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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

Palmer's Cancer Helped Save Colbert

June 27, 1997|THOMAS BONK

In the first round of a Senior PGA Tour event in Alpharetta, Ga., Jim Colbert was in the same group as Bob Murphy. That isn't unusual, mainly because Colbert and Murphy are two of the closest players on tour.

What was unusual was that all during the round and then later at a party Murphy hosted that night, Colbert never mentioned he had cancer. Colbert, 56, never said he would have surgery three days later.

"He just didn't let on at all," Murphy said. "He seemed to be relaxed. He was talking. He was the normal Jim."

What is becoming all too normal for the senior tour players is the incidence of prostate cancer,

which is what Colbert discovered he had three weeks ago. Colbert, a two-time senior tour player of the year, is the second prominent senior golfer to undergo surgery for prostate cancer.

Arnold Palmer discovered he had prostate cancer in January and told his fellow players the news at a banquet the same night. Colbert, who was in the audience, had been stunned by Palmer's disclosure.

Dr. Lester Klein of the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, who performed the surgery on Colbert at the clinic's Green Hospital on Monday, said Colbert had been alarmed by Palmer's situation.

"If Jim hadn't had this, if the tumor had gone undetected for three or four years, it might have been too late," Klein said. "You might say he saved his life by coming in and having it done routinely."

Colbert had a routine blood test for prostate cancer done three weeks ago. Called a PSI, the test showed a slightly elevated reading. Klein suggested a biopsy, which was positive. Colbert sought a second opinion from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, which confirmed Klein's diagnosis.

So by the time Colbert teed it up at the du Maurier on June 12, he knew he had prostate cancer. Somehow, Colbert shot rounds of 65-65-70-71 for a 13-under-par 271 and finished second to Jack Kiefer by two shots.

"Imagine that this man knew he had cancer and had back-to-back rounds of 65-65," Klein said. "His ability to focus to the task is professional. He's doing that now."

Colbert remained mum about his condition last weekend when he tied for 17th at the Nationwide Championship. Hale Irwin, who finished second behind winner Graham Marsh, said the news came as a complete surprise.

"No one knew about it," said Irwin, whose father died of prostate cancer.

"Those that think it can't happen to them, I feel sorry for them because it can."

Colbert did not want his condition to be a distraction to his peers, Klein said Colbert told him, so he kept it to himself.

Knowing his golf buddy as well as he does, Murphy said he expects Colbert, eighth on the money list with $468,842, already is planning his comeback.

"He's probably listening to everything they're telling him--like how long he will be out--and he's cutting that in half," Murphy said.

DALY UPDATE

John Daly is spending a week undergoing tests and being evaluated at a sports science testing center at Lake Nona near Orlando, Fla. Callaway Golf is picking up the tab for Daly's stay at the LGE Sports Science Inc. center, run by three sports science and fitness experts: Jim Loehr, Jack Groppel and Pat Etcheberry.

Loehr, a sports psychologist, has worked with such players as Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Lee Janzen, Martina Navratilova and Gabriela Sabatini. Groppel, a fitness and nutrition specialist, has worked with Barbara Bush, Margaret Thatcher and Mary Lou Retton. Etcheberry, a fitness expert, has had such clients as Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Faldo, Els and Brad Faxon.

Daly's progress will be studied at the end of a week to decide on the next step in his comeback. He was admitted to the Betty Ford Center in late March after an alcoholic episode in Florida but came back May 29 to play in the Memorial tournament. He also played the Kemper Open the next week, making the cut both times.

However, his last appearance was an abbreviated one. Daly walked off the course at the U.S. Open midway through the second round at Congressional. He later cited mental and physical exhaustion.

MORE DALY

Callaway Golf pulled its Daly ads after the Open incident. Considering the players' prevailing opinion that Daly should have completed his round before withdrawing, maybe Callaway should change its Daly ad slogan from "Keep it straight" to "Stay on course."

WIRED

Els won the Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club last Sunday after having led from the first round. He also won the Buick in 1996, which he also did in the same fashion.

It's the first time a player has defended a title, winning both times after leading wire to wire, since Tom Watson won the MONY Tournament of Champions in 1979 and 1980.

HALE FELLOW

Irwin is probably the kind of guy who instinctively knows which teller line at the bank is going to be the quickest. He needed only 11 senior tour events to pass $1 million (actually $1,075,831)-- breaking his earliest-to-a-million record of 13 tournaments set last year.

CAN'T CUT IT

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