- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Michael Muehr has always looked forward to tournament week at Avenel if for no reason other than the Georgetown resident got to sleep in his own bed.

Muehr has even more reason to look forward to this week’s Capital Open because as recently as nine months ago, he didn’t know whether he’d ever play golf again, let alone at Avenel.

Last August, the 31-year-old Muehr was diagnosed with stage three melanoma, a form of skin cancer. On Sept.12, he underwent surgery to remove a tennis-ball-sized tumor from his right heel. But Muehr, who has spent the last nine years trying to earn a permanent berth on the PGA Tour, wasn’t about to give up on his dream. And after several months of rehab, he’s once again playing competitive golf.

Muehr returned four weeks ago at the Wachovia Championship and surprised even himself by making the cut and finishing in a tie for 69th place. He played the following week at the Byron Nelson Championship, missing the cut, and now is back at Avenel for the seventh straight year and hoping to put together a solid weekend.

“Considering how screwed up my leg was, I would never have thought I would be back this early,” Muehr said yesterday. “So to be able to come back and be so competitive so soon was definitely a surprise.”

Because the illness cut his 2002 season short, Muehr was granted a major medical extension. He’s allowed to play in five events this year, but to remain exempt for the rest of the season, he needs to make enough money to push his 2002 earnings ($91,531) into the top 150. After picking up only about $11,000 in his first two tournaments, he’ll need to make about $250,000 over his final three to reach the magic number.

“The odds are obviously stacked against me,” Muehr said. “But I know the money out here is so big now that one top-five or six finish, and I’ve got it. So that’s encouraging.”

Muehr’s best finish at Avenel was an 11th-place tie in 1998, but if ever the stars were aligned for a dramatic week, this might be it.

Unable to play golf for six months following the surgery, Muehr needed to find something else to keep him busy. A friend who works at FBR, an area investment banking company, invited him to take a temporary position as an analyst.

“I was on the mend, I didn’t have anything to do and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play golf for a few more months,” he said of his brief foray into investment banking. “I’ve always kind of entertained the thought that if I quit golf, maybe I’d go into something like that.”

Two months on the job were enough to convince Muehr that golf — not investment banking — was his true calling. He returned to the tour this spring and was stunned to learn that FBR, his old company, had signed on as the Capital Open’s new title sponsor.

“I wouldn’t have even known who they were before that,” he said. “So maybe it’s an omen of something good down the road.”

No matter how he plays this week, Muehr acknowledges his brush with cancer has given him a new outlook.

“I feel pretty lucky to have come out of that whole deal relatively unscathed and to be able to be back and playing golf,” he said. “I’m probably not as hard on myself as I was. I used to get pretty hard on myself on the golf course. Now I’m much more laid back.”

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