CONOVER, N.C. -- John Clare was on his way to a golf tournament last August in Montgomery, Alabama when his cell phone rang.
The caller stopped him short. No good could ever come from a beginning like this one.
Hey … have you heard about Tesori?Clare began his collegiate golf career at Le Moyne, but transferred to Central Alabama Community College in the fall. He and Le Moyne head coach Joe Tesori had gotten along very well, but Clare wanted the chance to play year-round. It was a tough decision, and once he made it, he missed his Dolphin teammates back at Le Moyne.
Then came the call. Tesori, currently in his eighth year as Le Moyne’s men’s golf head coach, had been rushed to the hospital. A major infection had spread to his brain; doctors, he said, were talking about amputating his left leg. And that was the good news.
They were also talking about hours to live and death. The numbers didn’t lie. His temperature at one point was 107 degrees, with his blood pressure rocketing to 270/200. News spread quickly throughout the Le Moyne community.
Hey … have you heard about Tesori?
With everything stacking up against him the way it did last summer, Tesori could very well have died. Yet there he was earlier this week, chatting away with his players and friends. Clare was there, too, back with Le Moyne.
Tesori was still in the hospital last year recuperating when he got a call from Clare. He wanted to come back to Le Moyne, just months after he’d left. The team just missed making nationals last year, so there was unfinished business left laying on the table.
“He goes, ‘Coach, I shouldn’t be here. I should be with you. You’re my coach. Those guys are my teammates up there. I want to get us to the nationals,’ ” Tesori remembered. “He said, ‘You always told me the golf ball doesn’t know what division it’s playing in. If you and the guys will have me back, I want to come back home where I belong.’ ”
There’s nothing quite like the relationship between a coach and student-athlete, and the bond shared between Tesori and Clare appears to be an especially close one. It was Tesori’s influence, after all, that brought him all the way back from Alabama to Le Moyne’s campus in Syracuse, New York.
By the time Clare got to the parking lot of the golf course where he was headed when he got the news about Tesori, the thought process had already started about returning to Le Moyne.
“He was the most influential part of the decision,” Clare said. “I get this news that this guy is all of a sudden in the hospital clinging to his life. It kind of puts things in perspective. Hearing about him being in that position, you kind of start to question what you’re doing and how you’re living your life.”
Le Moyne made it here to the national championship this year, but failed to qualify for the title-deciding match play that begins Thursday. Clare finished in a tie for 54th place individually with a 10-over-par 223 for his three days of competition.
Overall, the Dolphins placed twentieth, equaling the team’s best showing in the nationals.
Sports have been Tesori’s life. He’s watched kids grow and develop, both on the course and off. He hadn’t been hurt when Clare left, because he had in fact told the young man about a cousin who had made the very same move. Then, when Clare wanted to come back, Tesori admits that he was “floored.”
“It’s hard for me not to break up when I talk about this,” Tesori said. “I might’ve even said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘You shouldn’t have to ask that. It’s because of you.’ That’s pretty touching. The golf is secondary. Are we a good team with him? Well, of course we are.
“It shows that the kid has his head on straight, and he knows what’s important. Your relationships are important. That’s what makes you who you are in this world. We’re playing a game. I’m pretty lucky to have kids like him.”
Missing out on the nationals last year, transferring to a community college in Alabama, Tesori’s illness, the decision to return -- it’s all combined to make for quite the interesting year for Clare.
“It means the world to be here,” Clare said. “It’s exactly why I came back. It’s a great group of guys. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else, players or coaches. It’s a strange path of how we got here, but we’re here. To be able to play for a school that I’m so connected to, it’s everything. It’s everything we work for.”