Sunny outlook brightens Knight’s melanoma fright

It was 10 a.m. Saturday, and instead of strolling the par 5s at the Grandover Resort East Course in Greensboro, N.C., urging his young UNLV men’s golf team to get up and down and back in the hunt for another NCAA championship, Dwaine Knight was out front of his townhome in Spanish Trail, flagging down a sports writer who had gotten lost in the deep rough, among the cul-de-sacs and switchbacks and wrought-iron gates.

The coach was hobbling, his right foot encased in a protective boot. Though the Rebels were scuffling, he was smiling.

He was smiling because that is what Dwaine Knight does. This is one of the happiest souls walking the planet.

He also was smiling because inside that protective boot there was a hole on the top of his foot where on April 25 there had been only a blemish, which turned out to be a moderate lesion, which turned out to be a malignant melanoma, which can kill you – and kill you fast – if left unchecked.

But they had caught it early. And so Dwaine Knight was smiling even more than usual.

"Caught it early" is to a melanoma patient what "5-under-67" is to a touring pro protecting a 3-shot lead. So when Debbie Knight, Dwaine’s wife, suggested he have the lesion checked out that day, he had it checked out that day. The original plan was to let it fester until July, until after the end of the college golf season.

The delicate surgery took parts of three days.

They wheeled the 64-year-old coach into the operating room at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego on May 6, two days after the Rebels tied for third in the Mountain West Conference championships in Tucson, Ariz.

So that explains why Dwaine was sitting at the kitchen table with his foot in a boot and elevated, and Debbie was shouting at her laptop computer as the names of UNLV golfers flashed up and down the screen as their scores were updated – not nearly fast enough for the coach’s wife, who had been shouting at her laptop since 6 a.m.

Dwaine had spent much of the morning in the parlor, watching golf on TV.

Some Rebels of the past were flashing up and down the screen at the Byron Nelson Championship while the present ones were trying to regroup from a tough day Friday, when they had tumbled from third in the NCAA regional to 10th in a 14-team field.

Only the top five teams would qualify for the NCAA championships in Los Angeles.

Debbie kept wandering into the parlor to ask if her husband wanted a scoring update from North Carolina. He politely told her no. She told him anyway.

She didn’t have to.

Dwaine could tell every time Derek Ernst or Kevin Penner or Blake Biddle or Carl Jonson or Kurt Kitayama made a birdie – or didn’t read the break – by the expression on his wife’s face. Not a poker player, this one.

Debbie Knight hails from East Sussex County in southeast England, from a charming seaside village at the confluence of the Celtic and North Seas called Bexhill.

Bexhill is known as the birthplace of British motor racing, and also as the birthplace of an esteemed American college golf coach’s spouse who spends most of springtime shouting at her laptop.

She also kept insisting that a reporter and a photographer try one of the little apple things among the myriad other pastries she had arranged on a dessert tray.

With her being from England, I am sure the proper name for these confections was more formal  than "little apple thing." Probably some sort of crumpet or tart derivative.

As Debbie continued to shout encouragement at her laptop, her husband said one never wants to hear the words "malignant" and "melanoma" used in concert by a dermatologist.

But so far, so good. He was fortunate.

They caught it early.

Also caught early, before they could become virulent, were sunbaked areas under the coach’s right eye and below his left shoulder. These also were cut out and remedied with lots of sutures and a steady hand at plastic surgery.

The young Rebels, ranked No. 9 in the nation, rallied Saturday to finish eighth. They missed the top five by 10 shots and will not get a chance to earn the school’s second national golf title.  

Dwaine Knight said he was disappointed.

Debbie Knight was finally successful in getting a couple of newspapermen to sample the little apple things. They were scrumptious.

"What do you call these?" she was asked.

"Little apple things," she said.

Debbie had planned to serve them with a chilled bottle of champagne, had UNLV qualified for nationals.

But the champagne and the young Rebels will have to wait another day.

So, too, will Debbie’s husband, but that’s a good thing, all the more reason you need to catch these things early.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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