A Matter Of Life And Death Ferree Overcomes Prostate Cancer

Posted: April 21, 1992

When Jim Ferree won the PGA Seniors Bell Atlantic Classic last May, just one month shy of his 60th birthday, he used words like "cherish" and ''savor" to describe the victory, only the third of a professional career that has spanned five decades.

"You never know if it'll be your last," Ferree said that day. "A lot of guys my age are dead."

George Lanning, a 58-year-old fellow Senior, had just died while

convalescing from open-heart bypass surgery, and that clearly had an effect on Ferree.

Last October, Ferree found out that he was suffering from prostate cancer. And suddenly, those 4-foot par putts didn't seem like such a matter of life and death.

"It's scary. Real scary," the defending champion said yesterday at Chester Valley Golf Club in Malvern, where this year's tournament will be held May 24-26. "It's a very depressing thing. It's not exactly the way you dream you're going to die.

"I always thought I was going to be shot off the horse, while chasing the bad guys."

Fortunately for Ferree, one of the game's true gentlemen, the disease was diagnosed early enough. For nearly two months, five days each week, he underwent radiation therapy. And the doctors believe Ferree is cured forever.

"I think I came through it very well," said Ferree, who is known for his trademark plus-four knicker outfits and elongated putter. "I'm in pretty good shape. That's the main objective. The biggest part of it is mental. I didn't want to feel bad. I didn't want to come off as being sick or grumpy."

Especially with a 4-year old son, his only child, waiting for him at home. He had Randy with his second wife, Karen, a once-promising junior golfer he met some 25 years ago on the practice range. Ferree said his boy was one of the things that really helped him though anxious times.

"He was an inspiration," Ferree said. "It would have been easy to get down. But he was one of the reasons I stayed kind of upbeat.

"You have a lot of things on your mind. It's fun, having a child. I feel like there's a responsibility, to raise him the right way. I'm sure his mother could have done all right without me, but it's certainly easier having me around. I enjoy him so much. There's so many bad things out there in the world today. All the stuff you read about in the news. He's a talented little guy. I guess all parents say that. I just want to watch him grow up."

Ferree, who also won on the regular tour in 1958 and on the over-50 circuit six years ago, played three times a week while being treated. But he didn't practice. Still, he was able to defeat half the field in last year's season- ending New York Life Champions event in Puerto Rico, which invites the top 31 money winners. He also finished ahead of half the field at this year's opener, the Tournament of Champions in San Diego, which invites the 1991 tourney winners. Gradually, his stamina is returning. Last month, he won the Super Seniors (over-60) portion of The Tradition at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., beating Miller Barber with an eagle chip-in on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Ferree plans to enter his usual 28 tourneys this year (including all 25 Super Seniors), and cut back his schedule to about 20 starting next season.

"It's a marvelous thing to win a golf tournament," said Ferree, who led wire-to-wire a year ago in defeating Lee Tevino and Jim Colbert at nearby White Manor Country Club. "And every year you get older, it gets more marvelous. We have some damned good rookies out here. So I feel very privileged to be here.

"In a way, we've been a little bit of an inspiration to a lot of people. They see guys like Jerry Barber, who's 76 and still shoots his age, and instead of giving up, they say, 'OK, I can do it, too.' Instead of a rocking chair and a fishing pole, they stay active. If you stand still, you rust. Take care of your body, and it will treat you well. You know, maybe if I hadn't stayed in shape, I might not have been able to handle (the cancer) as well.

"This is the most fun I could ever imagine having. At this age, it's not so much how good you play, as how healthy you are. And I think we've got some pretty good specimens out here. I hope to be out here when I'm 70. Then again, I'll be happy doing anything when I'm 70. But playing golf, I'll be extra happy."

TAP-INS

An addition to the weeklong festivities is a women's Pro-Am, unique to the Senior Tour, May 20 at Llanerch Country Club in Havertown. Senior PGA Tour wives and those of Flyers alumni are going to participate. Karen Farree will be one of those playing. For more information, call 644-CLUB . . . The purse is $550,000, with a first prize of $82,500 . . . All the big names already have committed, with the usual exception of Jack Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer has not officially signed up, but executive director Mary Ann Saleski is optimistic he will be back.

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