Lemieux’s unexpected win a tear jerker | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Lemieux’s unexpected win a tear jerker

Steve Yingling

The popularity of Mario Lemieux’s first celebrity golf Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course was reflected in the tears of his wife and best friend and the reception he received from his competitors afterward.

After the former Pittsburgh Penguins star drained an eight-foot birdie putt to edge Dick Anderson and Billy Joe Tolliver in the Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship, fellow competitor Dan Quinn was spotted shedding a few tears behind the 18th green.

“I’m choked up right now. I can’t even talk. I can’t believe it. It’s as good as winning. I’m real proud of him,” said Quinn, who won the 1992 tournament and finished alone in sixth this year.

Nathalie, Lemieux’s wife of five years, was also crying. The mother of Lemieux’s four children declined to comment on her husband’s comeback victory.

“I prefer to stay in the background,” she said.

Later on, after Lemieux had met his press obligations, the three-time National Hockey League MVP was given a standing ovation by his foes as he entered Edgewood’s North Room for dinner.

This didn’t seem possible a few days earlier when Lemieux contemplated withdrawing from the tournament.

“Tuesday he said, ‘I wouldn’t mind getting on a plane and going home right now because he played so bad in practice round,” Quinn said. “But then he went in and bought a putter in the pro shop and he regripped it.

“Eventually, I thought he was going to win this tournament, not this week. But I know he’s a good player. We’ve played a lot the past 12 years.”

Earlier, Anderson and Tolliver credited Lemieux for his “sweet” swing and rallying from five shots behind with six holes to play.

“Anyone who comes in birdieing four of the last five holes deserves to win,” said Anderson, who equaled Lemieux with a final-round, 3-under-par 69.

Tolliver jokingly ripped Lemieux prior to a press conference for not thanking him.

“Mario never thanked me for giving him the tournament on No. 14. Instead he says he made a birdie and a birdie there to win it,” said the wisecracking Tolliver, who lost the remainder of a five-shot lead with a triple-bogey on No. 14. “He has a good stroke and he can putt, too.

“I played with him a couple years ago for two rounds here, and he lipped out 10 birdie putts. So he can flat play.

“If I can swing like he can, I’d quit football. He’s got as good of moves as I’ve seen, except for that top he hit on 18.”

Lemieux, who overcame Hodgkin’s Disease four years ago, adjusted to two big changes before the tournament started. When Lemieux’s regular caddie couldn’t make the tournament, Lemieux’s bag was given to Scott Rahbeck, a former George Whittell High player.

An even bigger switch for Lemieux was replacing his normal blade putter with a Ray Cook flat stick.

“The putter I had just didn’t work out on these greens, so I went with a Ray Cook flat off-center putter. I made a lot of putts with it, so I might keep it in my bag,” said Lemieux, who purchased the putter in the Edgewood pro shop for $145 Thursday.

Before birdieing four of the five final holes, Lemieux thought he was playing for second.

“I didn’t think I had a chance the way I was putting, but I made a good shot on No. 14 to hit it within two feet and then just birdied the last three holes,” Lemieux said.

Quinn had only one regret about Lemieux’s unexpected and heart-warming victory.

“What disappoints me is he was 40-1 in the casino and I didn’t put any money on him,” Quinn said.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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