McCabe: Legends turn out to help one of their own

Legends, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player gather with a larger group for a picture prior to the Devon Quigley Pro-Am at the Floridian.

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PALM CITY, Fla. – None of them professes to have a cure for the heartache and pain that cuts through the Quigley family, but all of them are proficient at providing that timeless and most priceless comfort aid.

Laughter.

So there was Gary Player greeting his longtime brothers in arms, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, to warm up an already sun-splashed morning at the Floridian Golf & Yacht Club. Cameras clicked, smiles flashed and hugs that were as genuine as the day was warm went all around.

But it was the laughter that filled the air that resonated.

“Look at his shoes,” Player said, nudging Palmer while pointing to the pristine black shoes on Nicklaus’ feet.

“Oh, my God,” Palmer said. “Pretty fancy.”

“You know why he’s gone up in style?” Player asked. “He’s getting paid finally to wear them. They’re free.”

Icons. Legends. Heroes. Call them what you like, but on this day, Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player were even more. They were deliverers of goodwill to a family that believes in miracles. They were here for Dana Quigley. Correction, “they are here for Devon,” Dana Quigley said.

His 28-year-old son was in a horrific car accident Dec. 1, 2011, and though Devon cannot yet walk or talk, he continues to fight courageously against his brain injury. Back home in Rhode Island, where his mother, Charlotte, keeps great care of him, Devon Quigley was shown computer photos of the proceedings at the Floridian.

“Every day,” Dana Quigley said, “there is progress.”

But there is a need for so much more and so the golf world did what it does brilliantly: It came to help, its legends merely asking two questions. “Where? When?”

Heralded as a sort of ironman for the number of times he would tee it up on the Champions Tour, Dana Quigley, 65, is at the core a softie, an emotional and passionate man who at times had to choke back his words as he stood on the range at The Floridian. To his left was Nicklaus. To his right was Palmer. Over on the putting green was Player. And at each turn of the head another remarkable vision swept into view . . . Raymond Floyd, Ben Crenshaw, Bernhard Langer, Tom Kite, Hal Sutton, Lanny Wadkins, Mark Calcavecchia, Larry Nelson, Jeff Sluman, Steve Elkington and Steve Jones.

Oh, and the merriest of them all, the incomparable Lee Trevino, resplendent in his shorts and still in possession of the quickest wit the game has ever known.

He completed a fantastic foursome for the photographers, joining Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player, but it was Trevino who pumped up the laughter. He told onlookers that his colleagues had their faces on bottles of wine, but shook his head. “I didn’t even know they even knew what a grape looks like,” Trevino said.

When Hollis Cavner – the tournament director of the Champion Tour’s 3M Championship in Minneapolis and the man behind this illustrious gathering at The Floridian – asked players to assemble for a photo, he mentioned something about how there was no purse, “yet look at the field.”

Trevino stopped in mid-swing.

“You mean, we’re not getting paid?”

Cavner, a low-handicapper with the wit himself, said, “No, Lee, you’re not getting paid – and quit stealing the range balls.”

When Cavner’s call went out a second time, people started prodding the players to get in line for the photo. Most did so, a few stopped and chatted, and then someone pointed to the guy who was still pounding balls, that never-ending quest to figure this game out burning within, even at 73.

“I am not rushing Mr. Nicklaus,” Cavner said. “The boys can wait.”

Not that waiting was a problem at all, because on this day, there was always another set of arms to slip into, another warm embrace to share. So star-studded was the assembly that guys who used to play came to watch. Jones noticed one such former PGA Tour winner, J.C. Snead, and motioned for him to join the photo. But Snead was content, shaking his head, and merely smiling. “I finally get to stand in the gallery,” Snead said.

For such an incredible gathering, the roots of it were fairly simple. Dana Quigley said he was having lunch with Jim Colbert at the 3M Championship last summer and mentioned how he’d love to put together a pro-am to help raise money for Devon’s care, yes, but also to keep the young man at the forefront of people’s thoughts.

“Jim just told me it would get done. Told me not to worry about it,” Dana said. “He’d get a few players.”

A few players? Consider that the clubhouse leader for understatement of the year because Colbert got together with Cavner and planted the seeds of what will turn out to be a massive charitable effort. Cavner came up with the criteria to be invited to play in what was billed as a “Pro-Am at Floridian Golf Club” to benefit the Devon D. Quigley Special Needs Trust: You had to have won a major championship.

Imagine one of the first calls Cavner had to make. The one to Quigley. “I was told I wasn’t eligible for my own pro-am,” Dana said. Puzzled that he might have been at first, when he heard why, he was not at all deflated; he was humbled beyond belief that such an assortment of names would answer this call.

Crenshaw was among those who didn’t hesitate.

“We all know one another. We all know each other’s family,” said the two-time Masters champ. “We know something like this could happen to any one of us.”

Trevino, who against the toughest of competition – Nicklaus, Player, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller were all in their prime – had the brilliance to win six majors, explained what it was all about.

“Things happen in life, and when this happened to Dana, eventually we knew we would do something,” Trevino said, and he stopped the kidding and the joking to tell why this hit home. He has a 20-year-old son who is a sophomore in college and “nothing pleases me more than when I hear his voice at night, because we are parents, we worry,” Trevino said.

While so many in attendance formed the heart and soul of the PGA Tour back in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Quigley was never a member of that fraternity. It’s another story for another day as to why he never made it the first time around, but he is held in high esteem by those players like Trevino who embraced a second life on the Champions Tour.

“Dana was the life of the Senior Tour,” Trevino said. “No one entertained like Dana; no one promoted the Senior Tour like him. If we had 78 Dana Quigleys, we’d be playing for $5 million purses every week for 40 weeks.”

When Cavner had the attention of those who gathered at the practice range before the pro-am began, he offered thanks not only to the major winners who showed up, but to Jack and Barbara Nicklaus. Saturday night they opened their home in North Palm Beach to a dinner party and to hear the talk, even the star players were star-struck when they walked in the room.

One player shook his head, feeling as if he knew what the heralded Champions Dinner at the Masters must feel like.

“It was an incredible dinner,” Cavner said. “People opened up their wallets and their hearts.”

Nicklaus said it’s part of the golf culture that he respects.

“Golfers by nature are a giving bunch,” he said. “Devon has been fighting such a battle the last year, and the family celebrates every little victory they can. But Dana and his family have been through a lot. We just hope that what little we are able to do this weekend will help in some way.”

Understand, however, that it was more than “a little.” Rather, the dinner at the Nicklaus house and the pro-am at The Floridian figure to raise close to $1 million, a figure that hung in the warm, sultry morning air and to the side Dana Quigley could be seen hanging his head, shaking it slowly, the emotion genuine, the generosity overwhelming him.

But this was a day when the tears would come from laughter, so the photo session took a little longer because of all the jokes, all the ribbing, all the good-natured back-and-forth that hits at the heart of golf’s beauty. “Now don’t ask these guys to kneel,” Cavner said to the coordinating photographers, “because half of them won’t be able to get up.”

It was a laughter that continued out onto the golf course. At the par-3 second hole, for instance, one of Nicklaus’ amateur partners, Neil Kelley, asked if the game’s greatest champion knew how to play “hammer.” With a curious eye, Nicklaus looked at him and Kelley with great detail explained how the $20 could be accepted or turned down and how it could eventually turn into $40 given the right series of decisions and . . . well, Nicklaus laughed. “I can’t afford you,” he said, and Kelley laughed.

Brett Quigley, Dana’s nephew and a longtime PGA Tour player, was on hand to help groups by hitting shots into the par-3 second, which was set up at 160 yards. When the amateurs had hit, Nicklaus held two clubs, picked the one he wanted, then stepped back. “Give me that one,” he said to his caddie. “I don’t have the clubhead speed in my game anymore.”

Ah, but he has it, and what a joy it was to watch his shot cut through the air and come to rest within 15 feet of the hole.

Now it was Brett Quigley’s turn, and Nicklaus let it be known that he had 6-iron. Quigley hesitated, grabbed his 6-iron and laughed. “Then I’ll hit 6-iron,” he said.

On a day of radiant smiles, Nicklaus offered one of the best.

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