A chance meeting with Senior PGA Championship winner Alex Cejka

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File photo of Alex Cejka after winning the 2015 Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour. Since then, Cejka has won twice on the PGA Tour Champions, the latest triumph being the Senior PGA Championship last Sunday. (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
As the saying goes, there is a time for everything, and the realisation why this interview with Sunday’s Senior PGA Championship winner Alex Cejka stayed unpublished all these years has dawned. There could not have been a better time to share Cejka’s bone-chilling account of survival, making the PGA Tour, winning on the world’s toughest golf tour, and rebooting at 50 and succeeding twice in quick succession on the PGA Tour Champions.

This was long before thegolfinghub was born. I was in Kuala Lumpur for the 2015 CIMB Classic, at that time one of the two PGA Tour events in Asia. A day before tee-off at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (now TPC KL), I happened to run into Alex Cejka at the practice area and stopped to watch him sink putts with unfailing regularity. Noticing my presence, Alex smiled and waved, and that was incentive enough to seek an interview.

The amiable golfer agreed but not before he was done with practice. A firm handshake, and the stocky German went about sharing a life tale that left me shaking, and I noticed had moved him too after all these years.

Freedom or persecution meant little to Cejka at nine. In 1979, when his father decided to escape the “excesses” of the Communist regime in erstwhile Czechoslovakia, the little boy was told they were “going on a trip” to (West) Germany, now home to the family.

Even after all these years, “there are certain things he still doesn’t want to talk about”, but what the 2015 Puerto Rico Open winner on the PGA Tour shared is that it was a brush with death.

The father-son duo was based in Marienbad, very close to the German border, but it took them three weeks to reach Frankfurt. “It was unimaginable that the Berlin Wall would come down,” so armed with nothing but courage, Cejka Sr set off with his son. Survival was in question as they had no money and English was an alien language.

For the risks they encountered, Cejka folds his hands in gratitude. “Hats off to father for risking his life so that I could be better off.”

There were times when it seemed they would not make it. During one of the numerous instances when the two swam a river, a police party peppered the water with machine gun fire, and they had to stay underneath to dodge certain death.

From scaling walls to jumping fences, travelling long distances on foot, train and hitching rides, it was a detour to avoid capture as they touched Yugoslavia, Italy and Switzerland before touching base.

A screening on the Berlin Wall in 2014 had memories flooding back. “An elderly gentleman came out emotional, and I shared what I felt. He refused to believe that we had survived despite all that,” said Cejka.

Some of the events are but a blur, but they certainly shaped the man Cejka is. Not only has he raised his children in a way that they “don’t take life for granted”, he has another incident to thank his father for.

“I was 18 when dad said the money was exhausted and that I should start earning.”

Golf happened, and Cejka, then 44, had his name up on the PGA Tour’s roll of honour after the week in Puerto Rico.

From then till now Cejka has again had his share on struggles on the golf course, but perseverance is a trait engrained in Cejka and the two titles in quick succession on the senior tour are proof that the fire in the belly still burns bright.

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