Not a farewell ... just Brian’s song
Brian’s Song was a highly acclaimed 1971 made-for-TV movie, which recalled the details of the life of Brian Piccolo, a White American football player stricken with terminal cancer who was aided in his battle against the disease by sport and friendships derived therein.
Bermudian golf professional Brian Morris may never have his travails played out in Hollywood or on television screens, yet his story of perseverance, strength and enduring hope stands as no less of an inspirational, true tale of relentless desire to not merely survive in the face of torment, but thrive in spite of great adversity.
And so it is with unyielding grit and determination that Morris, despite having terminal, Stage 4 cancer of the brain diagnosed, with the affliction affecting many parts of his body, including the key elements for golf — his hands and legs — in constant states of pain, he fully intends to take his place next month at a qualifying event for the US Senior Open at Crown Colony Golf and Country Club in Fort Myers, Florida. The venture represents the fulfilment of a long-held desire to compete on one of the grandest stages of professional golf.
“It’s something I have always wanted to do, to be in that environment,” said Morris, who placed sixth at the BPGA Stroke Play Championships last week with rounds of 77, 76 and 74 at Tucker’s Point Golf Course — 16 strokes behind winner Dwayne Pearman. “I let other parts of life get in the way, but I’m ready now and can’t wait for it. I’m signed up and booked to go
The journey for the Ocean View Golf Club head professional certainly will be an arduous one; this he understands. And high are the odds of venturing beyond this initial hurdle towards the US Senior Open proper, yet neither sickness nor its burdens can diminish the gleeful intent of a man who, in life, has seen more than his fair share of tragedy.
An eerie series of events saw Morris lose his father, Dennis, mother Ann and sister Denise, each dying at the age of 49. Thus, it was with great relief and no little amount of fanfare when he was able to attain the hitherto insurmountable age of 50.
“My dad died in an accident down at Nationals [Sports Club], my mom died at 49 from cancer and my sister was afflicted with Down’s syndrome, but was a princess and she passed from complications at 49,” said Morris in revealing the horror story. “I was parentless at 19, lost my scholarship to Mitchell College for football because I had a 13-year-old little brother, Martin, who needed me, as did my sister.
“I grew up fast. From living with my dad while waiting to go to college to being an orphan just trying to survive.”
Nevertheless, with wife Laurie, uncle Douglas “Blip” Morris and his aunt, Debbie, due to accompany him to the Sunshine State, Brian aims to be swinging for the fairways and greens come May 25.
“My hope is to stay healthy enough to actually make it there,” said Morris, with a chuckle. “My expectations are to qualify, and if I do it’s a miracle.
“If I don’t, then at least I did it. I did my best and will come home and get on with life. I’ll have all my [medical] results the first week of May, so I don’t know what the doctor’s going to tell me, which is more pressure than teeing it up in a qualifier.”
Ironically, as his body has decayed, Morris’s game has improved in terms of consistency, especially in terms of ball placement, trajectory and shot selection, even as his power and length off the tee have diminished.
“I’ve had to change clubs as I don’t have the strength and speed that I used to,” he said. “Thanks to Cobra Puma and Red Laser Bermuda, I have a brand new set. We’re in the courting stage right now, not married yet, but we will be. I really like them and I have six weeks to figure them out, distance-wise.”
The 53-year-old told how there is little getting past limitations presented by medical requirements and treatments that often cause muscle and overall body fatigue, and this restricts time on the driving range, putting greens and practice areas.
However, what remains largely unhindered is his mind, a miracle in itself considering the earlier need to have had effected the removal of a malignant brain tumour, which marked the first of many life-prolonging procedures the past few years.
Morris has long possessed intangibles that cannot often be taught but are required for success at the professional level — such being an inherent “feel” for the game, strong mettle under intense pressure and a sweet swing that comes from birth.
“I do have strength issues and endurance issues, for sure, but I can combat that with heart,” he explained. “I can’t prepare a lot because of fatigue. I play from what I know.
“My swing has always been pretty good, so I don’t practise that and I have learnt to be a bit more patient and enjoy the game a lot more.
“I do my best every round and if I play badly I’m vexed. But does it really matter? Not really when you look at the scope of my situation. I’m not la-di-da, ’just enjoy life by any means’ person by any means, but I aim to do my best with what I have that day.”
Most days the pain meter for Morris reads 6 on a scale of 1 to10, but there are numerous days when it’s a 9. His hope for when he’s at the US Senior Open qualifying is that he will be gifted a Level 4 moment.
“I know pain will never leave me and unfortunately it’s my feet and hands, the two most important things in golf,” he said. “I just control what I can control.
“Let’s just say I feel good, my ticket is booked, my entry is paid, I have a place to stay and my family with me. Let’s just see how it goes.”
Asked what message he hoped his inspirational tale of steadfast refusal to submit may give others who might be fighting decidedly uphill challenges, Morris gushed lyrics of hopefulness:
“I’m not gonna be cliché and say, ’one day at a time’. I say, ‘make plans, do the things you always thought of doing, even if it’s just one time.
“Your life is not important unless you are important to people. If you have been dealt a crap hand, then help others who may have a similar hand. Surround yourself with positive people.
“Don’t bitch cause it’s raining. Get yourself an umbrella and be thankful your tank is filling up. Don’t be afraid to have a bad day. You can get mad and sad, but let it out and move on. I have bad days, but I also make some bad days good.
“You gotta believe. Don’t listen to statistics. Forget about life expectancy! You’re not average … you are you.
“I have helped and met so many people I would have never met before and, maybe just maybe, I got this disease so I that can help others. Maybe that’s my calling?
“I don’t have millions but I have positivity to spare and I care; that may be worth more than any amount.”
As for the threat of Covid-19 and his status as a vulnerable person, Morris was blunt in noting the coronavirus pandemic as among his lesser concerns.
“Covid I take it as it comes,” he said. “I respect everyone’s opinion of it, but I think that my luck has been so bad, there is no way I could be given another challenge.
“I’ve had the vaccine and whether or not it’ll work, only time will tell — I have other issues that are way more severe than that.”
Morris may be known mostly as a golfer; however, he has long ago proved himself as an all-round sportsman, additionally excelling in cricket at the former Nationals Sports Club and Hamilton Parish, as well as attending Mitchell College on a football scholarship and turning out locally for BAA, Wolves and Parish. He also represented Bermuda at a World Cup and Caribbean Championships in darts.
Yet golf was always his first love.
“I played football and cricket cause none of my boys in the hood played golf,” he said. “I wanted to hang with them, so I played football for BAA, Wolves and Hamilton Parish and cricket for Nationals and Hamilton Parish.
“I was OK, kinda stiff, but never loved it like I did golf. I loved the friends I made and still have a lot of them today, [Mark] ”Beaver“ Ray, Darrin Lewis, [Troy] ”Saggus“ Bean, just to name a few.
“But I liked the individuality of golf because it’s on you, just you. You don’t take five wickets, make 50 or score three goals and lose in golf.”
Next stop, Fort Myers.