golfers

Though our paths crossed many times over the years, I can’t say I was close to Joe Bina or Domenic Foti. I knew them through golf. We had that in common, if little else. They were 93 and 86, respectively, but they never seemed “old” to me and maybe that’s why their deaths, five days apart this month, caught me off-guard.

You should know about them, though, because they left their mark on golf in ways that would otherwise go unrecognized.

Bina, of West Bend, loved the Masters Tournament as much as anyone I’ve ever met. And because of him, dozens of people got to spend the first full week of April at Augusta National.

He and his wife, Betty, put their names on the Masters ticket waiting list in 1970 and got two season badges in 1987. They were there when Larry Mize chipped in on No. 11 that year. They were there when Ben Crenshaw sobbed on the 18th green in ’95, when Greg Norman melted down in ’96, when Tiger Woods stormed to his historic victory in ’97.

Eventually, the Binas decided the Masters experience was too fantastic not to share, and they started inviting other couples to join them. The couples took turns using the badges, trading off on alternate days. After Betty stopped attending the Masters in 1999, it was Joe and three golf buddies.

Bina’s guests paid face value for the tickets and split expenses with him. He wouldn’t think of allowing them to pay for his meals or hotel room, or to slip him an extra $100 for the tickets. That would have been unconscionable.

Over the years, more than 60 people experienced the Masters because of Joe.

When I wrote about him in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2013, I asked him what he got out of it.

“The joy of watching them and being with them when they first walk in,” he said. “They’re like kids in a candy store. It’s so much fun for me watching their enjoyment. That’s my reward.”

After I wrote that story, Joe and I got together for lunch once a year. He stopped attending the Masters a few years back, when it became too difficult for him to walk Augusta National. Once, on his way to visit me at the media center, he took a spill and was embarrassed at the fuss people made over him.

Every time we met, though, he told me he was trying to strengthen his legs so he could go back.

Joseph R. Bina Jr., a World War II veteran and an Honor Flight participant in 2011, died Oct. 20.

I knew Domenic Foti through the Kettle Hills Senior Golf League, which he ran. About a dozen years ago, he invited me to be the guest speaker at the club’s annual pre-season breakfast.

He invited me back the next year, and the year after that. Every January, I’d get a hand-written letter from Domenic asking me to speak again. Every year, I’d say, “Aren’t you guys getting tired of me? Are you sure you don’t want someone else?”

“The guys like your stories,” he’d say, and that was that.

In lieu of a speaking fee, Dom treated me to breakfast every year. That was our unspoken arrangement. I’d get up and talk to the same 50 or 60 club members for 20 minutes, take a few questions, and then wouldn’t see Dom or the guys for another year. I came to really enjoy that morning. Never mind the melting snow or the first robin sighting – to me, Dom’s beaming smile was the first sign of spring.

Domenic Salvatore Foti, of Cedarburg, died last Friday.

I never played golf with Joe or Dom, never even saw them swing a club.

But I knew they loved the game. That was good enough for me.

I’ll miss them.

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