancer. [After going through that], this doesn’t even matter to me.

“We went out and just played solid for three holes and got in. We got in the Mid-Am.”

Between the qualifier and the Mid-Am, Esteve was able to end his treatments when his Lymphoma went into remission. Two weeks later, he showed up for the tournament, having beaten cancer. But he was still weak, and he had gained 40 pounds while undergoing chemo.

He shot 74 the first day at Houstonian before bad weather resulted in a three-day long second round at Shadow Hawk. After a poor first nine, Esteve came back two days later to birdie 11, dunk a 5-iron for eagle on 13, add another birdie and make a key up-and-down for par on 17.

He arrived at the par-5 finishing hole, the ninth at Shadow Hawk, thinking he needed par to secure a berth in match play and a birdie to get himself a good seed. And that’s when, after all it had given him for six months, golf decided to take something back, as it tends to do.

“There was like a little lake on the right,” he says, “and like all of Texas on the left …

“And I hit it right in the middle of the lake.”

He squeezed into a 20-for-3 playoff with a 40-foot bogey save on the final green, but at that point it was done. Esteve lost in the playoff and his Mid-Am run – saved by a return trip to the golf course from radiation therapy – was over.

“When we were doing it, it wasn’t that big a deal,” he says, now five-and-a-half years later. “It was normal. That was our life, getting treated and then doing whatever. But you look back and … that’s crazy. It’s crazy.”

Back in Orlando, Esteve and his wife went on to have a second child, Nicolas, who’s now 4, his older brother Jero now 8. Members at Isleworth in Windermere, Jeronimo continues to work on his game, while Mari plays tennis. His cancer remains in remission.

“Golf was the escape,” he says. “Golf was what let me deal with everything. I’d go work a couple days, and come back [for treatment], and go back to golf.

“I got a lot of release from trying to get better at golf, from hitting it better, from working on the ball flight, tinkering with equipment, you know I’m going to do this with this shaft, and this 3-wood, and today I’m going to work on hitting high-draws. … That’s what kept me occupied. That’s what kept me from thinking … bad s---.”

In the middle of our talk, a tournament official from the USGA walked up to Esteve and congratulated him on “hanging in there” through the tough conditions on Friday.

Esteve thanked him and laughed. “Yeah, it was tough, man,” he said. “That was tough.”

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.

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S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.

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'Caveman golf' puts Koepka one back at CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:12 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Brooks Koepka, recently named the PGA Tour Player of the Year, gave himself the perfect opportunity to become the No. 1 player in the world when he shot a 7-under par 65 to move to within one shot of the lead in the CJ Cup on Friday.

At the Nine Bridges course, the three-time major champion made an eagle on his closing hole to finish on 8-under par 136 after two rounds, just one stroke behind Scott Piercy, who was bogey-free in matching Koepka's 65.

With the wind subsiding and the course playing much easier than on the opening day when the scoring average was 73.26, 44 players – more than half the field of 78 – had under-par rounds.

Overnight leader Chez Reavie added a 70 to his opening-round 68 to sit in third place at 138, three behind Piercy. Sweden's Alex Noren was the other player in with a 65, which moved him into a tie for fourth place alongside Ian Poulter (69), four out of the lead.

The best round of the day was a 64 by Brian Harman, who was tied for sixth and five behind Piercy.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

The 28-year-old Koepka will move to the top of the world rankings when they are announced on Monday if he wins the tournament.

Thomas, playing alongside Koepka, matched Koepka's eagle on the last, but that was only for a 70 and he is tied for 22nd place at 1 under.

Koepka's only bogey was on the par-5 ninth hole, where he hit a wayward tee shot. But he was otherwise pleased with the state of his ''caveman golf.''

''I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel like the way I played today, if I can carry that momentum into Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun,'' Koepka, winner of the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, said.

''My game is pretty simple. I guess you can call it like caveman golf – you see the ball, hit the ball and go find it again. You're not going to see any emotion just because I'm so focused, but I'm enjoying it.''

Piercy, who has fallen to No. 252 in the world ranking despite winning the Zurich Classic earlier this year with Billy Horschel – there are no world ranking points for a team event – was rarely out of position in a round in which he found 13 of 14 fairways off the tee and reached 16 greens in regulation.

''Obviously, the wind was down a little bit and from a little bit different direction, so 10 miles an hour wind versus 20s is quite a big difference,'' said Piercy, who is looking for his first individual PGA Tour win since the Barbasol Championship in July 2015.

''It was a good day. Hit a couple close and then my putter showed up and made some putts of some pretty good length.''

Australia's Marc Leishman, winner last week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, shot a 71 and was seven behind. Paul Casey's 73 included a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole and the Englishman is nine behind Piercy.