When I arrived at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., to cover the U.S. Amateur last August, I was looking forward to reuniting with my old colleague Ron Balicki, the longtime college and amateur golf writer for Golfweek magazine. But “Wrong Ron,” as he was affectionately known, was a conspicuous no-show.
It was only later I learned that Balicki had been diagnosed with cancer. And despite his best hopes of resuming the career he loved, his disease was too strong a foe.
Balicki, 65, died peacefully Tuesday morning at his Arkansas home. He will be remembered as a tireless promoter of the college and amateur game, writing about golf’s up-and-coming talents before many of them achieved PGA Tour fame. Among those who paid tribute to Balicki on Twitter in the hours following his passing were tour players Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, Luke Donald, David Duval and Peter Uihlein.
Moreover, at Arizona State University last weekend, competitors at the ASU Thunderbird Invitational sported green ribbons on their hats to honor Balicki, a member of the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame.
My career intersected with Balicki’s for five years in the late 1990s at Golfweek. Although he lived in Houston at the time and I in Orlando, we talked frequently as I edited his stories, and we would see each other periodically at staff meetings or if he was passing through Florida on the college and amateur beat.
I remember Ron as an affable, enthusiastic guy with a passion for covering the game despite his own shortcomings as a player. In a Facebook tribute, another of our former Golfweek colleagues, Ken Carpenter, recounted the time Ron played in a pro-am at Kapalua with Peter Jacobsen. The event was televised, and shortly after it came on the air, the cameras caught Jacobsen looking back and yelling, “Hey Ron! Are you out of the weeds yet?” As Carpenter relates, the cameras then cut to Balicki, “chopping away in chest-high sugar cane, or bamboo, or jungle grass.”
Fortunately, Balicki was blessed with the ability to laugh at himself. But sadly, he couldn’t get out of the weeds that cancer threw at him. Godspeed to one of golf’s good guys.