124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Verdi: Wednesday's Postcard from the Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Without question, the happiest face around this Players Championship belongs to Greg Rita, a popular veteran caddie who showed up from his nearby home to visit many friends on the PGA Tour.

Rita, 52, hadn't been at a regular event for a year, because he had been working for Scott Hoch on the Champions Tour. Then in September, Rita collapsed and was later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Surgery was performed Nov. 7, and he's endured it all since--radiation, chemotherapy, seizures, pneumonia, spinal tap.

"But this is the greatest therapy of all," said Rita, whose presence at the course brought things to a screeching halt as players, caddies and tour types dropped whatever they were doing to greet him with smiles and hugs.

Although Rita wears a scar around his head and has dropped some weight, he looked like a man who is up for the fight against cancer.

"I'm going to will this thing away," said Rita, who caddied for Curtis Strange's consecutive U.S. Open victories in 1988 and 1989 and was on the bag when John Daly won the 1995 British Open.

Besides his appearance at the Players, Rita got to hang out with many of his buddies a couple evenings ago when Paul Fusco, Steve Flesch's caddie, and wife Pam had some of the boys over to their house not far from where Rita and wife Kelley reside.

"A great night," said Greg, who undergoes physical rehab almost daily because, as he says, "my body has been torn up." Rita anxiously awaits his next MRI in June--"I pray it's clean"--and takes 40 pills a day, but he doesn't require any medicine to retain a goal he set when doctors delivered the bad news.

"Our son Nicolas is 3," said Rita, a serious Boston Red Sox fan. "When he turns 5, I'm taking him to Fenway Park."

--Bob Verdi