David Graham made a valiant return to the Champions Tour six years after he collapsed over a putt during a tournament and had to be rushed by ambulance to a hospital.
Graham, 64, didn’t play in the tournament-proper but competed in the Greats of Golf Challenge, a 36-hole team scramble event held in conjunction with the 3M Championship in Blaine, Minn.
Graham teamed with Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino to shoot 33 under and win the event going away.
“I hit some really good shots,” Graham said, when reached via phone back home in Montana. “I was tickled to death to get to play with some great friends.”
It’s much better to be “tickled to death” than the way Graham almost left us. In June 2004, Graham was playing in the Champions Tour’s Bank of America Championship at Nashawtuc CC near Boston. He collapsed on the eighth hole during the final round and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
“I was a tour player one day and I was a sick, over-the-hill retired player the next,” Graham said. “I struggled for a few years with the fact that I didn’t get to pick my last tournament.”
With the help of modern medicine, Graham’s condition is under control. With the exception of his role as a member of the Cup and Tee Marker Placement committee at the Masters, Graham has stayed away from the pro game.
“I thought it would be an emotional experience for me that I didn’t need to go through,” he explained.
So why did Graham come back now after all this time? That’s a story in itself. Graham got the bug again while practicing this winter in La Quinta, Calif., at The Madison Club, where he is a member. One February day, he was hitting balls when Arnold Palmer showed up. They made a date to play. When the round was over, Palmer asked, “What are you doing tomorrow?”
When Graham replied he had no plans, Palmer said, “Let’s do it again.”
The same scenario played out when they finished their second round together, only this time Palmer invited him to play at The Tradition CC. When Graham got home he said to his wife, “I can’t believe I’ve played three consecutive days with ‘The King.’ “
But Graham wasn’t done yet. That’s when Trevino arrived looking for a game. Next thing Graham knew, he’d played five rounds of golf with Palmer and Trevino in five days, and received one juicy offer.
“Why don’t you come play this summer in this tournament in Minnesota,” Trevino urged him.
“I’m not sure I’m ready,” Graham said.
Trevino wouldn’t take no for an answer, promising to take care of Graham. Eventually he caved, agreeing under one condition – that Trevino would play as one of his partners.
It was a deal.
“I knew I had a good friend in Trevino,” Graham said, “but I didn’t realize how good.”
Graham relished playing the scramble-format.
“This is the only type of golf I enjoy playing nowadays,” he said. “There’s no pressure when Trevino hits every fairway.”
Despite the suffocating heat, Graham never thought of calling on Al Geiberger, who played in Friday’s pro-am, as a replacement.
“Trevino joked that in case I passed away on the golf course this time, they had a reserve,” Graham said with a laugh.
After having such a positive experience, Graham already accepted an invitation to play in the event next summer and will consider competing in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf with Bruce Devlin.
Said Graham, “It sure was good to be back.”