PGA club golfer Chip Sullivanwas as ecstatic as every other die-hard Saints fan on Feb. 7, when his beloved hometown team accomplished what for so long seemed unthinkable, a New Orleans' win in Super Bowl XLIV.
He attended the NFC Championship game with his wife Kari and experienced the postgame celebration in the French Quarter. The couple each has the phrase "Who Dat" on their license plate and Chip wears a Titleist custom-made Saints hat while playing golf.
Sullivan, a Covington, La. native, grew up a Saints fan and attended games from the late 1970's to 1990 with his father who had season tickets. The Ole Miss alum's favorite player was fellow Ole Miss grad, Archie Manning.
Sullivan couldn't believe the team he grew up watching in Tulane Stadium had won the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
However, Sullivan's Super Bowl euphoria was short lived as he was dealt two of life's toughest blows two months later.
On April 10, Chip's mother, Pat, passed away at the age of 79 after a long battle with cancer. While driving from his Virginia home to attend his mother's funeral in Madisonville, La., he stopped in Charlotte, N.C. to tell his dad the news, who had divorced Pat in 1990.
"I felt I needed to tell him in person because, although they were separated, they were still close," said Sullivan. "He took the news very hard. He struggled to deal with it."
When Sullivan left his dad's house on April 15 to head to his mom's funeral, his world turned upside yet again. He received a call just a few hours after hitting the road saying that his father had passed due to a heart condition. He was 86 years old.
"I believe the news of my mom's death was detrimental to his passing," said Sullivan. "It is something we all have to go through, but to lose both your parents in this same week…. It was a tough time."
The PGA golfer is getting back on the course for the first time since his parents passing this weekend on one of golf's biggest stages – the PGA Championship.
This isn't the first time Sullivan has dealt with a personal tragedy while on tour.
Through the first few years of Sullivan's career, he struggled to make his mark on the PGA Tour.
Sullivan got his chance to shine in the 2004 PGA Championships at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis. Midway through the event, Sullivan was notified with some heartbreaking news – his sister, Kerry, was critically ill at a New Orleans Hospital.
Chip planned to leave the event to be with Kerry, but she wanted him to stay at Whistling Straits. She knew how big of a stage this was for her brother.
"They told me, if you want to see your sister alive, you need to come back now,'" said Sullivan. "I called her to check on everything and she made it clear she wanted me to stay and play. She said she wanted to see me play into the weekend and make the cut."
Not only was his sister gravely ill, but his wife was back home in Virginia, a week away from delivering their third child and first son, Colby.
Knowing his sister and wife were utilizing his play as support, Sullivan not only granted his sister's wish, but he posted a final score of 287, which was the first under-par finish by a club professional since 1969.
"Making a cut in a major and the reception I received all week from fans, it's been tremendous," said Sullivan to PGATour.com following the tournament. "I'll cherish the moment for the rest of my life. I pulled off a slew of so many good shots in my round today, even though I was only 1-under, I felt like I was 8-under or 10-under for the day."
The historic accomplishment was bittersweet for Chip, as Kerry lost her battle with liver disease the next day. She was 45 years old.
In 2006 when Hurricane Katrina hit, Sullivan was living in Virginia and his mother Pat was still back in his hometown of Covington, La. Not able to reach his mom, Sullivan packed a bunch of non-perishable goods, a chain saw, extra containers of gasoline, plenty bottles of water and left Troutville, Va. en route to find his mother and help those in his old neighborhood of Tchefuncta Country Club.
Chip and Kari found Pat, and despite some dehydration, she was fine. Once they realized their family members were in good health, they headed back to Virginia. On the way back home, the Sullivans stopped in Hattiesburg, Miss. and helped their friend Ron Hickman, the general manager of Timberton Golf Club. Hickman's club had endured $100,000 in damage due to the storm. The Sullivans helped Hickman with chopping down trees, cleaning and reorganizing the club.
Still looking to contribute to the relief effort, the die-hard Saints fans spearheaded a fundraising campaign featuring gold awareness bracelets with a "Saints go Marching In" inscription on them. All proceeds went to the North Shore Pelican Foundation.
The next year, adversity struck Sullivan again. At the start of 2007, he was diagnosed with hemochromatosis, a disorder that interferes with the body's ability to break down iron, and results in too much iron being absorbed - the same disease that led to his sister's passing. The disorder ended up killing his pancreas, which forced Sullivan to become a diabetic.
"When I was diagnosed, all I cared about was getting healthy," said Sullivan. "Golf wasn't an issue. I could only focus on my health."
Sullivan wasn't even sure if he would play professional golf again. He didn't touch a golf club for three months following the diagnosis. Sullivan was determined not to let the disorder slow his career down, however, and he got back on the course in April. Just two months later, he was at the 40th PGA Professional National Championship at the Sunriver Resort to qualify for the 2010 PGA Championship.
The 2010 PGA Championship takes place this weekend (Aug. 12–15) at the Straits Course of the Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis. the same site of Sullivan's emotional 2004 finish at the event.
Sullivan hopes to take the same strength and determination he held through the 2004 PGA Championship when dealing with his dying sister.
"My parents had lived a good life," said Sullivan. "I miss them, but I know they would want me to stick with it and I will – I am playing for them."
Sullivan says through each personal tragedy he has lived by the Saints 2009 motto "Finish Strong." When he needs a source of inspiration, he looks no further than the black and gold.
"Through these times, I have used the Saints as motivation," said Sullivan. "With all this state has been through, they still found ways to help and overcome it. They have taught me how to be at your best when adversity strikes the worst. I have used that to fight through my health issues and the deaths in my family and still find a way to come out on top."
Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, touched by Sullivan's journey, sent an email of encouragment to the golfer this week.
Saints head coach Sean Payton has used the motto "Our Time" for this season. Coach says "Our Time" represents trying to take advantage of their opportunity as the only team able to repeat as champions this year.
Although the 45-year-old golfer is grieving a person's toughest losses, his indomitable spirit and tremendous drive leaves no reason to believe the 2010 PGA Championship isn't "His Time."