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Golf instructor Dean Hedstrom had a blunt approach

TARPON SPRINGS — Dean Hedstrom taught golf with all the subtlety and tact of a drill sergeant.

Some of his students were famous, but that didn't soften his tongue.

He bawled out Prince Albert of Monaco (whom he called "Al") for a bad chip shot. He called baseball player Curt Schilling an idiot.

But for 14 years, students flocked to the Ben Sutton Golf School in Sun City Center to take his abuse.

"He had far and away more people requesting him than any of the rest of us," said Jan Kleiman, 47, a golf pro at the Sutton school.

Mr. Hedstrom left the Sutton school in 2005 — after four straight years of making a list of the PGA's top 500 teaching professionals — then taught at the Belleair Country Club.

Mr. Hedstrom died Saturday of cancer. He was 52.

His wife said Mr. Hedstrom could read people, and knew how far he could push them.

"He said, 'You may be a five-star general, but you're a private in my army, buddy,' " recalled Kris Hedstrom, 47.

To Prince Albert, he once yelled: "You may be a prince, but that doesn't mean anything here."

"Anybody else could say these things and they'd get punched in the nose," Kris Hedstrom said. "But when Dean said it, they laughed."

A Detroit native, Mr. Hedstrom was not big enough to pursue his childhood dream of professional hockey. Golf was another matter, and for a couple of years he made enough money to stay afloat in the PGA's mini-tour.

With a wife and two children to support, Mr. Hedstrom left professional golf after a few years, moved to St. Petersburg and succeeded Skip Alexander as the head golf pro at Lakewood Country Club (now St. Petersburg Country Club).

The marriage ended in divorce, and 12 years ago he met another Detroit native named Kris Gunn through a mutual friend. When she learned Mr. Hedstrom had grown up on Gunn Road — named for one of her ancestors — "I was like, 'All right, let's get married.' "

He delighted her with his impressions (he could do Jimmy Stewart singing the Beatles hit, Blackbird) and frightened her with his driving. If trapped between Interstate slowpokes, Mr. Hedstrom needed only inches of daylight to make his move. "He'd say, 'Don't worry, they don't want to hit us.' "

But on the golf course, he was a patient teacher, good at choosing the right words.

And when it came to delivering messages a student needed to hear, Mr. Hedstrom chose the heavier clubs from his verbal arsenal. Schilling, a former student, once had his teacher beat after nine holes but lost his lead on the final nine.

"I came in on the front nine at 2 under and he was 4 over," the recently retired Red Sox pitcher wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "The next nine were the worst of my life as I pressed harder and harder. At the end of the round, he asked me why the hell I played like that, and I told him I felt I need to be prefect on the back nine.

"He said, 'You just needed to play the same nine you just played, you idiot. You'd have crushed me if you'd done that.' It was a lesson that carried onto the baseball field for the rest of my career."

The fair-skinned Mr. Hedstrom tried to fend off the risks of years under the sun. He wore wrap-around shades and put sunscreen where he could reach.

Five years ago, a malignant mole appeared on the middle of his back — one place he couldn't reach with sunscreen.

Doctors removed it and tests showed no other cancer. The cancer resurfaced in 2007, this time as a brain tumor. He was given three months to live and lasted two years.

"There was absolutely a connection" between her husband's work and the melanoma, Kris Hedstrom said. She doesn't think the white, cotton shirts worn by golf pros at the Ben Sutton Golf School helped.

"He may as well have been out there with no shirt on," she said.

She is organizing a Dean Hedstrom Junior Golf Classic at Belleair Country Club, tentatively set for May — Melanoma Awareness Month.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

Biography

Dean N. Hedstrom

Born: Aug. 6, 1956.

Died: April 25, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Kris; sons, Ben and Ryan; daughter, Melissa; mother, Jean; brothers, Mark, Kurt and Todd; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Service: 4 p.m. today ; Generations Christian Church, 2795 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Melanoma Research Foundation, 170 Township Line Road, Building B, Hillsborough, NJ 08844, www.melanoma.org.

Golf instructor Dean Hedstrom had a blunt approach 04/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 11:05pm]
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