Longtime college and amateur writer Ron Balicki passed away Tuesday at the age of 65. His mark will be left on both the golf community as a whole, but also on our current staff, which learned a lot from the big-hearted veteran.
Here are some words and memories from staffers who worked closely with Balicki:
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Lance Ringler, Golfweek assistant editor
I will never forget the first time I spoke with Ron Balicki. It was actually on a conference call. I was on one end, trying to introduce a new ranking system for college golf to the biggest media figure the sport had ever seen. This was THE person I would get all of my college golf news from. The reason I bought a subscription to Golfweek. I would anxiously await for the issue to arrive in my mailbox each week. He helped make it possible for me to do what I do today. To say I was nervous was an understatement. When I did finally meet him in person, it was like I had known him forever. There would never be a reason to be nervous around Ron. But as time went by, I quickly realized that he just might be the nicest person I have ever been around. At the end of every phone conversation he would ask about my wife, my son and my niece that I raised. He really cared. I looked forward to seeing him the few times each year our paths would cross and hear about all of the new pets he and his wife Deb and taken in. We spent a lot of time together at each of the past 13 NCAA Championships. He shared countless and priceless stories about the days of college golf before my time. Those are moments I will never forget. I always got a chuckle when it came to making dinner plans with Ron because he did not care where we went as long as he could get a burger or pizza and a cold beer! I will remember the many videos we made together, his famous line of “I know, right?” and the way he would snicker when he thought something was really funny. I will make it a point each year at the NCAA Championship to raise my cold beer and burger in salute to the man who helped make college golf what it is today.
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Beth Ann Nichols, Golfweek senior writer
Ron and I didn’t meet up on the road often. I think the only event we covered together was the 2004 World Amateur Team Championship in Puerto Rico. I can still see him standing outside the media tent, taking a smoke break. Orlando staffers like myself got to know Ron through the Tuesday conference call and the annual editorial retreat. I don’t think Ron ever phoned into the weekly call in a bad mood. Ron managed to bring a smile to my face each and every week. He probably never knew that. I got the idea to have special tees made for our wedding golf outing last December from the “Wrong Ron” tees that Balicki played with at the editorial retreat. Someone had them made for Ron, and I managed to get a few in my bag. Wish I had some left to use for my next round. Nothing about Golfweek was more right than Wrong Ron Balicki. He helped build Golfweek from scratch, enabling young journalists like myself to have our dream job. Few people in life become legends at their trade. Wrong Ron did just that.
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Adam Schupak, Golfweek senior writer
I wish I had a penny for every interview I’ve done over the years with a Tour pro or his parents that ended with them asking how Ron was doing and to send their regards. After a while, I figured it out that through covering amateur and college golf he touched just about everyone on his way up to the Tour. He was their first point of contact with Golfweek – the perfect one, really – and anyone who followed benefited from the trust and respect he had earned.
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Bradley S. Klein, Golfweek senior writer
Balicki was a rare gem from the old school of typewriter journalism. He knew everyone on his beat, and they knew and respected him. I saw this first-hand one year – it must have been in the late 1990s – when I had the pleasure of accompanying him for a practice round at one of the country’s classic events, the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I. I followed him around the clubhouse area and the range and practice putting green as he greeted all of these fine young male golfers, most of them collegians. He seemed to know them all by first name as well as by background story. And they, in turn, responded with the kind of familiarity and ease that one doesn’t see much around press tents these days. He was like a celebrity revisiting his hometown, and they paid him the honor of allowing him to hit the opening, ceremonial tee shot. Wannamoisett is a 1914 Donald Ross course. I knew the course pretty well, having played it a few times. Now Balicki was never the best golfer on staff, but he enjoyed playing anyway. And he wasn’t too self-conscious about his limits – meaning that he had no trouble laughing at himself, which is always a sign of good character. So he gets up there, surrounded by a couple of dozen amateurs and their parents and event officials. They announce him, and somehow he manages to near cold-top his drive, smack into the middle of that pond not 30 yards in front of him. I don’t think Donald Ross ever knew that pond was there. But to the delight and applause of everyone, Balicki turned it into a water hazard, and he was grinning from ear to ear, as if he had done exactly what he had intended.
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