Local golf pro Doug DuChateau is rebounding after having open-heart surgery
Mostly, Doug DuChateau said, he was fairly stoic that Tuesday in April when his cardiologist told him that the results of the angiogram weren’t good, that he had major blockages in the arteries around his heart and that he needed open-heart surgery, ideally the next day.
Not the news he expected to hear, not in his mid-40s, fit-looking, a non-smoker. Not nearly the result he’d envisioned back in January, when his regular doc had suggested that rising blood pressure and cholesterol levels needed to be checked out.
No, DuChateau doesn’t recall showing a lot of emotion, but he remembers being emphatic about one point:
He couldn’t have open-heart surgery on Wednesday, because he had a slate of golf lessons scheduled Thursday at his Precision Golf School adjacent to Fiddler’s Green on Highway 99N.
So the prominent PGA teaching professional got a reprieve, a day to phone and e-mail his regular clients, telling them, just as golf season was swinging into gear, that there would be no lessons that Thursday, or for a couple of months worth of Thursdays.
“Quite honestly, I was very upset and very nervous about knowing that I was going to have to take the time off,” he said. “I had anticipated that when I let people know that it would be met with quite a bit of disappointment and requests for refunds and different things.
“It was the exact opposite. It was an outpouring of support, of people expressing very, very nice things. Prayers and well-wishes and all the different things that you almost unknowingly build in a relationship like this.
“I think golf by its very nature lends itself to building relationships and friendships. I have a lot of people that I’ve worked with for a number of years where the relationship has definitely gone well beyond the boundaries of just coming in for a quick swing tip here and there.”
As he’s returned to teaching, DuChateau has a fresh perspective on the value of his job, which goes beyond the remarkable success of some of his golf students, or the financial bottom line, such as it is.
“I think wealth comes in a lot of different forms,” he said. “I’ve developed a lot of relationships through this, and I have a lot of people that I genuinely care about on a level that goes way beyond a normal teacher-student relationship.”
For DuChateau, that’s the heart of this story.
A lifetime in golf
When he was 6 years old, Doug DuChateau dreamed of winning golf’s Grand Slam. A self-taught golfer, he played at Marist High School and then had a stellar career at the University of Oregon, twice being named to the all-Pac-10 team and winning a college tournament (the 1991 Western Intercollegiate) and amateur titles such as the OGA Stroke Play championship in 1991 and 1993 and the 1992 Pacific Northwest Player’s Championship.
DuChateau turned professional in 1993, won 16 times on various mini-tours and qualified for the 1994 U.S. Open, missing the cut at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania in the tournament in which a 24-year-old Ernie Els prevailed in a playoff over Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie.
Eventually, DuChateau turned to teaching, guided by an approach outlined in a book that he discovered in the summer between Marist and the UO and that provided the cornerstone of fundamentals for his own subsequent career, a highly technical tome titled “The Golfing Machine” by the late Homer Kelley.
The book, which has fostered an international core of teachers, might daunt a physics professor, but DuChateau said the system actually allows him to cater to the unique needs of individual golfers, rather than proscribing a dogmatic approach; his copy of the book is so worn he had to have it re-bound.
“It was the Sears catalogue of things you could do with the golf swing,” he said, and in lessons it allows him to “put Ford parts on a Ford, and Ferrari parts on a Ferrari.”
At his Precision Golf School, which he’s operated since 2007, DuChateau also uses high-tech diagnostic equipment, but his rapport with clients — he has a nucleus of roughly 300, some whom he might not see for a year, others who visit once a week — clearly can’t be measured by a computer.
“I’m very much a struggling golfer,” said Jim Kellerman, a 72-year-old Eugene resident who has taken lessons from DuChateau for about six years. “My lessons with him have been two or three or four a year to try to deal with pretty fundamental flaws. I try to break 100 and I usually do. …
“I think there are two characteristics that draw me back to him. The first is that he listens very carefully. He doesn’t try to impose a canned approach or program. The other thing is that he has kind of an analytical approach to things, and I’m an analytical person. ..
“I think he’s the kind of guy who could work with any kind of golfer. He’s very patient, he’s very positive, he gives very positive feedback.”
Brian Price, a 66-year-old Eugene resident, said he was on the verge of quitting golf because of lower back problems; DuChateau taught him some basic techniques in posture, stance and swing that have enabled him to play without pain.
“He tries to find different ways to get the job done,” Price said, “and I think he works differently with an old dude like me than with some of the really good young players that he teaches.”
One of those really good young players is Chris Polski, 28, who was a member of a state championship team at Sheldon High School in 2005. He once shot a 59 at Shadow Hills and has played professionally. Having recently regained his amateur status, Polski, a 3-handicap, has rededicated himself to golf, and set some long-term competitive goals as an amateur, with DuChateau to guide him.
“He takes a lot of pride in what he does,” Polskk said. “He’s not a cookie-cutter instructor where he’s instructing one type of swing. He cares a lot about his students. He’s such a good player in his own right and it’s nice to be able to bounce ideas and swing thoughts off another good player, because he’s been there. … I mean, he’s played in the U.S. Open.
“He’s really instrumental in my views of the golf swing and how I play the game. I bounce ideas off him all the time.”
In DuChateau, Polski said, he’s found more than simply a swing coach.
“Doug believes a lot in me,” he said. “He couldn’t be more positive toward me and my capability to play golf and it’s kind of infectious. You go to a lesson with Doug and you work on technical, fundamental things, but it’s almost like this psychology session, like you’re with a sports psychologist, building you up and making you feel really good about your game. … He’s a very special person.”
Life-saving and changing
Last November, DuChateau had some skin cancer removed from his nose, and it was during a follow-up appointment in January that his primary-care physician, Dr. Janjan Reforma, suggested that DuChateau’s rising blood pressure and cholesterol levels warranted a visit to a cardiologist. So in April, Chateau met with Dr. David Saenger, who scheduled the angiogram that led to the determination that surgery was necessary.
It all happened so quickly, DuChateau said, that he didn’t have too much time to worry about it. By coincidence, the Roman Catholic had taken the sacrament of Reconciliation as part of Lenten observances.
“There’s sort of a cleansing involved in doing that, because it had been a long time since I’d been,” he said. “I didn’t have anything weighing on my soul, but going through a personal catharsis before (the surgery), I felt I was in a pretty good place.”
His wife, Heidi, a special education teacher, was “a champion.” Their daughter, Alicia, is 13.
“There were no moments of melodrama leading up to it,” he said. “I was definitely at peace with what would happen. The only thing was thinking that ‘I really want to see my daughter grow up.’ That’s the thing I really didn’t want to miss. When you look at it and you think ‘gee whiz, that’s something that might not work out for me,’ that was the hardest thing.”
On April 23, Dr. Paul Koh performed a triple-bypass surgery, taking the radial artery from DuChateau’s left arm and harvesting bits of veins from an upper leg to bypass the clogged arteries around his heart.
“These gentlemen, whether they saved my life or not may be arguable, but they definitely saved my quality of life, because I avoided having a major coronary event, as they call them these days,” DuChateau said of his doctors. “I really averted a tragedy because these gentlemen were all willing to ask a couple extra questions just at the right time.”
Now, three months later, DuChateau is teaching again. He’s hit a pitching wedge 100 yards, but nothing more; his healing chest still makes sleeping at night difficult, and he has sensations of numbness in his left hand, but no motor impairment. He takes medication and goes to cardiac rehab sessions. At 45, he’s the youngest guy in his rehab group by 25 years or so. He’s made major changes in his diet, avoiding red meats and processed foods, adding more vegetables and fruit.
And he’s recognized the stress that he allowed to creep into moments of his life — interestingly, he said, never during lessons — and resolved to manage that better.
“The obsessiveness we think is required when we have high aspirations, it can get a little bit out of hand,” he said. “One of the things that is definitely in the process of evolving for me is the ability to live in the moment more, and appreciate each and every day.”
The golf teacher has also resolved to actually play golf, which he hasn’t done much in recent years as he’s focused on his business. He envisions getting out once a week with his longtime clients, not as a paying lesson, but for the exercise and the camaraderie and the love of the game.
In fact, he notes that the 2016 U.S. Open is back at Oakmont, and he thinks about trying to qualify. This time, it wouldn’t be a quest for a career, but rather an affair of the heart.
Doug DuChateau is director of instruction at Precision Golf School, located at Fiddler’s Green. He can be contacted through the Web site at www.precisiongolfschool.net or by calling 541-284-7992.