Melanoma finally stills Terry Lee

LACEY, Wash. – The wide world of friends and family of Terry Lee gathered Saturday at Saint Martin’s University, where he played basketball 30-odd years ago, to celebrate his life and mourn his death.

Lee, 56, died Nov. 14 of the cancer he had battled for years. That the deadly melanoma claimed his life was surprising only because Lee had gotten a clean bill of health in his most recent checkups.

Terry Lee, from the 1978-79 Saint Martin's basketball media guide.

“DAMN CANCER,” Lee’s mother, Theresa Lee Hood, wrote in an email to me a week or so after his death.

“ … He fought a great fight and we all thought he had won since his last two testings all came back clear and doc said come back in 6 months and not 3. Then it struck with a vengeance a couple of weeks ago and it was thought he had a stroke.  However, it was the melanoma  and went for the brain.”

The plain truth is, melanoma, which starts as a skin cancer, almost always gets you when it has you.

Lee knew the odds, and knew they weren’t stacked in his favor. In an interview for a 2010 column I wrote for The Olympian, Lee talked about a couple guys named Danny who died of melanoma before him.

One was Danny Federici, the longtime keyboardist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who died in 2008. The Danny Federici Melanoma Fund was launched after his death to help finance melanoma research and raise awareness of the disease.

Lee never knew Federici, but the other guy, Dan Lee, who died in 2002, was a close friend. Dan’s first symptom of melanoma was a mole that was itching, Terry Lee said.

“I thought I was golden,” Lee said in the 2010 interview. “Mine didn’t itch.”

“Mine” was a nasty-looking spot on the back of his thigh. The doctor who saw it first in 2005 sent him to a dermatologist immediately. The surgery that followed soon after carved a wide swath from his leg, the first of a long series of surgeries and treatments.

Terry Lee knew the odds. But he packed a lot of life and a lot of golf into his last seven years. He loved to sail, and was accomplished at it. He gathered strength from a workout and support program at the YMCA sponsored by the Livestrong Foundation.

I made Lee’s acquaintance first in the same basketball city league. Later, I got to know him better through the articles we did together.

Tough guy, nice guy, able to be realistic and ever ready to laugh about his life and what it had brought him.

I do regret that we never played a round of golf together.

Swanson the teacher believes he can play a little, too

by Steve Valandra

For Kris Swanson, the return to competitive golf as a professional is very much about the future – one where he lives life without regrets.

“I read a little excerpt one time that a lot of people before they die don’t ever regret the things they have done but rather regret the things they didn’t do in life,” says Swanson, now 30 and embarking on a path that he hopes leads to the PGA Tour.

“I have put a lot of time and energy into this game and this is ideally the pinnacle, to be playing professionally. I don’t want to be older and think, ‘I didn’t give it all that I could have.’”

Kris Swanson

The journey has been in the making for some time. Swanson first picked up a golf club two decades ago when his mother worked at Indian Summer Country Club in Olympia, Wash.

As a teen, he helped Capital High School in Olympia win a state championship. Initially recruited by Washington State University, he later transferred to Saint Martin’s University and became part of the team that won the school’s first national title.

He worked as an assistant pro at Olympia Country and Golf Club and Tumwater Valley for several years before starting his own instruction business while maintaining duties as the head golf coach at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

Those who regularly seek his guidance as an instructor will tell you Swanson’s friendly demeanor and confidence-building attitude – he should patent his “We can fix that” phrase – always leaves them feeling after a lesson that they’re on the right track.   Now, the instructor Swanson is applying the same traits to the player Swanson.

Through July, Swanson will be the traveling man. He will leave behind his wife, several dozen students and his day job at Golf USA in Lacey, Wash., to compete in events in California, Utah, New Mexico, Iowa and back to the Golden State. Top prize money in the events range from $2,500 to $100,000.

The venues are mapped out. His finances are in order.

The dream, like his tee shots, is now a vision of where he wants to be. All he needs are the proper results.

“My game is solid. I have always felt that I hit the ball extremely well enough to play tour golf, and I have the shots it takes,” Swanson says. “At this level it all comes down to being mentally stronger – and being a great putter.”

Students, take note: Swanson shows good form on the below-the-feet chip

That became more evident during a qualifying event for the U.S. Open in May at the Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver. Just two holes of too many putts – including three-putting from four feet – cost him a chance to advance to a sectional qualifier in California.

Even so, Swanson understands that those misses are part of the game and can serve as a guiding light.

“I think going out and putting the time in and playing with confidence and knowing that I have done this thousands of times at a high level are key,” he says. “I know that I will have good days and bad days. I have to try not to be hard on myself and trust in my abilities.

“Oh, and yes, make a lot of putts.”

Golf at any level can be laborious at times and maddening. The game plays with a person’s head like no other sport. The difference between those who get through the tough times and those who don’t is often something that only comes with living – maturity.

“Years ago I was nowhere near mature enough to handle the grind,” Swanson says.  “Now, I feel mentally strong enough to grind it out.”

Upcoming events
• Today: Round 2 of Golden State Tour Lamkin Series #4, PGA West/Nicklaus Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif.

• June 19-24: San Juan Open, Farmington, N.M.

• July 9: Monday qualifier for the Utah Golf Championship (Nationwide Tour).

• July 18-22: Waterloo Open,Waterloo, Iowa.

• July 24-29: Long Beach Open, Long Beach, Calif.

In his bag
“I use a Titleist 910D3 Driver, 9.5 degree of loft, a TaylorMade RBZ 4 wood and a 19-degree TaylorMade rescue. I play Adams CB1 irons, 4-PW with Adams Puglielli wedges 52, 56 and 60 degree. I putt with a PING Answer 5 milled putter. I use the TaylorMade Penta TP 5 ball.”

One of a kind: It’s Tom’s place now

OLYMPIA, Wash. — In an era when “hybrid” is applied to anything not otherwise easy to classify, even when there’s no need to classify at all, this place is true to the word.

It’s not quite a golf course, and it’s not just a practice range. It’s Tom’s Golf Center, and if you’re like me and think “unique” should describe a hybrid, it’s that, too.

It’s on Yelm Highway, but not by address, and if you missed the sign and missed the turn, you might struggle to find 8000 72nd Lane S.E., Olympia, Washington.

Train station, turf farm, Van’s Drive-In, Spurgeon Creek Road … you’ll get there.

It’s got a history, this place, and it continues.

“I don’t think anybody would have taken it when I took it,” says Tom Staskus, who stepped in to assume the reins in late October 2011 when the previous owner hung up a sign announcing he was shutting it down.

Tom Staskus, lord of the manor at Tom's Golf Center

First order of business: Kill the rumor that the place was closing.

Second order of business: Survive the winter months.

“It’s been rough, but we got things going,” says Staskus, a 52-year-old PGA teaching pro, fine player, and now, entrepreneur.

For many years, the facility was owned by Kevin Bishop, a veteran local pro and coach of the Saint Martin’s University men’s golf team, and it went by the name PGA First Tee Golf Center. It will remain the Saints’ home practice site.

Bishop sold the business in early 2011 to Mike Givens, who then owned (and still does) Tacoma Firs Golf Center out near Cheney Stadium. Givens called it Olympia Golf Learning Center.

The facility was also for many years the home base for Joe Thiel’s International School of Golf. Thiel has recently relocated, which is enough said on that subject, except to say his time here and his more-or-less abrupt departure has a rightful place in the history of this patch of ground.

It’s Tom’s place now, and he’s already writing his own story.

Where once the facility had four live golf holes, the entire sprawling acreage had been converted by Bishop into practice areas for the long, intermediate and short games.

Staskus has reinstituted live golf, three holes worth, two par-4s and a par-3. He’s got plans for a Night Light Golf Tournament on the three-holer (no date set). A “horse race” tournament is in the plans, too.

He’s a car buff, and often drives a beauty of a 1946 DeSoto, with a shiny orange-red paint job that makes it one of the more recognizable rides in Thurston County.

He envisions having hot rod shows out there, and given the size and configuration of the place, and the access off Yelm Highway — a great road for a rod run — it seems like a grand idea.

But golf remains the game at Tom’s Golf Center … he’s open for business for lessons, range balls, and treks around the short course (six holes, five bucks).

“People are happy,” says Staskus, “that it’s being kept around.”