Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports.
Today’s list: The top 10 men’s golfers from Tucson:
I walked into the El Rio Golf Course clubhouse and dropped $20 onto the table for the Friday morning Skins Game.
“You’re playing with Bob Gaona,” I was told.
No, really. Who am I with today?
I wondered if it was too late to go home.
I didn’t know Bob Gaona 15 years ago, but I could’ve written a book about his golf career. State champion at Tucson High. Four-time City Amateur champion. A self-made man — a laborer who did everything from garbage collecting to roofing — who beat the odds to qualify for three U.S. Opens and ultimately become a regular on the PGA Champions Tour from 1990-92.
“He’s giving you seven shots,” I was told. “Good luck.”
Over the next 15 years, I played golf with Bob many times. He always gave me six or seven shots and I never beat him. My $20 became a contribution to the Bob Gaona Fund.
But it wasn’t about the golf, it was about the friendship and camaraderie. I always told my playing partners that Gaona was the NGE — Nicest Guy Ever. Who didn’t want to be in his foursome?
Sadly, Bob died last weekend after a three-year fight with cancer. He was 78. His good friend Jerry Leyva sent a photo of Bob the last time he played at his “home course,” El Rio, a month earlier. Even while connected to an oxygen tube, Bob played nine holes.
I would’ve paid $20 just to see that smooth swing one more time.
The service for Gaona will be July 22 at St. Augustine Cathedral at 9 a.m. Mass will be at 10:30 a.m.
Here’s our list of the Top 10 men’s golfers in Tucson history, a group of men who grew up in Tucson and played high school golf here: