Battling lung cancer, Calgary golfer granted exemption to play in 2024 Rogers Charity Classic

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Steve Blake, one of Calgary’s best golfers, had a tee-time booked on that mid-September day.

Except he had promised his wife that if his nagging cough worsened, he would go the emergency room for further examination of what doctors initially suspected to be a case of pneumonia. Instead of teeing it up at his home club, he drove to the hospital instead.

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After a series of tests, Blake received devastating news. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, a complete shock for an active family man and non-smoker in his mid-50s. It is, unfortunately, inoperable.

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“My oncologist, the day we met him and he sat down and went through everything with us as far as the diagnosis, he asked, ‘Would you like to know your prognosis?’ ” Blake said, choking up as he recounted this moment. “I looked at my family and said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ We knew it wasn’t going to be good. He said 12 to 24 months, and I really grabbed onto that. I said, ‘I just want this to be the starting point. I’ll see you in 24 months … ’ ”

In August, at roughly the 11-month mark, you will see Blake inside the ropes at the 2024 Rogers Charity Classic at Canyon Meadows Golf & Country Club.

Tournament officials announced Monday, on his 56th birthday, that the Calgarian has been granted an exemption to compete alongside the legends on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. This will be his second appearance at the award-winning and record-setting tournament, set this summer for Aug. 16-18.

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Calgary’s Steve Blake (who was diagnosed in the fall with Stage 4 lung cancer) with wife Kelly; he has been granted an exemption to compete in the 2024 Rogers Charity Classic. The annual PGA Tour Champions showdown is set for Aug. 16-18 at Canyon Meadows Golf & Country Club in Calgary on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

“The opportunity, it kind of leaves you speechless,” said Blake, who works as a financial advisor and is a member at Hamptons Golf Club. “In 2018, it was, ‘Let’s just not embarrass myself while I’m out here.’ This time, it will be different. I’m maybe playing for something a little bigger than me. I hope people see the message and see that somebody with an illness like this can still get out there and still pursue their dreams.

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“You may be handed a death sentence, but it doesn’t mean life is over,” he added, fighting back tears as he credited his family — wife Kelly, son Connor and daughter Brooklyn — and friends for helping him to remain upbeat. “You still have a lot to give, so get out there and give it. The more you do that, the more I have something like this tournament to look forward to, the more alive I feel. I don’t feel like I’m sick. I feel like I’m just this normal guy who is going to practise for this tournament coming up and hopefully I will be around for the next one and so on and so on.”

Blake, who has completed chemotherapy and is now receiving a weekly round of targeted treatments, is the first confirmed entrant for the 2024 Rogers Charity Classic.

There will be bigger names added to the tee-sheet, dudes with major titles and World Golf Hall of Fame credentials, but you won’t likely find a more heartwarming and inspiring story.

Regardless of his score or his spot on the leaderboard, you can bet Blake will be a fan favourite during the three-round senior shootout at Canyon Meadows. As he put it: “If I can make a positive difference, even to one person that is struggling with this terrible disease, then I would consider any result in the tournament a total success.”

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“The patron group and Rogers continue to bring this event to Calgary to showcase the stars of the PGA Tour Champions to Canadian golf fans and to make a positive impact on the people in our community,” said Sean Van Kesteren, the executive director for the Rogers Charity Classic, in Monday’s announcement. “Giving one of Calgary’s top senior golfers, who needs the support of our entire community right now, this opportunity to play in front of his friends and family is not only extremely rewarding but supports this mission.”

Blake admittedly wrestled with whether to request an exemption, which allows him to skip a two-part qualifying process. As he wrote a letter to tournament officials, he was asking himself: “Do you want to put yourself out there, with the illness, in front of everybody?”

So why take this shot?

Because Blake, who recently switched to senior shafts in his clubs as he tries to generate some of the speed that he’s lost in his golf swing, is a big believer in the power of positivity. During the 2024 Rogers Charity Classic, he wants to be proof of it.

“You really have to believe that you can get past this or at least live as long as you can with it,” Blake said. “Unfortunately, too many people have that meeting with their oncologist. Too many family members have sat in on meetings like that. The devastation that you feel for the first period — it might be a week, two weeks, a month, two months, whatever — it can bury you. You just can’t allow it to bury you. You can’t allow it to define you.

“I’m fortunate to have very positive people around me, always pulling for me, so it was a little easier to dig out of that initial hole. You just can’t let it beat you down and keep you down. If you do, chances are that prognosis is going to come true.”

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