In rallying around an ailing friend, a golf community's bond extends beyond the game

December 24, 2017

Golf’s gift of giving has been prevalent throughout this holiday season. I reported on the over $1 million raised for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston—thanks in part to Tiger Woods donating a one-hour lesson. I tweeted about the Christmas presents being sent to the hurricane ravaged children of Puerto Rico through a fund-raising initiative created by swing instructor Adam Schriber.

On the local level here in Palm Beach Country, Fl., I attended two events over the last week, one for teenage depression and suicide (The Forever Frosty Foundation) at Trump National Jupiter, and one on Friday at Bear Lakes CC in West Palm Beach for golfer John (JR) Reynolds in his battle with tongue cancer. Both of these rip-your-heart-out causes were supported en mass by the tour players that call this part of the world their home and members of the Palm Beach County Golf Association that once included 1989 British Open champion Mark Calcavecchia.

“Calc” grew up hitting lob wedges over trees at North Palm Beach CC, won the County Am in 1979, and returned home after living in Phoenix. He played a one best ball net fivesome with guys from Richmond, Charleston, S.C. and Nashville that were friends of Reynolds’ sister and caregiver, Julie. “I was talking to the guys yesterday and they asked me where lived,” Calcavecchia was telling me Saturday morning. “I said Jupiter. They said, ‘Oh, that’s where Tiger lives, isn’t it?’ I said actually, he lives where I live. I was here first.”

Between the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and the LPGA Tour, Calcavecchia estimated there must be 70-80 players that live in Palm Beach County. One of them was Rhode Islander Brad Faxon, who has hosted pro-ams in his home state with Billy Andrade that have made more then $28 million. Seeing the turnout, Fax summed it up by saying: “I just think it shows the decency in humanity when you saw the players who came to rally behind JR. It was awesome.”

Also in attendance was Dana Quigley, who felt the same type of golf community support when son Devon was in a horrific car accident one mile from his home at Bear Lakes in 2011. That’s not including and mini-tours players that base themselves in the 561 area code, many of them at Bear Lakes, designed by the most impactful golf fund-raisers in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Jack and wife Barbara Nicklaus.

“I think he was absolutely overwhelmed by the turnout, by the people that showed up,” Julie said when I called on Sunday. “He was really breaking up when he came in and saw all the people who were there for him in such a short time...three days before Christmas.”

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Reynolds is the 51-year old son of Mike Reynolds, the original head professional at The Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, which Jack opened in 1985 when John was 18. He played high school golf and football at The Benjamin School, and college golf at Duke. His nickname, “Hacksaw,” was given to him by Kevin Johnson, the New Englander and 1987 U.S. Amateur Public Links Champion that played college golf against Reynolds at Clemson, and who was in attendance at Bear Lakes.

“There are a lot of factors that go into that name,” explained Brett Quigley, the nephew of Dana. “I played mini-tour golf with John. He had the chipping yips and was really good chipping one handed. There was a lot of gambling and hustling going on, so I’d say, listen let’s take our show on the road. We stopped because I didn’t want to get hurt in the parking lot.”

John was diagnosed with stage four colon and liver cancer in 2012, had four surgeries to remove a tumor the size of a baseball from his colon, took 18 rounds of chemotherapy and returned to play golf as a member at Bear Lakes for a year while selling real estate. Given a 30 percent chance of survival, he came back in 2015 and won the Palm Beach International, a Stableford event, at Martin Downs GC in Palm City.

“Not only did I survive,” Reynolds told me Sunday in a text. “I went on to play some of the best golf in my life after recovery.”

The cancer returned in January 2017, this time carcinoma to his tongue, attributed to John’s using dip going back to his high school days. After the battle waged with colon and liver cancer, John thought of declining surgery to die, but friends talked him into not giving up. After removing half of her brother's tongue, doctors told Julie the operation was like twice getting run over by a bus, but somehow he survived and is waging another comeback. He wears a tracheotomy tube around his throat to breathe and eat, is going through respiratory, speech and physical therapy, but communicates clearly and introspectively by text messaging, through Facebook, and face-to-face with his iPhone.

“Friday was an amazing thing,” says Julie. “It makes him realize he has to continue to fight through this.”

At the end of the day, $108,000 was donated to the JR Chip Away at Cancer. John didn’t want his picture taken but poked his head above the cardboard check with tears in his eyes. More donations have poured in since then. John will spend Christmas day at an acute therapy facility nearby in Lake Worth, with his father by his side and his mom living out her days with dementia. Julie says her brother can’t wait for the 2018 PGA Tour season to begin in Kapalua. He never misses a televised shot.

I have to be honest with you. I exchanged text messages with John on Sunday that sent a lone tear drop down my right cheek.

“My life after that (first) bout of cancer went on to being just like before cancer,” were the words that appeared on my screen. “This time I’m not sure what 'recovery' looks like. Will I be able to speak a little, or lot, or not at all? Will I be able to play golf just as well as before, not as well or not at all? The biggest reason I miss it is not being able to spend (competitive) time with my buddies and the back and forth needling that goes with being together for four hours.”

He didn’t remember what he typed before 155 golfers went out at Bear Lakes, but I sure knew what he was thinking; that he was "very lucky to have such friends and all of them came through golf."

He closed with a kicker that fit not only his plight, but those parents who lost a child, or families that lost a home and had to start all over again. So overwhelmed with the support he received, a transparent and philosophical John Reynolds closed with these words from a poem:

“It brought to light one of my favorite quotes from William Butler Yeats: 'Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.'”