- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

Every time Jeff Julian does something now, there's the chance it will be for the last time. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis better known as Lou Gehrig's disease is the grimmest of reapers, resistant to both pills and prayer. And Julian has been trying to fend off the effects of it since October, when doctors at Johns Hopkins gave him the sorry news.
"Nobody can really tell us [how much time he might have left]," he said yesterday after taking some practice swings at the Kemper Open.
To which his wife, Kim, added: "We can [go by] what happens to everybody else. We just choose not to."
Still, we can only imagine the emotions swirling inside Julian as he went through local qualifying for the U.S. Open recently. With four holes to play, it looked like he might not advance to the next round. The day's exertions, as usual, had taxed him to the limit; his arm muscles, weakened by the disease, were twitching. One more errant shot, and he was pretty much finished.
And then, miraculously, he started making birdies three in a row, to turn a 73 into a 70. His Open hopes were still alive, pending his performance in Monday's 36-hole sectional in Kansas City.
"I used to anticipate that happening," he said of his sudden birdie binge, "and I still do. I'm not sure whether it's me or golf. To a certain degree, I think, it's golf."
The words come out slowly and not always intelligibly. It's one of the curses of his condition, which disables the nerves and cripples the muscles. Fortunately, Kim is there to finish his sentences and occasionally serve as an interpreter. Between the two of them, they're able to get his thoughts across.
ALS. More than 60 years after Gehrig was diagnosed with it, medical researchers still haven't solved its mystery. It kills and it kills quickly, and nothing seems able to stop it. Ezzard Charles and Catfish Hunter died of it. So did three former San Francisco 49ers in the '80s.
Julian spends a large part of his day just swallowing pills, 60 in all. "It takes quite a while," Kim said with a chuckle, "because it can take him a long time to get one down. Sometimes, he'll start handing them to me. 'Here, take a garlic. It's good for you.' It can be hectic getting [all the vitamins, minerals and antibiotics] in."
The best part of the day is when they're at the golf course. Jeff can't put in the hours he used to; "I have to pace myself," he said. "But I've learned to adjust."
"It's the only time he can feel somewhat normal," Kim said. "Also, we're able to spread awareness [about the disease]. There aren't very many people who know what ALS is. Maybe more people will take an interest in it and learn more about it and find a cure for it."
If you've never heard of Julian before, don't be too hard on yourself. He's the quintessential golf journeyman, a 41-year-old New Englander who has spent most of his career in the minor leagues save for a couple of flings with the PGA Tour ('96, '01). He isn't even the most famous sports figure in his family. That would be his grandfather, the late Alvin "Doggie" Julian, who coached Holy Cross to an NCAA men's basketball title in 1947.
Golf folk have reached out to him this year, though. Calloway made him a special set of clubs with lighter shafts so he would expend less energy swinging. Jack Nicklaus played a practice round with him last week at the Memorial. ("It exceeded my expectations," Jeff said, smiling broadly.) And tournaments have been generous with exemptions, granting him seven the maximum allowable for a non-Tour player.
Happily, the Kemper was one of the events that came through for him. He tied for 37th at Avenel a year ago, playing some of his best golf in the first two rounds (69-66), and was hoping he could return. "When we were writing letters [asking for exemptions]," he said, "the Kemper was one of the first we sent out. Plus, my mother was born in Bethesda, so there's a little family tie."
After the Kemper, there's the Open qualifier, the Greater Hartford Open a few weeks later, "and then we might play a few Buy.com [tournaments]," Kim said. "We'll definitely try to play the one in Springfield, Mo. [the Ozarks Open], which is where we met. I try not to keep him off the golf course for too long. He gets cranky."
Julian hasn't made a cut all year, of course. In fact, he hasn't broken 70. But that's hardly the point. The point is playing. The point is looking death in the eye and knocking a 250-yard drive down its gizzard.
"At the Memorial, people in the gallery came up to me and said the nicest things," Kim said. "'Your husband is such an inspiration,' [they would tell her]."
So take a couple of moments in your Kemper wanderings to follow Jeff Julian for a hole or two. Watch and be amazed. Conversing may be difficult for him, but his clubs indeed, his mere presence still speak eloquently.


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