By Joe Hobby
For me, the U.S. Open’s final round should almost always be on Father’s Day. That’s because I think of my dad every year when golf season begins. He taught me how to play this maddening game. I still don’t know whether to thank him or curse him for introducing me to a sport that is so humbling, frustrating, and difficult. But he did. It had to happen; my dad didn’t do anything else. He didn’t hunt or fish and was certainly not a handyman. My mom used to say that if she saw dad with a screwdriver in his hands, she would stop what she was doing and follow him because he was about to break something.
But the man could play golf. He learned the game as a kid at a nine-hole course in North Birmingham. As a result, he developed a passion for the sport that was unrivaled. I remember sitting with him in the clubhouse in the middle of February until the course had thawed out enough for us to play that my friend is passion. Or stupidity. Or a little of both.
He was a skilled player with a decent swing, even though he was shot in the elbow at the Battle of the Bulge. Dad even carried a 1-iron. For those who don’t know, this is the most challenging club for any golfer to hit. Lee Trevino put it best when he said, “If you are caught on a golf course during a lightning storm, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.” But my father could. He had prowess with this club. Unlike most golfers, he had no fear of a 1-iron. So, naturally, I didn’t fear it either. In fact, from my teens until my fifties, you could always find a 1-iron in my bag.
Growing up, we played with my mother frequently on summer afternoons, who was also smitten with the game. I still laugh when I think about when my dad picked up a grasshopper off the putting green and flipped it on mom. It stuck to her Ban-Lon blouse like a piece of Velcro. I’m pretty sure her screams were heard three counties over.
As I got older, I was occasionally invited to play in dad’s Saturday morning game. Not a lot of cash on the line, but a lot of pride. We almost always played on opposite teams because there was no way I could live in our house if I missed a putt to lose a match with dad as my partner. As a result, I could fully expect to be the brunt of his formidable gamesmanship skills. He rained heckles and taunts down on me, especially if the shot was meaningful. It was all about winning. We absolutely hated to lose to each other. Consequently, nothing sweeter than beating my old man out of a few bucks. I poured alcohol on the wound by refusing to take his money, saying something like,” Don’t worry about it; we’ll settle up later.”
In his later years, an infection from a knee replacement ended dad’s playing days. Eventually, it cost him his leg. Finally, it cost him his life. Looking back, I know that something in him died when he gave up the game. Something died in me too. It was special sharing golf with him, and now it was gone.
A couple of weeks after he passed away, I knew what I had to do. It was time to give dad a personal tribute I’d planned for a while.
I went to my golf bag and dug into a pocket usually reserved for Advil, Band-Aids, and protein bars. There they were – a sleeve of three brand new Titleist golf balls, my father’s favorite brand. I pulled out a Sharpie and wrote: “Thanks, dad” on each one. Then I looked around our basement until I found a specific old club, tossed it in my car, and headed for the course of my youth. It was a quiet, reflective drive.
After about half an hour, I turned onto the road that led to the clubhouse. What a lovely autumn afternoon it was. The air was dry and comfortably warm – after all, it was mid-October in Alabama. The leaves had not turned, but you could see slight traces of crimson and yellow. Their technicolor show was still a few weeks away.
I grabbed the club and balls, then headed out from the parking lot to the 18th tee. Even though the sun was setting, there was enough light for what I had to do. It seemed especially quiet as if nature was showing respect for the occasion.
I teed up the first ball and took a couple of practice swings. Then facing the large lake that flanked the tee and fairway, I said, “This is for you, dad,” and hit the first ball with his 1-iron.
What a lousy shot it was. It probably flew no more than 150 yards, then skipped a couple of times and plopped into the water. Ugh.
The second shot was better but didn’t come close to the high standard I had set for myself on this day.
This left one more ball. One more swing. One more chance to hit a golf shot that I desperately wanted to hit well. I took a deep breath, focused intently, and made a long, fluid swing. I nailed it. The Titleist solidly hit the center of the club face and leaped into the fading light. I held my follow-through until it splashed and disappeared in the water.
I stood silently on the tee for a few moments and let the memories and the pain of my loss wash over me. I knew it was the right thing to do. I knew my dad would approve. So, finally, I dried my tears, walked back to my car, and drove home, feeling like his death had lost some of its stings.
I’m sure dad’s golfing on two legs now, certainly on a much nicer course than I play on. Happy Father’s Day, old man. We’ll be playing again before you know it.
Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: https://mylifeasahobby.blogspot.com/?m=1. Also, follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian- Writer.