SNOQUALMIE, Wa. – When Champions Tour newcomer Gene Sauers says he’s glad to be here, he really is glad to be here. . .or anywhere.
A rare skin disease, called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, nearly killed him two years ago, and just being able to walk and talk, let alone play golf, makes Sauers appreciative for a new lease on life.
“It’s great to be here,” he said after a Pro-Am round on Thursday at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. “I’ve heard a lot about this place and it’s everything I’ve dreamed it would be. I’m just glad to be here and glad to be able to be able to play golf again, especially to be out here on the Senior Tour and to be out here with all my friends.”
It has been a long road back from a rare ailment that left him hospitalized for nearly two months.
Doctors initially diagnosed him with rheumatoid arthritis, but they were wrong and the medication he was taking did more harm than good.
Finally, after months of extreme pain and watching the skin on his arms and legs turn black without knowing why, Sauers’ illness was diagnosed correctly by doctors at Duke University.
“A few months down the road, I get burned from the inside out, both arms and legs,” Saueres said. “It was pretty painful. It was kind of like riding a motorcycle down a highway naked, falling off and getting all skinned up.”
Sauer’s skin was eating itself from the inside out. He spent seven weeks in the hospital while wound specialists performed skin grafts on his arms and legs to replace seven layers of damaged skin.
Sauer’s arms and legs still show scars from the skin grafts.
Asked if there was a time when he doubted his future in golf, he said, “Pretty much so. When I was in that hospital for those seven weeks, I said, ‘Man, I’m getting close to 50 (years old) and I know I’m going to have two years to get out there. (But) I don’t know if I’m going to be able to play and it was just a depressing thing.
“Of course, I was already depressed on all that medication. It was awful. I can’t even begin to explain how bad it was.”
The bad days outweighed the good ones. And it wasn’t close.
But he had help along way.
“My wife was always with me,” he said. “I remember being in the hospital about the fourth week and I said, ‘Tammy, I don’t think I’m coming out of here.’ She jumped right back. ‘Yeah, you are. You have to fight.’”
Sauers fought back, conquered the ailment, and his comeback from the life-threatening disease reaches a new high on Friday morning when he tees off for the first time on the Champions Tour. He celebrated his 50th birthday on Wednesday, qualifying for the Boeing Classic with one day to spare.
He played the difficult, hilly course for the third time on Thursday – in a Pro-Am — and came away with mixed feelings.
“I didn’t play that well today,” he said, “but other than that, like I say, I’ve had some illnesses the past couple of years. I’ve only been playing golf for a year now and I’ll tell you what, I’m hitting the ball really good, hitting the ball almost as good as I hit it on the regular tour.”
His putting stroke is not so good.
“When you take five years off,” he said, “your short game kind of almost disappears. The other part is like riding a bike.”
A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, Sauers began dreaming of a comeback soon after being discharged from the hospital. He shot a 71 on his first round and decided to give the sport one more chance.
The illness put everything in perspective and although he remains competitive and wants to play well, there are a lot worse things than a dubbed chip or missed putt.
“I’m just glad to be here, happy to be here living and breathing,” he said. “I came that close.”