My year in golf: Ron Balicki
This has been quite a year, that’s for sure – especially the last five months. As far as I’m concerned, it was a year in which I experienced a glass half full and a glass half empty.
In fact, my 2013 was probably more about the tournaments I missed than the ones I was able to attend.
If all that sounds confusing, it’s because it is, and the story behind is a bit interesting.
My year started in late January, just like it has for who knows how long – traveling to Tucson and covering the Arizona Intercollegiate. As always, it was fun and great to see all my coaching friends right out of the chute.
From there, it was off to the Linger Longer in Greensboro, Ga., followed by moving into the NCAA post-season.
First up was the South Central Regional, which was great because it was hosted by the University of Arkansas at its home course, the Blessing. It was kind of a “homer” for me. It was about a three-hour drive, so I didn’t travel back and forth each day. It was a great event, with Illinois coming out on top.
This was followed by the NCAA Championship at the Capital City Golf Club’s Crabtree course just outside Atlanta. The course was challenging, the club staff was fantastic and the hospitality was second to none, thanks to the efforts of onsite tournament chairman Bob Covington.
And you couldn’t ask for better in the area of the competition and individual play. Alabama captured its first national men’s golf title, and what a win it was for coach Jay Seawell and his Crimson Tide players and fans. In the title match, Alabama beat Illinois, which a day earlier had upset top-ranked California.
June rolled in, and I was off to one of my favorite amateur events, the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisset Country Club in Rhode Island, where Alabama’s Cory Whitsett came away with the victory.
In July, I was off to the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va. I refer to this as Jordan Niebrugge’s coming-out party on the national amateur scene. He claimed the national title by beating Michael Kim, 1 up.
A couple of weeks later, I was driving over to Little Rock, Ark., to cover the Western Amateur at The Alotian Club. And Niebrugge would go on to win, beating Sean Dale, 3 and 2, in the final for his second major title of the summer.
It was also at this year’s Western Am when my life changed drastically and the rest of the year would keep me on the sidelines. I learned that I had lung cancer, which had started to spread to my liver.
Two weeks later, I was undergoing my first set of what has been many chemotherapy treatments, which put an end to my 2013 travels and tournament coverage.
And what a bummer that was because the events I was going to miss are among my most favorite.
First up on the absentee list was the U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. This marked the first time in more than a quarter of a century that I was not at this great event. Having covered 27 in a row, my streak came to an end.
Then, this was a Walker Cup year, and the matches were on U.S. soil at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y. I had covered 10 Walker Cups and had not missed one since 1995 so it definitely hurt, especially since the U.S. won to bring the Walker Cup back to America.
The first week in October, I was scheduled to cover the U.S. Mid-Amateur at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.). The mid-am also is a tournament I love to cover. What made missing this year’s championship so hard to take was the fact that my very good friend Mike McCoy won his first USGA title – at age 50.
The college season was off and running, and I could only follow things on the Internet or school news releases. It also meant I would miss another of my favorite events, the U.S. Collegiate Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia just outside Atlanta. I just love this event.
In November, for the first time, I was scheduled to cover the Western Refining All-America Classic in El Paso, Texas. I was really looking forward to that, because I’ve never been to this individual tournament but had heard so many great things about it.
So, as you can see, the last part of 2013 left me with an empty glass. And believe me, I didn’t like it one bit. It’s easy to see how the competitions I wasn’t able to attend grabbed as much of my spotlight as the ones I did attend.
And, FYI, I’m still going through chemotherapy, but I have plenty of support, thoughts and prayers from so many family members, friends and co-workers, both those in our main Orlando office as well as the writers and reps I deal with on the road.
There’s still a ways to go, but I’m determined to beat this thing and get back on the tournament trail as soon as I can.
So there is my year in – and out – of golf for 2013. It may not have been the best year I’ve ever had, but it certainly is one I won’t forget.