T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
McNeill learns of sister's death moments after 9-under 61
In a matter of minutes on Sunday, George McNeill experienced the highest of highs professionally and the lowest of lows personally.
First, McNeill began the final round of the Greenbrier Classic trailing leader Billy Hurley III by seven shots then went out and fired a 9-under 61 in the final round with a stretch that -- beginning on the fourth hole -- went birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, hole-in-one. That's right -- 6 under in a five-hole stretch.
McNeill grabbed the clubhouse lead and would have to wait to see if that lead would hold and he'd win, if it would be close but no cigar, or if he was headed to a playoff.
After the round, CBS analyst grabbed McNeill for an interview that was brief, yet revealing for the man who had just recorded his lowest ever round on the PGA Tour.
"I know it's really difficult, and I will not press the issue with you," Kostis said. "But sometimes perspective comes in different forms, doesn't it?"
McNeill was choked up.
"It does," said the 38-year-old, two-time PGA Tour winner. "Yeah, you go out and, you know, golf doesn't really mean a whole lot. So it's hard. I played good today. And got finished, and you know, it was a nice middle part of the round. And so like I said, you know, golf doesn't mean a whole lot sometimes."
That's where the lowest of lows come into play.
George McNeill called his family back home in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday morning, prior to competing in the final round of The Greenbrier Classic.
This had become a regular ritual, continuously checking in with them to receive an updated status report on Michele, the oldest of five McNeill siblings.
Only 46, Michele wasn’t doing well.
Two years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. It was a lengthy battle, but eventually doctors offered some good news. She was finally cancer-free.
But, as Sobel wrote, last November Michele began having trouble with her speech. Doctors found a tumor on her brain and performed surgery to remove it.
About a month and a half ago, Sobel reported, the cancer had spread throughout her brain, in her spinal fluid and spine. After a few days, Michele was paralyzed from the waist down and spent the last few weeks in a wheelchair.
Needless to say, McNeill knew the end was near for his sister.
Little did he know, however, that when he did that post-round interview with Kostis, his big sister was already gone.
Michele died at 11:35 a.m. on Sunday, 20 minutes before McNeill's tee time.
Again, McNeill didn't know what had transpired until after his round. Sobel asked, how, under such awful circumstances, was he able to maintain focus and turn in his best score on Tour to date.
"I don't know... I really don't know," he told Sobel said. "I'd be over a putt and she's going through my head.
"Maybe it was good that I had something else in my thought. I knew what I was doing, I was aware of what I was doing, but it really wasn't the first and foremost thing that I was concentrating on."
McNeill would finish the tournament alone in second place. Understandably, you've never seen a person less outwardly enthusiastic about having a hole-in-one, shooting a 61 and finishing second all on the same day.
What a tough, tough day for the McNeill family.