McCallister Feasts as Wife Dines

MAY 8, 1999
New Orleans Times-Picayune

One would think it would be difficult to maintain focus on something as insignificant as chasing a little white ball around a well-manicured lawn if your wife of eight years had gone blind from a hereditary condition that strikes one in 100,000 people.

"Not really," Blaine McCallister was saying Friday, after a second-round 69 left him 10-under through the first two rounds of the $2.6 million Compaq Classic of New Orleans. "She makes it easy. She's such a positive person, never looking for any sympathy, or for anyone to feel sorry for her. She doesn't want any help. As she has said many times, it's not as though she has anything life threatening."

Claudia McCallister dieted for five weeks before arriving in New Orleans, her favorite PGA Tour stop, so that she could visit many of the city's noteworthy gastronomic palaces: NOLA, K-Pauls, Acme Oyster House, Emeril's.

She loves New Orleans for its cuisine and its everything-is-close charm. She loves New York for the same reason. And because she can attend Broadway plays.

"If I called her right now," McCallister said around noon on Friday, "she'd probably be sitting in NOLA having lunch. She has such a great way of looking at things. It just makes me appreciate what I have... and what we've experienced in our lives."

They began dating in 1986 and were married in 1991. Claudia, 50, was first diagnosed with pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), a disease caused by excessive calcium in the body which calcifies and cracks the blood vessels in the eye, when she was 18. Today, McCallister said, Claudia has the ability to see only peripherally. Barely. The damage is irreversible.

"But we're searching," McCallister said. "They're studying, trying to find something. We keep raising money. Hopefully one day..."

On Friday, after an opening-round 65 tied him for the lead, McCallister wrapped an eagle and three birdies around a pair of bogeys over and English Turn layout that played somewhat differently because of an opposite wind direction.

"I felt good making the turn at 1-under," said McCallister, who started his round on the back nine. "I had a 12 footer for birdie and missed on No. 1 (his 10th hole), then on (No.) 2, I made a 50 footer for eagle. It was the kind of putt where you just walk around quietly to the next hole and say 'Thank you very much.' To show you how the golf gods are, I three-putt from 35 feet for bogey on the next hole. But I came back with a birdie on (No.) 4 (from eighty feet). I think the key to golf is how you follow a bogey."

And how you maintain focus. Regardless of the distraction.