Willie Love has a position as an assistant pro at Black Bear Golf Club awaiting his return to a nearly three decade-long career in the golf business, but the cancer that he first had surgery to combat in November 2013 isn’t giving up its hold on him easily.
“I think this next couple of weeks will be pretty crucial, when we get into my treatments and see how well I accept them,” Love said.
Love has been hit with several setbacks in his attempted recovery from his first surgery for oral cancer, and the latest will require six scheduled weeks of both radiation and chemotherapy treatments, if he’s able to withstand them all. The treatments began Monday.
“We’re getting into a deeper hole right now,” Love said. “We’ll see how it ends up. This one seems deeper than the ones we’ve been through, considering what the doctor said and the time frame.”
Love and his wife Angela, a sales representative for Mac Adams Golf Sales who has also been in the area golf business for many years at facilities including Sea Trail Resort, Ocean Ridge Plantation and International World Tour Golf Links, were told Wednesday that he has dermal metastases, which involves bumps on his neck that contain cancer cells.
“If treatments don’t do anything to it, it’s literally months,” Angela said.
Love is in his early 50s and has been a club pro on the Grand Strand for more than two decades.
He was the head pro at World Tour, Diamondback Golf Club and Heather Glen Golf Links, and was an assistant at courses including Beachwood Golf Club, Legends Resort, Wedgefield Country Club, DeBordieu Club, Winyah Bay Golf Club, Wellman Club in Johnsonville and the Country Club of South Carolina in Florence.
Love was a Black Bear assistant when he had a tooth pulled in the summer of 2013, and learned he had oral cancer after the area was slow to recover.
The initial surgery last November involved replacing his right jaw bone with part of his fibula. The surgery at MUSC in Charleston took more than 13 hours and included several surgeons. Doctors avoided removing any part of Love’s tongue, which was a concern.
He had a titanium bar installed from his right ear to the middle of his jaw, and doctors also removed a pair of malignant lymph nodes.
His third surgery on Sept. 3 was to replace the leg bone from his jaw with a donor bone, as the leg bone was damaged by the radiation he received back in January and February.
The treatments also caused a hole to develop in his cheek and a spot of cancer was found near it, which was followed by spots on the left side of his neck that led to the dermal metastases diagnosis.
Doctors reconstructed Love’s cheek by taking skin and muscle from his upper right leg.
“He’s been through a lot of ups and downs,” Angela said. “I think he’s held up really well. With the news we got dealt [Wednesday] I think we’re holding up pretty good.”
Love had both radiation and chemo sessions following the first surgery, and treatment was limited to chemo following the second. He has lost approximately 40 pounds and is down to 124 pounds.
“I don’t know if he’ll be able to handle all that this time, since he’s lost so much weight,” Angela said. “It’s a quality of life issue.”
The radiation causes sores in the mouth and throat and affect his saliva, making it difficult to eat, drink and speak, and treatments have been tough on Love at times. “There have been times I didn’t even know myself and at times I didn’t know what I was saying or doing, so we’ve had to deal with that aspect as well,” Love said.
The golf industry held a tournament to benefit the amiable Love last November and a fundraising motorcycle poker run is scheduled in November. Love has tried to periodically visit former coworkers at area courses since his leave from Black Bear began, and he most recently visited longtime Beachwood bag drop attendant John “Catfish” Dillow a few weeks ago.
His speech is still good, but if it’s affected too much by future treatments or surgeries he said he’d be willing to work on the golf course maintenance staff.
“We’ve been keeping a spot open for Willie, we just want him to get better and get back here to us,” Black Bear head pro Patrick Wilkinson said.
Small player, big score
The SwingThought.com Tour Carolina Winter Series kicked off its season Sunday with a one-day, 11-player event at The Pearl’s West Course won by Jordan Powell of Blowing Rock, N.C., by two shots with a 2-under 68. The SwingThought.com Tour is formerly the NGA/Hooters Tour.
Powell’s first professional win earned him free into the two-day, 15-player Carolina Winter Series event that began Monday on the West Course. Cory Nagy of Charlotte shot a 67 and will take a three-shot lead over Powell into Tuesday’s final round, which begins at 12:30 p.m.
Of note, 12-year-old amateur Akshay Bhatia of Wake Forest, N.C. shot an impressive 75 from the championship tees.
The Carolina Winter Series will have a total of 30 one-, two- and three-day events on the Strand through mid-February.
Heritage seeking vols
Volunteers are needed for the PGA Tour’s 2015 RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing from April 13-19 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island.
An informational recruiting meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Wednesday (Oct. 22) at Palmetto Electric in Hardeeville for anyone interested in becoming a volunteer. Palmetto Electric is at 1 Cooperative Way. Applications were emailed to all past volunteers on Oct. 1.
All volunteers will be reporting to Mike Manesiotis following the 2015 event, as Manesiotis has been named the new RBC Heritage General Chairman of Volunteers, a position that supervises the 18 volunteer committees.
Manesiotis is replacing Ray Angell, who will be retiring after the 2015 tournament. Angell moved to Hilton Head Island in 1987 and immediately began volunteering his time as a marshal before being named General Chairman in 2006.
Manesiotis has served as chairman of the Communications Committee for seven years and will be shadowing Angell for the next several months.
In addition to volunteering his time at the RBC Heritage, Manesiotis is also a past president of the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center, County Commissioner of Recreation (PALS), former Hilton Head Island High Booster Club President and a past Chairman for the Hilton Head Island Middle School Improvement Counsel.