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Making it THE Hard Way
Gary Van Sickle
May 08, 2000
Nothing has come easy for Senior tour arriviste Bob Lendzion during his long journey up the golfing ladder
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May 08, 2000

Making It The Hard Way

Nothing has come easy for Senior tour arriviste Bob Lendzion during his long journey up the golfing ladder

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After picking their jaws off the driveway, Caldwell and Lendzion went inside, showered, shaved and met Palmer's daughters. "Then we sat down, and he cooked us breakfast," Lendzion says. "He asked me how I wanted my eggs. I said over easy. I ate them at his table. I don't think I even tasted them."

Lendzion's 50-year-old sister, Merrilee, had been hospitalized at least a half-dozen times because of a hepatitis-related liver problem, so Bob wasn't overly concerned last November as he drove her home from another hospital stay to her house in Las Vegas. Still, Lendzion remembers, she didn't look that great. Nevertheless, he left the next day for Palm Springs and the first stage of the Senior tour Q school. He practiced hard for three days before calling home on the eve of the opening round. "My mom told me that Merrilee had passed away," Lendzion says. "It was a total shock."

Lendzion said he would withdraw from the tournament and come home immediately, but his mother, Estelle, said no. "She said, 'There's nothing you can do. Merrilee would've wanted you to play,' " Lendzion says. "I wasn't thinking much about qualifying after that, which probably helped."

Lendzion advanced to the final stage three weeks later in Tucson, where he holed a 15-foot par putt on the last hole to finish a gutty 73 on a cold and windy day when the field average was 76.7. That putt got him his card and set him off on his latest journey. "I've got to believe Merrilee was watching over me," he says.

Estelle Lendzion is 71 but still rises every morning at five and gets her boys off to work. The boys are two of Bob's three younger brothers, Butch, 47, and Jim, 32. Both suffered brain damage as infants, Butch as a result of spinal meningitis when he was six months old and Jim from being deprived of oxygen in the womb because his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Bob's other brother, Leonard, 45, works as a dealer at the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas. Butch and Jim have jobs at Opportunity Village, a workplace for the handicapped in town, and those jobs are the primary reason the Lendzions moved to Nevada in the early 1970s. Butch usually runs a machine that stamps out metal buttons. Jim normally replaces the ear covers on the headphones used by the airlines. Like Bob, Butch and Jim are athletic. "They go to dances and the Special Olympics," says Bob, "and they play basketball. Jimmy plays baseball. He gets a hit, runs to first and loves it. It's fun to watch them."

Estelle's husband, Quintin, died in 1983. He handled the chemicals used by a Hollywood film company and would sometimes get a copy of a movie before it appeared in the theaters and bring it home for the boys. "I remember seeing Swamp Thing before it came out," Bob says. "To see it before anybody else was pretty amazing. That left a big impression on all of us."

In 1993 Estelle underwent a radical mastectomy and appears to have beaten breast cancer. In the Senior tour media guide, Bob lists his mom as his biggest hero. "She is so strong, so genuine, so dedicated," he says. "What a good person."

Now that he's on tour, Lendzion will see less of his brothers. "I don't think they really know I'm on the Senior tour," he says. "They just know I'm a golfer. They're in their own world."

In 1964, when Lendzion was a sophomore and the backup quarterback at Ale-many High, a Catholic school in Granada Hills, Calif., it seemed like a setback when, after he injured his leg in practice, he had to spend 10 days in a hospital. Tests revealed that Lendzion had a mild case of hemophilia. That ended his football career but marked the beginning of his life as a golfer. It took Lendzion six months to break 100, and he proudly remembers the moment. (He had to beg two others to brave a pouring rain at Knollwood Country Club in Granada Hills so he could finish his 98 with witnesses.) A year later he broke 70 twice in the same week—without having taken a lesson. "I did it totally on putting," he says. "I couldn't hit the ball at all."

Lendzion developed his deadly stroke on the Knollwood practice green by playing in a daily gambling game with his high school teammates, players from other schools or anybody with spare change. "We'd each put up 50 cents for nine holes," Lendzion says. "Sometimes six or eight guys were putting, and it took four or five under to win. We would never consider spending $1 to buy a bucket of range balls. We needed that money to gamble."

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