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Calgary golf pro fighting lung cancer gets exemption into Rogers Charity Classic

CALGARY — Steve Blake has a powerful message — don’t give up on your dreams no matter what life throws your way.
Golf pro Steve Blake, who has been given an exemption to play in the Rogers Charity Classic PGA Champions tour event in August, looks out over the Canyon Meadows golf course in Calgary, Wednesday, May 22, 2024.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Steve Blake has a powerful message — don’t give up on your dreams no matter what life throws your way.

The Calgary golf professional is gearing up for playing in Canada's lone PGA Tour Champions event of the season while battling inoperable Stage 4 lung cancer.

"You may be handed a death sentence, but it doesn't mean life's over," said Blake, whose received the shocking diagnosis in September. "You've still got a lot to give, so get out there and give something."

Blake was given a sponsor exemption on Monday, his 56th birthday, to play in his hometown at the 2024 Rogers Charity Classic at Canyon Meadows Golf and Country Club from Aug. 16 to 18.

"The more I have something like this tournament coming up to look forward to, the more alive I feel," Blake said. "I don’t feel like I’m sick. I feel like I’m just this normal guy who’s going to practise for this tournament coming up and hopefully I’ll be around for the next one and so on and so on.

"As devastating as something can sound, I think if you believe that you can conquer something, you will, especially if you have good support staff and family (and) friends.”

Blake, who also competed at the PGA Tour Champions event in 2018 when the tournament was known as the Shaw Charity Classic, decided to apply for another exemption while in the midst of undergoing eight months of chemotherapy treatments.

He is looking forward to playing the sport he loves, possibly alongside fellow Canadians Mike Weir and Stephen Ames.

"It’s incredible,” Blake said. "The opportunity, it leaves you speechless obviously to compete again with these guys to be on the same stage. The situation being what it is, they were very open to receive my letter and have me in there."

A non-smoker with an active lifestyle, Blake developed a nagging cough in August.

“I made a deal with my wife that if it did get worse that I would go to the hospital,” said Blake. “Long story short, about 16 hours later and my wife had shown up by that time, sitting in emergency going through a bunch of tests and stuff and they came back with the diagnosis.”

Blake faced his prognosis from his oncologist with his family by his side.

"We knew it wasn’t going to be good,” Blake said. "He said 12 to 24 months, but I kind of really grabbed onto that and said, 'I just want this to be the starting point. Like, I’ll see you in 24 months and then we’ll discuss another prognosis if you’ve got another one for me.'

"Being able to look forward to something like this does so much for me mentally, physically, everything, just to get me psyched up to come out here and compete again."

The devastating news was a shock to the system for Blake, his wife Kelly and their kids Connor, 25, and Brooklyn, 22, who are both accomplished athletes.

"When we told the kids, they were so emotional as well," said Kelly. "We didn’t know if Steve would be well enough to golf, let alone out here (at Canyon Meadows)."

Connor is a defenceman playing hockey for the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder, while Brooklyn is a midfielder with Calgary Foothills WFC.

"I’m always looking for something to take my mind off the illness,” said Blake, who works as a financial adviser. “I’m still trying to be very active in work. I’m still trying to be very active in golf and in my kids’ sports and things like that."

After just missing out on qualifying to compete at the U.S. Senior Open Championship last year, Blake will attempt to earn a spot to play at this year’s tournament to be held at Newport Country Club in Newport, R.I., from June 27 to 30.

"Having something like the U.S. Senior Open qualifier to look forward to again, just the idea of being able to go down and compete, is something that’s really special to me and my wife," said Blake, who will tee it up for a qualifying round at Goose Creek Golf Club in Jurupa Valley, Calif., on Tuesday. “I’m fortunate I’ve played (Goose Creek) a couple times. I was close the last time I was down there. Hopefully, I just make a few more putts and we’ll see if we can get in the U.S. Senior Open again."

Blake played at the major in 2018 at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs, Col. Although he missed the cut with rounds of 79 and 74, it gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the likes of World Golf Hall of Fame members Vijay Singh and Bernhard Langer.

"It’s just such a great opportunity to come out and compete with them," said Blake, who carded rounds of 70, 77 and 71 six years ago at Canyon Meadows to finish well back of winner Scott McCarron. "It’ll be a little different than the last time. It’ll be similar as far as having family and friends and the crowd around, which I so enjoy having.

“I know in 2018, it was let’s just not embarrass myself while I’m out here too much. It will be different, just playing for something maybe just a little bit bigger than me. I hope people see the message and see that somebody with an illness like this can still get out there and still pursue their dreams."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2024.

Laurence Heinen, The Canadian Press