Golf: Azinger back on road to recovery

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The Independent Online
PAUL AZINGER, who has spent the last six months fighting cancer, will mount a defence of the US PGA Championship in August. At an emotional press conference yesterday at Southern Hills GC in Tulsa, the venue for the 76th championship, Azinger said: 'I'm thrilled to be here for obvious reasons. I didn't know whether I'd be able to make it.'

After beating Greg Norman in a sudden-death play-off to win the US PGA in Toledo last year, his first major triumph, Azinger discovered he had a lymphoma in his right shoulder. During the tournament a doctor suggested to Azinger that he should undergo a biopsy. 'I told him I was playing pretty well and the pain in my shoulder always responded to treatment.'

Azinger, a born-again Christian, saw the doctor before Christmas. 'When you're 33 you don't expect anybody to tell you you've got cancer. I was in my prime. I felt bullet- proof. I asked him if I was going to die. My kids were sitting there. It was tough. I knew I was in a fight for my life.' The cancer has responded to chemotherapy treatment and Azinger will spend the next five weeks in California on a course of radiation.

'I've been told there's a 90 per cent chance of a full cure. God has a plan for me. He's in control of my life. I'm no preacher but I wanted to share my experiences with you. I feel as happy as I've ever felt in my life. I've had time to reflect on my attitude and I feel guilty about getting my happiness on the money- list.' Azinger, the runner-up to Nick Faldo in the Open at Muirfield in 1987, has career earnings of pounds 4.7m. He had his most successful season last year and played a part in the United States' 15-13 victory over Europe in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry.

When Azinger had his first chemotherapy treatment he received a call at his Florida home from Payne Stewart. 'I told him it was a piece of cake. I felt fine. Then it hit me. I threw up every 20 minutes for the next nine hours. I didn't know anybody could be that sick. Any time I would cry like a baby on my wife's shoulders. Physically it was the worst time. It was like the worst hangover you've ever had. I had a hangover once when I was 25 and I didn't like it. I quit drinking.'

Azinger has received around 15,000 letters, hundreds from cancer sufferers, and 52 books on nutrition. 'The support has been overwhelming.' He was also inspired by a letter from Gene Littler, the former US Open champion who was diagnosed with cancer in 1972. He is 63 and playing on the US Senior Tour.