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Rex Wade: Hero from senior golfers' past


Rex Wade cherishes a photo with his personal hero, Mickey - Mantle. - RICH TOSCHES
  • Rich Tosches
  • Rex Wade cherishes a photo with his personal hero, Mickey Mantle.
Rex Wade says he has lived the best life you could imagine.

He helped put The Broadmoor, home to this week's U.S. Senior Open, on the golfing map. He golfed with baseball gods Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax. He played at Pebble Beach and many of the other greatest golf courses in the world. He hit long irons with the famous and putted with the rich.

But mostly, he says, he got to play golf with his friends, the regular rhythm of their laughter dancing across the emerald grass for three decades or more.

"Just a great life," Wade says. "Every day, I think about how lucky I am."

And then a 75-year-old hand moves slowly toward his side. It comes to rest next to the shiny silver spokes of the wheelchair.

Wade came to Colorado Springs in 1965 from Liberal, Kan. He'd been a baseball pitcher for Kansas State University, and a good one, too. It tells you much about his nature when he recalls not his successes back then, but the time he started a game against Nebraska and got lit up like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.

His talent got him to the Brooklyn Dodgers' camp in 1955. He didn't make it to the big leagues, but he did meet a rookie pitcher named Koufax. Years later the two would play golf at the swanky Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles.

Ten years after the brief tryout with the Dodgers, Wade came to Colorado Springs on business. Saw the mountains and never went home. He was in the oil business. He would become a stockbroker. But those were just means to the end. And the end, of course, was golf.

He joined Broadmoor Golf Club and played a lot. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 1968, was a two-time champion at the Country Club of Colorado and a three-time Broadmoor club champ. In 1977, he became chairman of the Broadmoor Men's Invitational, an amateur tournament that had been played since 1921 on the same course where the best senior pros in the world walk this week.

Luring the young studs

It was Wade's job to talk the best college players into visiting Colorado Springs. He was good at it. Future PGA stars such as John Cook, Mark O'Meara, Bobby Clampett, Corey Pavin, Mark Wiebe and many others came to the Rockies. In the 12 years he guided the tournament, The Broadmoor's status grew as a world-class golf resort.

"It had nothing to do with me," Wade says in the aw-shucks tone that runs deep in all of his words. "They came because of the golf course."

For Wade, the tournament was part of a life most golf lovers would dream of.

"Mickey Mantle shows up, and somehow I'm playing golf with him," says Wade. "Now remember, we're about the same age. And he is, without doubt, my hero. How many people get to play golf with their hero?"

He laughs then and talks for a bit about those few days in Colorado Springs with Mantle, a professional not only in baseball but also in drinking and getting by on little sleep.

"I guess I could keep up with him," Wade says, just the slightest smile on his handsome face.

There was golf with NFL quarterback John Brodie, and some Hollywood folks. And four days in 1982 at the granddaddy of all celebrity events, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Wade played with O'Meara and Nathaniel Crosby.

"Oh, it was a good time," Wade says. "We were good enough to make the cut, and we played right through the weekend. It was just great."

There would be other monumental good times. But in the late 1980s the big, powerful athlete began to slow. Arthritis plagued his hands and back. Golf began to hurt.

"The hands went first," he says, staring at them now, the fingers bent a bit as he tries to work them.

The back followed. Walking became difficult. One day in 2004, the legs failed him and Wade fell. He hit his head. Doctors said there might have been a mild stroke. They're not sure. After more than two months in the hospital, doctors told Wade he had lower lumbar spinal stenosis. Damage to the nerves. There was nothing they could do.

Back to the front row?

Today Wade moves slowly with a walker. Mostly, though, he's in a wheelchair. He spends a lot of time gliding across his living room, watching TV and working at his computer. Between ESPN, CBS, the Golf Channel and the Internet, you cannot imagine how much golf there is.

"I've never stopped loving the game," he says.

He pauses for a moment.

"And I'm happy as a lark. I mean it. That's how dumb I am," Wade says, filling the room with a laugh. "I've had so many good things happen in my life. And this, well, I just have to accept this. I am, honestly, a happy guy."

This week, as a grand spectacle unfolds at the same Broadmoor where he was as much a fixture as the green grass, Wade isn't sure he'll see even one shot in person. He needs help getting around. Friends have offered. He's reluctant. Doesn't want to be a burden, he says.

If I ran The Broadmoor and as you probably know, I do not there would be a big, shiny car at Wade's doorstep each morning, bright and early, just as the morning sun begins to dry the dew from the golf course's grass. And Wade would, at least for a few days, again have a front-row seat to the world he loves so much, seeing many players who would remember him well from their amateur days.

"I played a lot of golf with famous people, and it was fun," he says. "But you know what was the greatest thing about golf? It was playing a round of golf with my friends. There was nothing like that."

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