'A real-life tragedy'
Paul Goydos and his girls grieve their loss
It was Steve Flesch, one of the closest friends Paul Goydos has on the PGA Tour, who asked the question that rocked him. It was a text message, and it was brief and to the point: "I know everyone is asking about the girls," Flesch wrote. "How are YOU?"
Goydos hadn't given the question any thought until that moment on a Monday evening this past January. All his thoughts since 9:15 Pacific time on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 17, had been focused on his two daughters, 18-year-old Chelsea and 16-year-old Courtney. He had just gone to sleep, having flown home on a red-eye after missing the cut in Hawaii, when his ex-mother-in-law called to tell him that Wendy, his ex-wife, had died after apparently taking something to ward off the pain from another of her constantly recurring migraine headaches.
"In one sense, that moment was almost inevitable, given what had gone on in Wendy's life for most of 10 years," Goydos says. "But she was only 44 years old. She had fought her addiction--really fought it. Even though I'd dreaded it for years, getting the call was a complete shock. Having to tell the girls was horrible, the absolute worst moment of my life."
Chelsea was already up, so Paul sat her down and told her. Then he woke Courtney and gave her the news.
"There's absolutely no way you can say those words and cushion them: 'Mom died.' I can still hear myself saying it, and when I do, I flinch. I did then, I do now, and I think I always will.
"In truth, I'm OK," he says. "The support I've gotten from people has been amazing, really amazing. One thing I've figured out living through all this is, what makes golf a great game is the people in it. But I'm not the person people should feel sorry for. Wendy's the one people should feel sorry for, because she didn't get hooked on drugs for fun or because she was bored. She didn't end up getting cancer because she was smoking cigarettes, thinking they were cool. She had a serious medical condition and, trying to fight it, she failed. It killed her. That's sad--beyond sad. I've got two wonderful, beautiful daughters, and I'm alive. No one should feel sorry for me. No one."
For 17 years, Paul Goydos has been someone everyone on the PGA Tour seeks when looking for a laugh or a different spin on golf's many issues. His deadpan humor--much of it self-deprecating--is often the subject of stories told on the range.
He has frequently claimed to be the worst player in the history of the PGA Tour, a statement belied by the fact that he has stayed on tour since 1993, won twice, made close to $9 million, and last year came within a few inches of winning the Players Championship before losing a playoff to Sergio Garcia.
"A lot of times he'll say something with a straight face, and a few minutes later you'll say to yourself, Wait, that was funny--really funny," says Kevin Sutherland, Goydos' best friend on tour. "He never smiles when he's getting off a line, so if you aren't listening closely, you might miss it."
Several years ago Goydos was asked to name his dream foursome. "Bobby Jones, Pamela Anderson and Kevin Sutherland," he answered. When the questioner asked why Sutherland was in the group, Goydos shrugged and said, "Because someone has to be willing to play the entire 18 holes with me."
There are very few things for which Goydos doesn't have a one-liner. His press conferences during the Players last year became must-attend events, and he even left NBC's unflappable Bob Costas speechless a couple of times.
Costas: "Why do you wear your shirts buttoned to the top on a 90-degrees day?"
Goydos: "I have no shoulders, and that's the only way the shirt stays on."
Costas: "Have you ever held the 54-hole lead?"
Goydos: "No, but I've only been out on tour for 16 years."
Costas: (on Sunday morning): "How did you sleep last night?"
Goydos: "On my back."
"What people lose sometimes amid all the humor is how smart the guy is," says Billy Andrade, another close friend. "He's very thoughtful and bright. I wish more people out here would listen to him, because he's right on most subjects most of the time."‘She was looking for something--anything--to make her feel better.’
Growing up in Long Beach, Calif., Goydos realized at an early age that he didn't like trying to hit baseballs that seemed to be thrown right at his head. He found an old set of his dad's golf clubs in the garage, and Jim Hunter, the pro at Recreation Park Golf Course, a nearby muny, gave him six lessons for $40.
From there, Goydos was on his own. He began playing regularly at Recreation Park--known as The Boneyard because so many of its players were senior citizens--and was good enough to play college golf at Long Beach State. It was there that he met Wendy Medak. Paul did some part-time work for her dad, a mortgage broker, and she dated one of his friends. Eventually, they started dating. "Besides the fact that she was pretty, she had the kind of personality that made people feel comfortable," he says. "She was outgoing and friendly and happy." He smiles. "Sort of the opposite of me. Maybe that's what attracted me to her."
He graduated from Long Beach State in 1988, and he and Wendy were married a year later. By then, Paul thought his golf career was over. He had developed an arthritic condition in his left hand during his senior year that made it almost impossible to grip a club. After graduating with a degree in finance, he worked part time for Wendy's dad and as a substitute teacher in the Long Beach school system, often working in inner-city schools.