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VALRICO — Tenacity is tucked securely in his Titleist bag, somewhere amid the Ping i20 irons. Tyler Bakich has been known to pull it out from time to time. Just like Mom used to.
Tenacity emerged at the district tournament at Summerfield Crossings two weeks ago, when the Newsome High School sophomore needed it after a spotty front nine. On a day his heart was broken, his concentration wasn’t.
He birdied Nos. 11, 13, 16 and 18 to place second overall with even-par 71. Mom followed the round via texts from other moms.
“She was always a fighter and still is,” Bakich said of nine-time LPGA Tour winner Colleen Walker, who delivered him 16 Octobers ago. “And I think that’s kind of how I was brought up, so I’ve always been a fighter and kind of somehow found a way to get stuff done.”
Resilience? Walker carved a $3 million career out of it.
When the upstate New York temperature took a 40-degree nose dive between the third and final rounds of the 1992 LPGA Corning Classic, Walker — whose airline already had lost her driver — put on a turtleneck and fought off JoAnne Carner for the win.
When tendonitis tormented both her elbows the following year, she still notched three top-10 finishes. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2003, she loaded up on chemo and radiation, then finished 10th in a seniors event that September.
“Fighting ’til the end,” says Walker, a member of the FSU Hall of Fame, in a soft voice from the rec room of her Valrico home.
She expects no less from Tyler and his Newsome teammates, who will take the fight to the Deer Island Golf and Lake Club in Tavares starting today at the Class 2A state tournament.
Colleen can’t make it. The nausea and fatigue and excruciating hip pain when she sits for long stretches won’t let her. Bone cancer has proven far more daunting than the breast cancer she licked nearly a decade ago.
“It’s terminal,” she says.
But the best part of her — that steely fortitude — will be there, embedded in her boy’s DNA. For 36 holes, Tyler plans to honor his mom by scrapping.
He’ll have to. Water might come in to play.
“It motivates me,” Tyler said. “But yet, I’ve got to make sure I don’t feel sorry for myself because sometimes, honestly, I feel like I’m going to cry just walking down the fairway.”
Until she got sick, Colleen, 56, was the quintessential golf mom, chauffeuring Tyler to junior golf outings throughout Florida. She and husband Ron Bakich, a teaching pro 21 years her senior, never once pushed Tyler onto a putting green.
To the contrary, he spent a half-decade playing year-round baseball before tiring of it. When his interest turned to golf, Ron and Colleen spared nothing to help their only child (Ron has two adult children from a previous marriage), putting 168,000 miles on their white GMC Yukon traveling the juniors circuit.
What Colleen saw on those outings was a blond, bespectacled incarnation of herself: a meticulous course manager with a trusty driver and deft touch on the fairways.
Ten months after giving birth to Tyler, Colleen herself was still brandishing it. On the final hole of the 1997 du Maurier Classic, she stuck an 8-iron from 120 yards to within 18 feet of the pin to cap a final-round 65 and win her only major.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve told other people,” Colleen says as her black Labradoodle, Lucy, frolics around the wooden chair in which she sits. “He hits the ball straight, he has a remarkable short game and his putting is very good. And his sand play is very good.”
It was good enough to win the Florida State Golf Association Junior Match Play age-group championship in Bonita Springs in July, and help lead the North team to the Junior Florida Cup — sort of a Ryder Cup for the state’s top youngsters — in Naples a week later.
The latter tourney was the last time Colleen has seen Tyler play. In the summer of 2011, she suddenly found herself devoid of energy and consulted her doctor. Today, the cancer is in both hips and her pelvis, and spreading.
She has lost 30 pounds and needs a walker to get around the house. Her appetite is gone. Her feistiness isn’t.
Two weeks ago, on the eve of the district tournament, she had Newsome’s entire team at her house. As the Wolves converged around her, Colleen told them if they can navigate the greens at Valrico’s River Hills — where they regularly play — they certainly could conquer Summerfield.
“So I didn’t want to hear any excuses,” she said. “No complaining.”
The next day, the Wolves won their second straight district title.
“I think it just pepped up the morale for the team,” said Newsome junior John Michael Coultas, the district’s individual medalist.
Not to mention the team mom. Evoke state title in the conversation, and her green eyes glisten. This is her major, the only one that matters these days. To that end, Tyler will assess, claw, manage, grind, perhaps even weep. Most of all, he’ll fight.
’Til the end.
“Oh, that’s the creme de la creme,” Colleen says, “just for them to win the state championship.”
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.
Class 2A boys
Where: Deer Island Golf and Lake Club, Tavares
Local qualifiers: Newsome; Plant; St. Petersburg; Brent Hajian, Palm Harbor University (individual); Jimmy Stanger, Gaither (individual); Dylan Strout, Mitchell (individual)
Class 2A girls
Where: Harbor Hills Country Club, Lady Lake
Local qualifiers: Palm Harbor University; Steinbrenner; Haydyn Gibson, Osceola (individual); Terese Romeo, Freedom (individual)
Class A boys
Where: Mission Inn Resort and Club, Howey-in-the-Hills
Local qualifiers: Clearwater Central Catholic; Tampa Catholic; Zach Wood, Calvary Christian (individual); Ben Murray, Calvary Christian (individual); Nick Piro, Fivay (individual)
Class A girls
Where: Mission Inn Resort and Club, Howey-in-the-Hills
Local qualifiers: Academy of the Holy Names; Fivay; Northside Christian; Mallory Etcheberry, Academy at the Lakes (individual); Brooke Dalton, Bishop McLaughlin (individual); Emma Paschal, Clearwater Central Catholic (individual); Claudia Rami, Carrollwood Day (individual)