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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Golf Channel Ramps Up Six Weeks of Comprehensive College Golf Coverage Culminating With The NCAA Women's and Men's Golf Championships, May 18-30

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 24, 2018, 9:00 pm

Golf Channel to Announce NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections on Wednesday, April 25 and Wednesday, May 2

 Golf Channel to Expand Coverage of NCAA Women’s and Men’s Regional Championships  

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Four-Part Docu-Series Executive Produced by Rickie Fowler, Premieres on Golf Channel Monday, May 7

 More than 100 News and Tournament Hours Planned for Women’s and Men’s Championships, Back-to-Back Weeks at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

 

ORLANDO, Fla., April 24, 2018 – With conference championships underway, golf fans will be able to follow their favorite college golf programs and alma maters as they attempt to qualify and compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships in May at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., as Golf Channel expands its comprehensive on-air and digital collegiate golf coverage the next six weeks.

“Through our new long-term partnership, the NCAA and Golf Channel are successfully raising the profile of college golf by shining a spotlight on the game’s future stars and the passion these programs have in competing for national championships,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive vice president of content and executive producer. “With our expanded coverage of the regional championships and partnering with OSU alum Rickie Fowler for Driven, our viewers will be treated to the most college golf coverage in network history leading into the NCAA Golf National Championships.”

REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENTS: On Wednesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET (women) and continuing Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET (men), Golf Channel will announce the teams and individuals selected by the NCAA to participate in the women’s and men’s regional championships, the first step on the road to the NCAA Golf Championships. Live streaming coverage of selection shows will be available through the Golf Channel Mobile App or GolfChannel.com, and Golf Channel will aggregate social content for the shows using the hashtag #NCAAGolf. 

  • Women’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, April 25, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce (live) the 72 teams and24 individuals selected to compete in the four NCAA Women’s Regional Championships, May 7-9 (18 teams and six individuals per regional). 24 teams and 12 individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.
  • Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, May 2, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce the 81 teams and 45 individuals selected to compete in the six NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, May 14-16 (13 teams and 10 individuals at three regionals and 14 teams and five individuals at three regionals). 30 teams and six individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.

GOLF CHANNEL TO EXPAND REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: New for 2018, Golf Channel will feature expanded coverage of the final day of the NCAA women’s and men’s regional championships, Wednesday May 9 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively. Beginning within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily lifestyle news show, and continuing hourly throughout the day via live Golf Central news updates from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET that will be published to Golf Channel Digital and Golf Channel’s social media handles. Coverage will conclude with live news segments, featuring highlights and interviews, announcing the teams and individuals who qualified for the women’s and men’s national championships.

RICKIE FOWLER AND NBC SPORTS COLLABORATE ON FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES DRIVEN: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: NBC Sports Group is teaming up with PGA TOUR superstar Rickie Fowler to give viewers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look into Fowler’s alma mater in a four-part documentary series – Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Driven, executive produced by Fowler, will premiere Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET and continue Monday, May 14 (10 p.m. ET) and Monday, May 21 (8 p.m. ET). The finale will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16, recapping their season that culminates with a run at a potential 11th national championship, taking place on their home turf.

NCAA GOLF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: Contested in back-to-back weeks, May 18-30 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Golf Channel will dedicate its full suite of production resources to the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships, featuring nearly 30 combined hours of live tournament coverage. In addition, Golf Central will feature nearly 30 hours of combined pre-and post-event live news coverage produced on location, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and Golf Channel Digital.                                             

Golf Channel NCAA Women’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   21       

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   22          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   22                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   23            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   28      

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   29          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   29                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   30            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

COLLEGE CENTRAL – GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL COVERAGE: Golf Channel is providing comprehensive coverage leading up to and during the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships as part of College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, Ryan Lavner and Steve Burkowski, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel will cover the conference championships with scores and analysis across its on-air news platforms - Morning Drive and Golf Central – and online within College Central.

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With help from partner, Burns could secure Tour status

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 8:33 pm

AVONDALE, La. – This week Sam Burns has yet another chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, but his partner may determine whether he’s ultimately successful.

In an interesting twist, Burns is burning one of his seven available sponsor exemptions this week at the Zurich Classic. He is 80 non-member points shy of securing special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.

Burns needs at least a two-way tie for fourth to earn the necessary points, but it won’t all depend on how he plays this week. The Zurich is a two-man game, with two rounds apiece of fourballs and alternate shot.

Burns' partner this week is William McGirt. Their games couldn’t be more different – Burns ranks eighth on Tour in driving distance, at 309 yards per pop, while McGirt is 143rd (290) – but they hope to compliment each other over four days at TPC Louisiana.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


“I got a good pair of spurs sharpened up last week while I was in San Antonio,” joked McGirt, who is looking for his first top-10 since the fall. “I told him I was going to ride him hard this week. It’ll be fun.”

Burns will have at least two (and maybe three) more opportunities to earn status, with starts lined up next week at the Wells Fargo Championship and also at the Memorial. He doesn’t face quite as much pressure because he won earlier this month on the Web.com Tour and currently sits fourth on the money list, essentially locking up his PGA Tour card for next season.

“It’s obviously nice to have that win,” he said, “but at the same time you have to be careful and make sure you play enough out there to where you’re secure for sure. You don’t want to get at the end of the year and then have two or three events left and you have to make a certain amount of money to get your card.

“So I’m just going step by step, tournament by tournament, and trying to figure out what’s the best route.”   

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Spieth-Palmer draw Rahm-Bryan early at Zurich

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:49 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The PGA Tour’s only team event gets underway Thursday at the Zurich Classic. Here are some featured groups to watch at TPC Louisiana.

Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley/Daniel Berger-Gary Woodland: 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday off 10 tee, 2:08 p.m. Friday off 1: 

The Bama boys, Thomas and Cauley, team up for the second consecutive year, after tying for fifth a year ago on the strength of a final-round 61. Berger teamed with Thomas Pieters a year ago but missed the cut, so he’ll try his luck with Woodland, who also shares a management team at Excel Sports.

Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan: 8:52 a.m. Thursday off 10, 2:19 p.m. Friday off 1: 

Spieth and Palmer finished fourth a year ago, five shots back of the leaders. Spieth is making his first start since his epic Sunday run at the Masters. Rahm and Bryan have opposite strengths – Rahm is one of the game’s preeminent drivers, while Bryan, statistically, is one of the worst – but the Spaniard is coming off a European Tour victory at home. Another wrinkle here: Even though no world-ranking points are on offer this week, Rahm is set to supplant Spieth as the third-ranked player in the world.

Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels/Brooks Koepka-Marc Turnesa: 1:31 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:42 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Two stars with questionable sidekicks. Ruffels is an up-and-coming Australian who has been playing primarily in Latin America. (He also shares a manager with Day.) Turnesa, meanwhile, got the call late last week from Koepka, who is finally ready to return from a 15-week layoff because of a wrist injury. They both play out of Medalist in South Florida, but Turnesa, 40, has turned his attention to real estate instead of professional golf.

Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay/Jonas Blixt-Cameron Smith: 1:44 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:53 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Reed makes his first start as Masters champion after taking off the past two weeks. This duo tied for 14th last year, undone by a Saturday 75 in foursomes play. Blixt and Smith are the defending champions, after shooting 27 under par last year and holding off Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff. Blixt doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour since then, while Smith tied for fifth at the Match Play and the Masters.

Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson/Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar: 1:57 p.m. Thursday off 1, 10:04 a.m. Friday off 10:

Rose and Stenson, who have proved to be a formidable pairing in the Ryder Cup, were a stunning missed cut last year, after shooting 6 under par for two rounds. Watson teamed up with J.B. Holmes to finish fifth last year, while Kuchar is making his first start in this event since 2009.

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Zurich Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:09 pm

The PGA Tour tries team competition for the second year in a row at the Zurich Classic. Here are the key stats and information for play at TPC LouisianaClick here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $7,200,000 ($1,036,800 to each winner)

Course: TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards)

Defending champions: Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt (-27) in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner


News and notes

• All four reigning major champions - Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed - are in the field this week. This is the first time all four reigning major winners have played this event since 1984 (Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Hall Sutton).

 Both members of winning team this week will earn an official PGA Tour victory, two-year Tour exemptions, and exemptions into the Players and PGA Championships.

• That said, no Official World Golf Ranking points are awarded from this event and winners will not earn exemptions into the 2019 Masters.


Notable teams in the field 

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson

 Rose won this event in 2014, when it was individual stroke play. From 2012-16, he was a combined 60 under at TPC Louisiana in stroke play, seven shots better than any other player.

 Rose has dramatically improved his performance on the greens from last season, moving from 123rd in strokes gained-putting to 10th.

 Stenson's last three starts look like this: solo 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T-6 at the Houston Open, and T-5 at the Masters.

Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan

 Rahm is coming off a victory at the Spanish Open, his second worldwide win in 2018 and fifth since Jan. 2017.

 Rahm outdrives Bryan by an average of 30 yards off the tee, 305.1 to 276.3.

 Rahm is second on Tour in the strokes gained-off the tee, while Bryan is 210th, last among qualifying players.

Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay

 Reed is just the fifth reigning Masters champ to play the Zurich since 2000, joining Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (twice), and Bubba Watson.

 Reed has gone T-2, T-7, T-9, WIN in his last four starts.

 Cantlay broke through for his maiden PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.