Recover, he did. Still weak from losing 25 pounds, Albus played in the Met Section tournament that June, finished tied for eighth the following week at the Senior tour's Commemorative, and made the Players field when then PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman granted him a last-minute exemption. "I've wondered about it," Albus says, referring to his sterling play after the illness. "Your perspective changes when you survive something like that. Maybe you don't over-try so much."
Since startling the golf world with that victory, Albus has made the extraordinary seem commonplace. This season, in addition to his two wins—the Vantage at the Dominion in San Antonio in March and the Bank of Boston Senior Classic in August—he has finished second five times, including a near-miss at the U.S. Senior Open at Pinehurst, won by Simon Hobday. Since July, Albus has been in the top 10 in 9 of 11 tournaments, riding a deadly accurate driver and a dependable putting stroke. "I'm steadier than I used to be," he says. "I've played more spectacular golf back in the Met Section, but I couldn't sustain it like I have here. And I'm not exactly sure why."
His peers have a clue: He has left his club-pro job, his two kids are grown, and he's playing every week. "That's why you see guys on this tour, like Jim, who are so much better than they were 20 years ago," says Floyd. "He wasn't able to give himself to the game when he was raising a family, and now he can."
Brenda Albus, who used to manage the golf shop for Jim at Piping Rock and now travels with him, credits those reasons and another—temperament. "He has a very good attitude for golf," she says. "He doesn't let a bad shot or a bad round upset him."
The best story about the Albus temperament is one he tells on himself. Five years ago, when he was just an aging club pro at the Jamaica Open, he was held up one night on a street in Kingston. Someone stuck a gun in his back and said, "Give me your wallet, or I'll blow your head off." A second robber nicked him with a knife. Albus's response: inappropriate laughter. "I was scared; it was a nervous laugh," he said later, "but those Jamaicans must've thought they'd encountered a raving lunatic." The robbers ran off, leaving Albus with his wallet.
All things considered, Albus says he would rather face a Lee Trevino than a mugger. Trevino's tough, but he won't confront you with anything deadlier than a rubber snake.
Now, a rubber shark might spook Albus. An avid scuba diver since he discovered the clear waters off Catalina Island, Calif., in the '60s, Albus has avoided any underwater confrontations with sharks. However, while parasailing off Florida's Singer Island some years ago, he noticed dozens of large, menacing shadows in the water, 100 feet below his skis. "I thought I was nuts, but they told me later the sharks are always there. Nobody says anything, because it might frighten off customers."
Once while scuba diving in Lake George in New York State, Albus went too deep and became disoriented with nitrogen narcosis. Fortunately, a fellow diver was there to guide him back to the surface. That experience notwithstanding, Albus delights in introducing prairie types like Wargo to the joys of the deep. "When we play in Hawaii," says Albus, "I spend more time under the water than on top."
Brenda smiles indulgently at such talk. Her husband, she says, is a frugal man who sees his sudden millionaire status as a license not to buy things but to travel and enjoy life. The Albuses recently sold their house in Oyster Bay, N.Y., and purchased a condominium in Sarasota, Fla.—a little place to change seasonal wardrobes and hang out, should Jim ever decide he needs a week off. On the road Brenda hits the museums and takes Italian lessons from Berlitz while Jim practices and plays in pro-ams. Five nights a week they find a health club for predinner aerobics and weight-lifting. Son Mark, a senior on the golf team at Vanderbilt, sometimes appears at his dad's side during tournaments, offering advice. Daughter Kathleen, 23, who is a mental-health researcher at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., might also tote for her father before going to graduate school next year.
"Jim's playing so much now because he enjoys it," says Brenda. "The whole thing is kind of a fairy tale for us."