In Memory of Larry
March 7, 2011
By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff
The first time Faith Tanner attended a PGA TOUR event, the 2007 Buick Open in Michigan, she teared up. “We got there, I saw the golfers on the driving range and I started to cry. I was so excited to be there,” she says.
Last week in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Tanner is wiping away more tears. She’s explaining why she’s in Florida just a few days after spending the week in Arizona, outside Tucson. She casually mentions that she’s on her way to Miami next.
And the tears keep coming.
Some people can talk about emotional things without tears. Faith Tanner is not that person—and especially not when her late husband, Larry, comes up in conversation, which, naturally, he does since he’s the reason she’s cris-crossing the U.S. in the first place.
She chokes up again and begins explaining why each week this year the Suttons Bay, Mich., resident is traversing the country in her 2011 Honda Civic hybrid, volunteering at a PGA TOUR event near you.
Her purpose, or, as she calls it, her “mission” is right there on the card she passes out.
To have a positive impact as a volunteer at all thirty-seven 2011 PGA TOUR tournaments and to help promote, support and encourage others to volunteer as it is the volunteers who enable these events to donate millions of dollars to charity.
Larry, she’s convinced, wouldn’t have it any other way.
* * *
The Tanners had it all figured out. This was the year they would travel in their 38-foot travel trailer, working as volunteers at various PGA TOUR events. It was Faith’s dream first, and he quickly got behind the idea.
Life, though, can throw the occasional curveball.
“The stock market had crashed. We lost a lot of money. So there was that. He didn’t vote for Obama. I did. His behavior was changing in a way I couldn’t explain,” Faith remembers. “He wasn’t mean or anything. He just acted differently.
“Friends returned to Michigan from Florida in the spring, and we went out on the golf course. And Larry acted like he didn’t know his best friend,” she adds. “I couldn’t explain things, but I felt like he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his brain.”
A bi-frontal-lobe brain tumor a little smaller and flatter than a softball will do that.
* * *
Faith Tanner didn’t grow up loving golf. She didn’t even pick up a golf club until 1992, when, out of curiosity, she stopped at a driving range in Travers City, Mich., and hit a bucket of balls. It took her 15 more years before she finally made it to her first PGA TOUR event. At that Buick Open, won by Brian Bateman, the Tanners were walking toward the 18th green one afternoon when a marshal stopped them. Faith immediately noticed him and was intrigued.
“He was a volunteer, so I went up to him and said, ‘I want your job. How did you get this job?’”
Apparently not fearful that his volunteer gig was in jeopardy, the marshal took the Tanners’ phone number and said someone would get in contact with them. It was an additional nine months before that happened, but the call from the tournament eventually came, and the Tanners had their first volunteer position—on the 18th green at Warwick Hills Country Club, of course.
“Immediately after that, we put in our application to work the (2008) Ryder Cup in Kentucky. We were going to work the U.S. Open the next year. We had it all planned,” she says, her voice trailing off.
Once doctors discovered the tumor, tests and doctors’ appointments became a part of Larry’s routine. Around the time of that U.S. Open in New York that the couple planned on attending, Larry went into surgery to have the tumor removed. “The doctor said to me, ‘Forgive him for anything he has said in the last nine months because it wasn’t him,’” Faith says.
“We had noticed different things with Larry,” says Bev Newcomb, who, along with her husband, Ed, are longtime friends. “We didn’t know what was causing the changes in him. We just never imagined it was what it was.”
Larry never regained consciousness. He came out of surgery in a coma and died six weeks later, on Aug. 1, 2009, a day before the couple’s anniversary. He was 61.
While it might have been easy for Faith to abandon their plan of volunteering for an entire year at PGA TOUR events, that wasn’t in the playbook. It just took her a little while to put the game plan together, figuring out how to finance the odyssey by drawing early from her retirement account.
Pretty soon, she was inquiring about volunteer opportunities at 2011 tournaments as a way to pay tribute to her late husband. As she writes on her blog, “I chose to live our dream now, but it needed to accomplish more than just completing our goal. It had to have meaning, something greater than Larry and myself.”
She continues, “I started registering for the events. I knew I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have the first seven tournaments settled. Once I got those, I was on my way.”
“It did not surprise me that Faith decided to still do this,” Newcomb adds. “That’s her nature and the type of person she is. She’s dedicated to doing this, and it shows the love she had for Larry. In a way, I think she’s paying him back for the love he showed her.”
* * *
As the calendar was ready to turn, Tanner spent New Year’s Eve 2010 outside Chicago while her son’s friend, who needed to get to San Diego, drove west and dropped her car off at Los Angeles International Airport. Tanner then flew to Maui for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, spent another week on Oahu for the Sony Open in Hawaii, flew back to Los Angeles, picked up her car and took off for Palm Springs and the Bob Hope Classic.
During that time, she’s slept in the Honda, got lost a time or two and watched whales in the Pacific Ocean and the world’s best golfers at the same time from her post on the 13th hole at The Plantation Course. All the while, she keeps Larry in her thoughts.
“I want to encourage others to volunteer, so I wanted to do more,” she says. “The PGA TOUR does so much, especially for charity, and I just want to be a part of it.”
And she has been, serving in a variety of positions. She was a marshal on the sixth hole at Torrey Pines Golf Course’s South Course during the Farmers Insurance Open, she provided security at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, she worked in the warehouse—the nerve center of a tournament—at the Northern Trust Open and then drove across the country so she could be a TV liaison for NBC Sports and The Golf Channel at The Honda Classic.
As a volunteer, the hours are sometimes long but the payoffs are great. “I think back to Robert Garrigus [at the Sony Open in Hawaii]. He was in the middle of trying to win the tournament, and he took the time to come by where I was working and thanked every volunteer, including me. That meant a lot.”
Tanner also remembers the final round of the Northern Trust Open. Someone with the tournament had told Executive Director Jerry West about Tanner’s purpose for volunteering at the Los Angeles-area event, and West suggested that maybe Tanner would like to have her picture taken with him. After all, it’s not every day you’re in a photo with an NBA legend.
“We had our picture taken, then he turned, put his hand on my shoulder and said very softly so only I could hear, ‘Your husband is proud of what you’re trying to accomplish.’ Wow. He took 15 minutes out of his day for me. And then he said that. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I do feel I have a purpose, and I do think Larry is very proud of me.”
Tanner breaks out into a big smile at the memory, and at the same time tears are forming in her eyes.
Editor’s Note: For more information about Tanner as she goes from tournament to tournament this season, visit her Web site here
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