John Cerutti's name is on the first parking spot at East Lake Woodlands Country Club, reserved for the 2004 club champion. That he no longer will pull into that space will take some time to sink in for those who played golf with him.
Cerutti made his name in sports as a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, but his passion was golf and he excelled at the game, rarely missing an opportunity.
One of those was Saturday, when he played with family members in Toronto, where he was to work Sunday's season-ending Blue Jays game as a color commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. When he did not show up at SkyDome, officials became concerned. Cerutti, 44, was found dead in his hotel room of an apparent heart attack.
"It's going to be very difficult pulling back into that parking lot and seeing his name on that sign," said Buck Martinez, a Blue Jays teammate of Cerutti and frequent golf companion at East Lake Woodlands in Oldsmar. Martinez, a former Blue Jays manager who lives in Clearwater, works for ESPN and was in Anaheim on Wednesday for the American League Division Series.
"He certainly had an impact on the local golf scene. He loved the tradition and the class of golf. He played all over, Old Memorial, Innisbrook, Black Diamond. He liked the great golf courses, and he made trips all around.
"We played a lot together, sometimes four or five days a week at East Lake. We had an annual trip to Pebble Beach and when we played Cypress Point, that was one of the highlights of our year. I've got a vivid picture of the 16th hole at Cypress Point. Our caddie took a picture of us. It's something I'll dig out as soon as I get home."
Cerutti was a left-handed scratch golfer. He was a regular at County Golf Association events and on the Celebrity Golf Tour. In 1997, Cerutti advanced through the local stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open and competed alongside tour players for the right to advance to the U.S. Open. He didn't make it, but "he said that was the highlight of his golfing experience," Martinez said. Some thought Cerutti might give the Champions Tour a try when he turned 50.
"He was the longest amateur golfer I ever played with," said Tom Jewell, an East Lake member and former tournament director of the JCPenney Classic. "Boy, he could just crush the ball. Just a beautiful swing. And he loved to play golf."
Cerutti's funeral is scheduled for today in his native New York state.
RYDER RUMBLINGS: With speculation centering around Larry Nelson, Paul Azinger, Mark O'Meara and Fred Couples, among others, to become the next captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Tiger Woods let it be known last week at the American Express Championship that he would like to perhaps be named an assistant captain. Woods figures if he and the rest of his teammates are going to come under so much scrutiny for losing - the 181/2 to 91/2 defeat was the worst ever for the Americans - he might as well have a say in things.
"What I would like is to work with the captain on the pairings and team strategy and work on the whole concept of bringing the team together," Woods said. "I basically kind of do that now, but if I were a vice captain, it would be an official role."
The PGA of America is mulling the candidates and is expected to name the captain for the 2006 matches next month. One thing being considered is an assistant captain who takes over in 2008.
CHRYSLER CHAMPIONSHIP: The PGA Tour event needs volunteer caddies for its Oct. 25 and 27 pro-am events.
Active members of any branch of the U.S. military will be granted free admission to the tournament and will be permitted to buy up to four more tickets for half price at the gate.
Tickets for the four-day tournament are $25 on Oct. 28-29 and $35 on Oct. 30-31 and can be purchased at all area Kash n' Karry stores. A $99 Family Pack includes two adult tickets to either day of the weekend rounds, a parking pass $10 value and four box lunch vouchers. Children 17 and under are admitted free. For information, visit www.chryslerchampionship.com or call (727) 942-5566.
Information from other news organizations was used in the report.