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Scott Verplank says he owes his life to his sister-in-law Fran Pruitt, wife of PGA TOUR player Dillard Pruitt, who passed away Thursday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Verplank plays through pain of losing loving sister-in-law

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Scott Verplank wanted to pull out of the Open Championship and be with his grieving family. But they urged him to stay and play, because that's what Fran Pruitt, his sister-in-law and wife of PGA TOUR player Dillard Pruitt, would have wanted.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

SOUTHPORT, England -- Scott Verplank teased Fran Pruitt for years that she needed to set him up with one of her friends.

She was so cool. So pretty. The entire package. Her husband was one of his best friends. She had to know someone for him.

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Finally, she broke down and introduced him to her little sister Kim.

"It only took her four years," Verplank smiled, "to figure out I was ok."

He paused.

"She's a special person in my life."

He told the story Friday afternoon with a hole in his heart. He had played his second round for her -- and Kim and Fran's husband Dillard and the entire family. He wanted to give them something to smile about for a few minutes, something to lighten the load.

He knew before he called his wife Kim around 7 p.m. that Fran had passed away after a long battle with cystic fibrosis. Her kidneys had shut down. The damage, he said, was irreversible.

"I wanted to go home Wednesday night when Kim called and said the doctor said she wasn't going to make it," Verplank said. "I talked to her and to Dillard and they said no, stay. Do your best. That's what Fran would have wanted."

He paused again.

"Kim said she got a text from a friend that was the only smile she had all that -- that I was playing well and she saw (their 16-year-old son) Scottie on TV. That was the only bright spot of the day."

Verplank has grieved these last few days long distance. A tough man who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 9 and refused to let it dictate his career, a man who has undergone three elbow surgeries and lives with a cranky shoulder, a man who has endured more highs and rock-bottom lows than most, let the tears flow. He's cried with Kim and Dillard. He and Scottie, the oldest of their four children, and caddie Scott Tway have been each other's rocks.

It's been a long five months, he said, for the family, which also includes Dillard's sister and brother-in-law Jay and Jan Haas. Fran had been admitted in hopes of a double lung transplant that never materialized.

She passed away peacefully with family around her.

"I talked to Dillard last night and like he said, for him to be feeling pain and her not was a good trade," Verplank said, "cause that's all she's been doing is being in pain -- particularly the last five months."

That they knew Friday was coming didn't matter. No matter how much you prepare for the inevitable, you're still numb when that moment arrives.

It's been on Verplank's mind, the only respite coming from having to battle Royal Birkdale's wind and rain. Focusing on that, on a chance to put a smile on those faces back home and put himself into contention at another major kept him going.

A third-round 78 -- on a day when par was closer to 75 -- knocked him too far back.

"Today was pretty hard playing golf, regardless of what's going on around you," he said. "I wish I would have played better. I had a chance to be in the thick of things."

Instead, he'll finish out this 137th Open Championship and fly back to the States for Wednesday's service -- one that will be sad, yes, but it will also be a celebration of that beautiful girl he bugged for so many years.

"I owe her so much," Verplank said with a smile. "I owe her for my life."

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