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Graham delays heart surgery for Presidents Cup

November 15, 2011

MELBOURNE, Australia - David Graham was scheduled to undergo open-heart surgery on Nov. 4 in Montana, but he decided instead to bring his heavy heart back to his home country for the ninth Presidents Cup.

"They're going to have to take a tomahawk to this chest," Graham bravely said Tuesday at Royal Melbourne GC. "It's something I should have had done some time ago, but when they said they wanted to do it two weeks ago, I said, 'Oh, no. Not doing it. I'm going to Australia.'"

Tough talk, and yet Graham couldn't stop sobbing as he spoke. He continually reached for tissues in his pocket to use at dabbing away the rivulets flowing from his swollen eyes down his weathered face.

"I'm sorry," he sputtered at one point. "This is an emotional thing for me."

Which part?

Is it the fact that Graham still can't believe he's alive thanks to a cocktail of experimental drugs after being diagnosed in 2004 with congestive heart failure?

Is it in his tortured words about "seeing the Presidents Cup for the last time in Australia"?

Is it the fact that but for an 11th-hour player mutiny that resulted in his removal as the 1996 International captain, he still might have been at the team's helm in 1998 when the matches were staged at Royal Melbourne and the U.S. was sent packing with its only defeat in this biennial competition?

And if all that isn't enough for a heavy heart to handle, Graham and his wife, Maureen, will make their way to Sydney next week to visit Maureen's mother, who is in failing health.

Graham, 65, from Windsor, Australia, hadn't stepped foot in his home country since he won the 1994 Australian Skins Game. Of course, cross-continental travel hasn't been possible since his diagnosis in '04 that ended his competitive career. He was told at the time he might need a heart transplant, but medication has kept his condition manageable, and after five years without hitting a ball, Graham now gets in the occasional nine-hole round with Arnold Palmer when he visits the Palm Springs area in California.

"I can still whack it a bit now, which is nice after not playing at all for so long," he said. "Arnold and I get together in the desert at the Madison Club and The Tradition in [La Quinta]. It's really cool. We don't compete. We verbally compete. He hits it everywhere and I hit it everywhere, and we laugh at each other and give each other 10-foot putts. Then we go sit and have a glass of wine."

After serving as captain for the International Team in the first Presidents Cup in 1994, Graham was to have squared off opposite Palmer in the '96 matches only to be dismissed by prospective team members after a vote of no confidence at the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England, just two months prior to the competition. Countrymen Peter Thomson replaced him, and Thomson served as the captain twice more: in '98, when the Internationals thrashed a lethargic American team, 20.5 to 11.5 here at Royal Melbourne; and in 2000, a resounding 21.5 to 10.5 U.S. victory at Robert Trent Jones GC in Lake Manassas, Va.

The '96 episode was too painful for Graham to address, but he did light up in discussing his turn as the first International captain, even though he was on the losing end against an American team led by playing captain Hale Irwin.

"Just being the first captain and playing a part in getting it off the ground and trying to make it as good as we could right away. It's one of the most important things I did in my career," said Graham, who won eight PGA Tour titles, including the 1979 PGA Championship and 1981 U.S. Open. "What people don't know is that the first one, there wasn't really a lot of money put into the event. It was difficult because on both sides it was a new tournament, the American players were already deeply submerged in the Ryder Cup, and initially they weren't excited about another tournament in the odd year. And a lot international players were skeptical about its success.

"In those days, there wasn't a budget for the players' uniforms or for clothing for the ladies, so it was actually costing the players money to play in the tournament. There wasn't any money there. The level of costs was watched closely, such as in the quality of the hotels. Everything was done on a tight budget and it needed to be done on a tight budget because there wasn't the confidence initially that the tournament was going to become what it is today. The whole tournament has evolved with the growth of international golf.

"It was nice to help lay a foundation for what we have here today."

More tears. More tissues soaked.

Days after returning to his home to Whitefish, Mont., Graham will be admitted to Kalispell Regional Medical Center, where he'll be given a pacemaker and defibrillator. The surgical procedures will take more than a day. "It's 36 hours ... nothing really," he shrugged, chuckling.

Indeed. The real heart-rending experiences already will have been behind him.

-- Dave Shedloski