It is on this late Sunday afternoon in June, Father’s Day and the last day of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Shinnecock Hills in New York, that I am reminded of how much my father loved the game of golf. It was not unusual to find him in the backyard hitting practice balls, made of plastic, hitting ball, after ball, after ball. He used real balls at times, but after he accidentally hit me in the calf with a line drive, he switched to plastic balls which rather floated in the air and never went very far or with much force.
I don’t remember exactly when Daddy started to play golf, but his first set of clubs was a hand-me-down set from an acquaintance. His love for golf exploded and after that, anything related to golf was a great gift choice for Father’s Day. He never had the luxury of belonging to a private club where caddies were hired to carry bags, or battery-operated carts were used to take the players around the golf course. His children, my siblings, were his caddies-from oldest to youngest. At one time or another all of us had the pleasure or charge of carrying his bag, walking alongside of him at almost every public golf course in town. No carts, no hired caddies. Just his kids and his golf buddies.
We knew all his golf buddies and were entertained by stories about their rounds. One was a terrible cheat, according to Daddy. Another was a terrible golfer and always asked for a Mulligan. The ones that were better than him, were respected. He tried to teach Mother how to play but that didn’t work out too well. She wasn’t very good at the game and preferred to be playing bridge while he played golf.
I was probably 9 or 10 the first time I went with him to the golf course. I didn’t really have to “carry” his bag as he used one of the hand carts for his clubs, but I got to pull out the club he asked for, or hand him a ball, or replace a tee that had been destroyed by the previous shot. When we were out in the middle of the golf course, away from curious eyes, he would throw out a spare ball and let me hit it, providing instruction and guidance along the way. He taught me how to hold a club. He taught me how to putt. He taught me how to clean my balls packed with mud and dirt, and he taught me how to play fair and square.
Years later, my father suffered a devastating stroke and never played another round of golf again. It was around the time that Curtis Strange-not a relative-earned his back-to-back win at the U.S. Open. Even though Daddy never played another round of golf, he never quit trying to hit golf balls in the backyard. He certainly couldn’t hit the ball as far, but he did a pretty good job of it in spite of his disability, holding the club in his left hand.
Today, Sissy and I play golf at a par 3 course close to her home in southwest Florida. She uses a hodge-podge set of clubs that she bought at a pawn shop several years ago. I have a real set of clubs, golf shoes and a golf glove. We don’t actually play a full round of golf, nor totally adhere to the real rules of golf. We play best ball and end up not counting beyond 10 if things get really bad. The course has multiple water hazards and we joke about how many balls we lose in those man-made ponds. Sissy usually drinks bourbon, while I’ll have a vodka or a beer. We try to make friends with every other golfer on the course that day, joking about our golf game. Most of them want to join in our reverie.
When I tell people that I love to watch golf on a late Sunday afternoon the response I most often get is “Golf is so boring on TV.” I couldn’t disagree more with that sentiment. To me, it is calm and relaxing and allows a wind-down from the weekend’s activities. It reminds that there are gentlemen in this world who are honorable and kind, and win their reputations through hard work and perseverance.
It has been thirteen years since I lost my father and on every Father’s Day I try to find some way to honor him. Today I went to a driving range, at a public golf course, and hit a bucket of balls. I put on my golf glove, intertwined my fingers exactly the way he taught me, and kept my eye on the ball as I followed the motion of my swing in my shadow.
My golf game? I can hit a nice 8 iron and putt fairly well. A hybrid is my favorite club, and I am still working on perfecting my drive with my Big Bertha.
After the bucket was empty, I went home, and watched the last round of this year’s U.S. Open.
Congratulations Brooks Koepka and “Happy Father’s Day” to fathers everywhere. Take your kids with you to the golf course, if you can. It will place you in the category as one of golf’s greats.
To the greatest golfer I knew-Allen Reid Strange