Like Arnie, Balicki always made time for people

Ron Balicki (right) was the first non-coach inducted into the GCAA Hall of Fame in 2010, shown here with BYU head coach Bruce Brockbank.

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Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday

• The tributes are rolling in now, as they should, for longtime Golfweek senior writer Ron Balicki has graduated to the big golf course in the sky, his permanent smile and warm manner at the ready.

The man we called Balicks in these parts was inducted into the College Golf Coaches Hall of Fame in 2010. That honor probably was overdue because you couldn’t find a college hotshot or coach over the past three decades who didn’t enjoy, trust and respect this understated man.

But I always thought my colleague of almost 19 years belonged in a grander hall. If there were a Nice Person Hall of Fame, Balicki would be sitting in the front row. And that is not overstated. You would be hard-pressed to find someone more universally liked.

Yes, there are Balicki stories, many he told on himself in a self-deprecating way, but mainly there was this pleasant feeling you had around him. It not only seemed like he never had a bad day, it seemed like he never had anything but a smile on his face. You’d look at Ron Balicki and think, “Where does this guy get his happy pills? And how much do they cost?”

He reminded me of Arnold Palmer in the sense that he always seemed to have time for people and never appeared to be in a hurry. He acted like he had no watch, like time stood still, like his combed-down hair never thought about being on fire. In a world of constant deadlines and Type A personalities, that’s hard to comprehend but easy to marvel about.

A friend of his in Arkansas perhaps summed him up best: Ron is a man with no sharp edges. Unless, that is, the teeth showing during his everpresent smile qualify as sharp edges.

He playfully referred to himself as Wrong Ron when it came to making predictions, giving the impression he couldn’t pick anything but his nose. But everyone knew better because he had forgotten more about college and amateur golf than any writer will ever know.

You write something like this about the passing of such a good man, you smile and fight tears at the same time. The killer for me is that he would have turned 66 on April 6. You work hard your whole life and you get to retirement age and then something like cancer makes you say goodbye.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Perhaps it’s the lesson Ron Balicki gave us through actions and not words: Enjoy your life and exude a certain something that makes others feel good in your presence.

• Tiger Woods, out since March 9 because of a bad back, said Monday that it’s too soon to know whether he will play in the April 10-13 Masters. So with regard to the No. 1 player in the world, golf is stuck in a “Will he or won’t he?” holding pattern.

I’m no doctor, nor do I play one on television. But if I had to wager, a decent stack would be bet on his playing – even if a chariot had to wheel him to the first tee.

• In further honor of Wrong Ron, here are one man’s top 5 picks for the Masters at this point: Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley.

• I get the sense the World Golf Hall of Fame chances of David Graham just improved. At the Sunday news conference announcing changes to the induction process, hall ambassador Gary Player went out of his way to say, “I think we've made mistakes. ... You had a man like David Graham who won two major championships and won tournaments all over the world, and he was ignored and not put into the system.”

Player also happens to be one of the four members co-chairing the new 16-person selection commission ultimately responsible for voting in new members. It won’t be easy to get in, for it takes 75 percent of the vote, but Graham should be heartened to know that he has a strong lobbyist on his side.

Winner of the U.S. Open and PGA, Graham has more than 30 professional victories around the world, including eight apiece on the PGA and Australasia tours, two on the European Tour and one on the Japan Golf Tour.

• Last week, two days before the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, past champion Paul Goydos went to play nearby Orange Tree with his 8-handicap caddie, Chris Mazziotti, and NBC broadcasters Dan Hicks (8 handicap index) and Jimmy Roberts (10ish).

Because Orange Tree is one of America’s tightest tracks (Payne Stewart used to play there to get ready for U.S. Opens), the results were a bit comical. After only two holes, Goydos noticed the foursome already had lost seven balls.

“That’s when I said, ‘We’ve got to keep track,’ ” Goydos said.

So they counted. And counted. And counted. All told, their golf balls went out of bounds, into water or were lost a whopping 25 times for 18 holes.

“And four of them were mine,” Goydos said, smiling.

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