PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Paul Goydos has dreaded his return to The Players Championship more than any other tournament.
He earned a small measure of celebrity last year for his droll wit and utter graciousness in a playoff loss to Sergio Garcia on the notorious island green at the TPC Sawgrass.
That would mean more attention, more interview requests, more questions about being a single father on tour, and the phone call Jan. 17 that rocked his life and that of his teenager daughters.
“I have a problem telling the story,” he said. “I have a problem reading the story. The more I think about it, the more tragic it becomes.”
Goydos, a 44-year-old journeyman by any standard, had spent the last five years juggling the emotional strain of the PGA Tour with raising Chelsea and Courtney, now 18 and 16, as his ex-wife battled a drug addiction stemming from a horrible bout with migraines.
He missed the cut in Honolulu, took the redeye home to southern California and was asleep upstairs when the phone rang with the news that his ex-wife, Wendy, had died at age 44.
“Telling my children, I’ll never forget that,” he said.
His children are doing better than he imagined.
Chelsea is a freshman at Saddleback Community College and has a job. Courtney, who joined her father for the ultimate working vacation last summer at the British Open, is a junior in high school.
Wendy’s mother and sister help out when Goydos is on the road, just like before.
The message from Goydos – for himself, his daughters, for everyone – is to remember the real victim in this tragedy.
“I’m a professional golfer,” Goydos said. “I think there’s a lot of people who would love to have that job. I’ve got two wonderful kids who I’m more proud of every day. The person who had it rough, I would say, is my ex-wife. My wife had an addiction problem, but the hardest thing to do is trying not to be an addict. She spent the last years of her life trying not to be an addict. That’s difficult. It’s a lot easier standing on the 17th hole at TPC in a playoff. You can’t compare the two.
“To equate the troubles and dealings that I’ve had to the dealings that she had to deal with is completely unfair to her, and to some extent, ridiculous.”
Steve Flesch and Kevin Sutherland, among his closest friends on tour, knew Goydos put his daughters first, and they did not read too much into it if he did not show up at a tournament he typically played.
Flesch sent him a text message from the Bob Hope Classic asking if they were still on for a practice round.
The text back was jarring.
“I’ve got a problem at home,” it said. “Wendy died.”
“I think Paul always prepared for something like this to happen,” Flesch said, “hoping that it never would.”
Goydos returned to the tour at Torrey Pines, unwilling to talk about Wendy or the girls. He gave his first interview to author John Feinstein – who featured Goydos prominently in his 1996 book, “A Good Walk Spoiled” – for the May edition of Golf Digest.
Goydos has been speaking more openly about it lately, although his concern is when the story focuses only on the final years – from migraines to an addiction, her accusations that his traveling on tour was tearing the family apart, the split when she had a child through an affair, and full custody of the kids to Goydos after the divorce.
“She got in her position through a very legitimate health problem,” he said. “She was a migraine sufferer. She was having headaches that would be 10 to 15 days a month. She had debilitating pain, and it got away from her.”
“She was a wonderful person,” he said. “I wouldn’t have married her if I didn’t think that. She was a great parent. She was a great daughter. She was a great sister to her siblings. It’s an unfortunate tragedy.”
His daughters have done remarkably well in coping with their mother’s death and remembering the good times. Goydos attributes that to “a sign of the parenting that their mother did for them.”
He did his part.
Goydos took a year off the PGA Tour in 2004 when he was awarded full custody. He worked in their classroom at school, taught them how to study. He played golf on occasion to stay sharp but only entered two tournaments. Goydos still calls that the best year of his life.
“He does not want to be thought of as super Dad,” Sutherland said. “Paul always says that you can’t possibly be a good father if you’re a golfer just by definition, because he’s gone so much. I feel for him. But he wouldn’t want me to feel that way.”
At the top of Goydos’ list of priorities as a father is for his daughters to remember their mother as the woman who raised them.
“They’re very good at picking up positives. They have no problem deciphering between Wendy that had an illness and Wendy their mother,” he said. “They were much better than I was. I was probably angry and bitter for a time. They didn’t have that.”
And he’s determined to set the record straight on who their mother was.
“This was a person who tried hard not to be an addict,” Goydos said. “She was a person who had a health problem that got away from her and ultimately beat her. I’m just as guilty as everybody being judgmental about this issue. This is a disease we need to take more seriously.”