Kohler, Wis. - Eight years ago Scott Walter had one of those unexpected turns hit him much the way a Mike Tyson midsection jab used to seep breath from an opponent.
The 52-year-old club professional at Bear Creek Golf Club in Denver went in for an annual physical that left him mystified. His physician noticed his red blood count was extremely low. Taking precautions, the doctor ordered more blood work that confirmed his suspicions: Walter had acute promyelocytic leukemia.
"It's not a very good leukemia to have or for the system to go through," said Walter prior to a practice round on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits Tuesday.
Common symptoms include fatigue, minor infections or tendencies to bleed. Walter didn't recall having any of those. The illness came out of nowhere.
At that time, chance of survival was much lower than the 70-80 percent figures that the National Cancer Institute has listed on its Web site. Walter said he initially fell somewhere between 10-20 percentile after being diagnosed. His oncologist, however, thought he'd be a prime candidate to try new experimental drugs. That, coupled with two different types of chemotherapy, left him weak although he admitted to being "boneheaded."
To stay in shape, he'd walk a treadmill and try to lift weights. Sometimes he'd try to hit balls. He'd get fatigued but knew he couldn't lie in bed. Sometimes he'd be admitted to the hospital because his stressed immune system would be susceptible to infection from the chemo and drugs.
However, after his six-month protocol, Walter went into remission. He's been in remission ever since. He receives annual checkups to be sure.
The illness has provided him the proverbial new lease on life. Playing in his second U.S. Senior Open - he shot 77-77 last year at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., where he failed to make the cut - he's unaffected by the pressures others put on themselves.
"It's not the end of the world if you miss a three-foot putt," said Walter, whose 19-year-old son, Cody, will carry his bag this week. "It's not crucial. It's not life threatening."
Besides the Senior Open, the 1977 NCAA All-American Honorable Mention from Wyoming also played in the 1993 PGA Championship after making it through a qualifier. He made it into this Senior Open after finishing as a first alternate from his sectional qualifier at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 11. He shot a 73. Walter got the call from the USGA June 28 to pack his bags after 1986 U.S. Open champion Raymond Floyd withdrew due to a back injury.
With two practice rounds under his belt, Walter said the biggest difference from last year has been the wind and heat. A tricky crosswind pervaded the inland-based Prairie Dunes, coupled with days of high humidity and heat. Whistling Straits, a Pete Dye design that opened in 1998, is a links-style course located along the Lake Michigan shoreline. A prevalent, brisk wind minus the heat and humidity has the potential to alter shots as he found out quickly.
In any event, the goal is to have fun.
"My goal is to try and make the cut and play well," said Walter. "You'll be OK here if you keep your head."
And if he doesn't make the cut? Life goes on for Walter. That's a victory in itself.
Ken Klavon is the USGA Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.