Fighting the big one
Boo Weekley’s battle with cancer threatened his career, but he never lost sight of the big picture
May 21, 2019
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Boo Weekley’s battle with cancer threatened his career, but he never lost sight of the big picture
The first leg of the bonding trip with his sons last summer was a cruise. But Boo Weekley doesn’t remember the island destination, or any other ports of call, for that matter.
“We just went, and we came back,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.
After the cruise, Weekley and his boys went to Disney World and Legoland. In total, the trip lasted seven days. Or maybe it was eight.
“I can't remember that either,” Weekley grins.
What he does remember, though, is the fun he had with Parker (now 17) and Aiden (now 10). But despite all the theme nights and the cartoon characters roaming the decks and those Disney movies shown on board, the trip wasn’t completely carefree.
Not after his doctor told him just as the trip started that tissue samples taken after removing that angry cyst from Weekley’s left shoulder had shown signs of cancer. The doctor’s next sentence was just as alarming.
You need to come back to the office – now.
But Weekley said no. He and the boys were already on their way. The trip would go on as planned. “I ain’t gonna turn around,” Weekley told his doctor.
Upon his return home to Jay, Florida, Weekley finally met with his doctor. The small incision made to excise the infected cyst was replaced by a bigger scar as the surgeon dug back into his shoulder to remove the cancerous cells.
“They cut it all out and here we are -- we're back to normal,” says Weekley, who makes just his fourth PGA TOUR start of the season this week at the Charles Schwab Challenge, a tournament he won in 2013.
Before you think that Weekley is the ultimate optimist or the master of the understatement all rolled in one, he was concerned. But he knew whatever happened was out of his control, and quite frankly, golf’s ultimate country boy doesn’t particularly like talking about his feelings and the like.
“Yeah, it worried me, but I mean what's the worst thing, I couldn't play golf again?” Weekley wonders aloud. “The good Lord is gonna take care of us the way he wants to take care of us. I believe in him so I'm gonna just have my faith and it is what it is.”
But still, when they say you have cancer …
“It scared me. I was worried,” Weekley admits. “But I mean, I don't know, it's just kind of like one of them things like all right, how serious is it? I didn't know how serious it was, and then when he said, ‘Oh, I can cut all this out, and we'll be done in about a day, about three hours,’ I was like 'All right.’
“So sure enough, they did it all, and I mean it was over with.”
Well, not exactly. In reality, the cancer diagnosis was just part of a series of setbacks that kept the three-time champion off the TOUR for 18 months. Weekley has worked hard to get back, though, and he has hopes of more starts this summer that will allow him to get back into a competitive flow.
Tendinitis in his right elbow originally forced Weekley off the TOUR after he missed the cut at the RBC Canadian Open in July of 2017. Just a month earlier, he had tied for fifth at the Travelers Championship, his best finish in more than a year.
Weekley underwent various kinds of treatment for the next few weeks. But after a month, nothing had worked. Only one option remained – surgery.
“We done tried shots,” Weekley says. “We done tried everything; iced it, we done just let it rest for a month and that didn't do nothing. It wouldn't heal up right. It wouldn't nothing.
“So they went in there and just they did a little old cut. He just jabbed that thing down in there and fixed it all up.”
Weekly didn’t hit balls for nearly six months. He says it was the longest he’d gone without playing golf since he was about 13 years old. He went to rehab, using a rubber band stretched around his fingers to regain strength and mobility in his tendon.
Even hunting on those 400 or so acres he owns in the Florida panhandle was problematic.
“I couldn't do a whole lot cause I had to climb, and I couldn't climb and stand ‘cause I couldn't pick nothing up,” Weekley says. “You know what I mean? It ain't that I wasn't strong enough, I just couldn't get my hands on it. So I didn't really do a whole, whole lot.”
Weekley – who first learned to play golf left-handed -- was able to fish, though, transferring the reel to his opposite hand. The bass cooperated, and he was able to spend plenty of time with his sons.
“I figured out a way to fish,” he says. “I promise you I did do that.”
Once Weekley started playing golf again, though, the cyst in his shoulder flared up, filling with pus and causing him considerable pain. In truth, the shoulder had bothered him off and on for several years. So he went to the doctor and the decision was made to remove it.
“I’d been hitting balls,” Weekley says. “I wouldn't say I was all the way ready to come back out and play but yes I was close enough to where I felt like I go out and should've shot even par easily.”
But then came the cancer diagnosis. Another surgery and a big scar across the top of his shoulder. And another delay in getting back out on TOUR.
His future might’ve seemed uncertain, but Weekley also recognized it as a reality check.
“I don't know, adversity is a good thing to have sometimes,” Weekley says. “It's a good thing to have ‘cause you just, it is what it is. It's how you deal with it. Every day in life, there's something new, so take your time, be patient, let it happen. I don't know, it's been crazy the last two years for me.
“The way I look, my outlook on life, it's different, way different than it used to be. … I guess I have a different outlook on when all this came about and well, the worst thing that can happen if I don't play golf, then I'll at least be home every day with my boys.”
In his lowest moments, Weekley admits that he considered the possibility that he might not play golf again at the highest level. But he missed the grind, and the desire was still there. Whatever happened, he wanted it to be on his terms, so he stayed determined to give himself another shot.
“It wasn't because of an injury -- that was gonna be my decision,” Weekley says. “It still might be my decision, I might play this year and say 'You know what, I don't want to do this no more.’
“This is right now, still in my gut I got a fire and I still want it and that's the only reason why I'm actually sitting right here right now ‘cause I still want it. I could be sitting at home, just chilling out. I could go get a job down there working as a farmer, whatever, don't matter to me.”
But right now, he wants to play golf.
Scott Hamilton, who is the director of golf at Cartersville Country Club just north of Atlanta and “instructor to a bunch of cool guys on the PGA TOUR,” according to his Instagram account, has taught Weekley since 2010. He considers the pro one of his closest friends and kept in touch during his layoff.
“I’d just call him every once in a while, and you know I'll call and ask him about golf and the next thing were talking about fishing or something,” says Hamilton, who also works with Matt Every, Scott Stallings, Hudson Swafford, Peter Uihlein and Harold Varner, to name a few of those “cool” guys.
So when Weekley told him the doctors were going to take the cyst out of his shoulder, Hamilton wasn’t particularly concerned. After all, Weekley had his shoulder drained before, so why should this be any different?
“I thought he’d go to like a little in-patient thing that they lance it,” Hamilton says. “Have you ever watched that ‘Dr. Pimple Popper’ (show)?
“I just thought it'd be like something like that when you got in there and found it, they gotta cut that out. And then they found cancer around it and was like, oh s---, you know.”
Hamilton remembers telling Weekley he was “insane” when he decided not to delay the Disney cruise and have the surgery. “I mean I know he's frugal but that's borderline ridiculous,” he says, thankful he’s able to chuckle now.
As Hamilton, a kindred spirit to Weekley if there ever was one, puts it, the doctors had to cut a chunk of “meat” out of there to make sure they had removed all the cancer cells. He knows Weekley was frustrated by the second setback. but he rarely let it show.
“He was pretty nonchalant about it but I could tell he was pretty nervous about it because ... a) it made the heal on the shoulder take so much longer, and he had just been through the elbow thing, you know, (and was finally) feeling good, and then b) he didn't know what kind of post-op treatments he'd have to have, which he didn't end up having to have any,” Hamilton says.
“I think it scared the crap out of him.”
Once the shoulder healed and Weekley was able to start hitting balls again in November, Hamilton says it didn’t take his student long to get his game back.
“For him it's not very hard because that guy's one of the greatest ball-strikers that ever lived, you know?” Hamilton says. “People just don't have an understanding of how good of a ball-striker he is. I mean, when he hits balls on the range, other TOUR players will watch him hit.
“If he was a great putter, the guy would've won … no telling how many times.”
Normally when an elite player has been injured and away from the game, Hamilton says the hardest thing is to get his speed back. Weekley came up to Cartersville twice late last year to work on his game, and the results were almost immediate.
“We got him back up to 112-113 (mph) or something like that with his driver which is -- you know he's a 115 guy,” Hamilton says. “It was really close. The biggest challenge is the shape of his swing and his golf swing stays simple.
“I work on it a little bit on the posture stuff and a couple different little small things, but that golf swing he's got is ingrained. It's more training -- trying to get him on a pressure mat and shifting with the right time limit and that kinda stuff.”
Hamilton says there’s an added, unexpected benefit. Weekley has lengthened his swing and has more range of motion than he had before the shoulder surgery. In some ways, the surgery may have been a blessing in disguise.
“I always equated it to the tendinitis, but I think we really might have had to deal with the impingement that he had in his shoulder,” Hamilton says. “But yeah, we didn't do a ton of stuff to him. He's got a real strong grip, he's super rotary, he's a torque guy, he spins around in real tight circles and he hits way down on it.”
Weekley admits he missed the game, the grind, while he was sidelined. Not that he watched it on TV or anything. In fact, on the Sunday last month when Tiger Woods won the Masters, Weekley wasn’t even aware of the news until later that day when he arrived at Hilton Head for the RBC Heritage.
“My caddy's like, 'Did you hear what happened?'” Weekley recalls. “I said, ‘No, what happened?' I was thinking something bad. He was like, 'Tiger won.’ I said, 'Tiger won what?' He said, 'The Masters'. I said, 'No way'. He's like 'Yes'. I was like 'No s---? I didn't even know he was even in the hunt.”
Weekley tied for 25th that week at a course on which he’s won twice. This week, he’s at the other course he’s experienced success.
Colonial Country Club -- home to one of the best ball-strikers the game has ever seen and Weekley’s favorite player, Ben Hogan -- offers another opportunity to gauge the progress he’s made. He has high expectations for himself, and Weekley won’t be satisfied until he meets them.
“I just want to play good golf,” Weekley says. “I want to prove to myself. I ain't worried about proving anything to anybody else. I just want to prove myself that I still got the game first to play.
“As long as I get myself in contention, to where at least I can get myself an opportunity to try to win or to try to do something special. The way I look at it, that's all it is, just being able to do something special.”