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Removed from golf, Mallon returns to Pinehurst

Fitting, the site. Pinehurst, after all, was one of his favorite destination points when golf clubs were the tools of his trade. A passionate golfer with North Carolina boyhood roots and collegiate success at Duke, Bill Mallon embraced everything about the golf mecca, where five times he played in the North & South Amateur and on countless other occasions competed in various tournaments.

“I’ve got so many great memories of Pinehurst. It might be my favorite place,” Mallon said.

When he joins friends and business acquaintances in Pinehurst this weekend, the ambiance to the cozy village will be as he remembers it. But what will be different is the absence of golf. It just isn’t part of Mallon’s life, not like it was when he visited Pinehurst as a young man. Instead, he’ll be in Pinehurst to be officially introduced as the newest President of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons (ASES).

Group members will begin to gather Oct. 9 and the official ceremony will be the next evening. “I’m pretty humbled. It’s a a great honor,” said Dr. Mallon, 62, who for the last six years has been editor-in-chief of the “Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery.” He retired from his clinical practice several years ago, but has remained active in his profession’s academia.

“I still have a consulting business and I’ve been really busy as editor. It’s different than being in practice, but it keeps me in touch.”

While many of his colleagues at Pinehurst this weekend will see all the courses and treat golf as a relaxing pastime away from work, Mallon is understandably unique. Accomplished as he is in the medical field, there was a time when he was consumed by golf, convinced that he would make it his career.

Having moved with his family from North Carolina to Massachusetts as a high school sophomore, Dr. Mallon developed into a standout junior player. He wore out the practice range at Framingham Country Club, won the State Amateur in 1973-74 and twice captured the New England Amateur. When it came time for college, he settled on Duke, but in all due respect to the premier academics, “I went to Duke to play golf,” he said.

In November of 1975, back in the days when the PGA Tour held Q-Schools in both the spring and fall, Mallon was two years out of Duke but still in possession of his golf dream. He found himself in the mix at Walt Disney World, where the fall Q-School was held, and with a 423 total after six rounds, Mallon was tied for 16th.

Success, because the top 25 earned cards. He was joined by medalist Jerry Pate and Gary Koch, who was T-3, and Andy Bean, who was seventh. Bob Gilder, Don Pooley, Jim Thorpe. They were also in that graduating class and for the next three years Mallon was a fixture on tour. He played 20 times in ’76, 28 times in ’77, 17 tournaments in ’78.

He was living his dream, yes, but he was a realist. “There wasn’t a lot of money out there,” and the $20,595 and $23,204 he earned in each of his first two years speak volumes to that. Heck, the leading money-winners in ’76 and ’77 – Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson – were at $266,438 and $310,653, respectively, figures that represent a basic top-10 finish nowadays.

When he struggled in 1978 with back and shoulder pain, Mallon reassessed his options. He had shoulder surgery and was intrigued by the process. Never had medicine crossed his mind. “But I was good in math and physics and I said, ‘Maybe I’ll be a doctor.’ “

He interviewed at various schools, went to the University of Northern Illinois in 1979-80 to study pre-med, and got accepted into Duke Medical School.

Where once golf had led him to Durham, N.C., now it was medicine, but Dr. Mallon tackled the latter with the same sort of fervor that he had extended to the former. But where golf brought a sense of satisfaction, medicine opened door after door and carried Dr. Mallon to the top of his profession.

He did his residency in orthopedics at Duke, then did a fellowship with Dr. Richard Hawkins at the University of Western Ontario. From 1984-90 he was a resident at Duke University Medical Center and he later owned his own practice. Along the way, he mixed his passion for medicine and golf and contributed to Golf Digest as the magazine’s medical editor. He wrote a book titled “The Golf Doctor: How to Play a Better, Healthier Round of Golf,” but his sports passions spilled over to the Olympics, too. Dr. Mallon wrote books and a long list of articles on the history of the Olympics and served as a medical advisor.

In 2001, Dr. Mallon was awarded the Olympic Order for services to the Olympic Games.

Seemingly distanced from his days of golf passion, Dr. Mallon still maintains a passion for the game. He watches it and studies it, but unlike the average fan who can’t fathom what’s going on inside the minds of those inside the ropes, he does. He said he ran into a old acquaintance from his competitive golf years and asked if he missed the game.

“He told me he missed being nervous, missed the tournaments,” Dr. Mallon said. “I feel the same way. I miss that competitive aspect, but I don’t have a lot of urge to play (recreational golf).”

Which isn’t to say he doesn’t still have a passion for the game and won’t relish the warm embrace of his Pinehurst visit.

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