This Sunday I’ll get to celebrate Father’s Day out at Congressional Country Club watching the final day of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. I’ve been a fan of golf since I was a kid – a love for the sport instilled by my father. As I lounge on the hill over-looking the lake that separates the 18th green and the 10th green – the signature holes of Congressional – I’ll take some time to appreciate my father.
My dad passed away just over a year ago – just shy of his 65th birthday. As long as I can remember, he loved to play golf. This morning as I was thinking about Fathers Day, it dawned on me that his passion for the game was inspired by his father-in-law and not his own dad.
I cannot recall his dad ever owning, let alone touching a golf club. Golf back in the early part of the last century was not a poor man’s sport and my grandfather Jesse was not a wealthy man. His sport growing up was baseball and, despite losing an eye in his childhood to an “errant” arrow shot by his brother, he continued to play and later coach his own son.
My dad was a damn good baseball player and after high school he played minor league ball for the Dodgers before giving up the game and starting his own family. He probably never touched a golf club until introduced to the sport by my mom’s father.
His first time on the links, my grandfather beat him to a pulp. Ever the competitor, with a strong sports-ego, my dad vowed to get good enough at this game of golf to beat this “old man.” Growing up, I don’t recall ever hearing a victory crow from my father after a day on the course with my grandfather.
Unlike his father, my dad introduced me to the game at an early age. As he upgraded his equipment, the old clubs were passed to me. If the club was too long, he would saw off the tops of the club to better fit my height.
It dawned on me, as I began to write this, that despite our common love for the game, it was a rare occasion that we ever played together. There were a couple times I remember as a kid actually playing a round of golf with my dad. By the time I was teenager I would normally play with my friends while he would play with his golfing partners and we would compare experiences afterwards.
After I left home for college followed by the Army, I can’t recall ever playing with him again although we both continued to play regularly.
What we didn’t share on the course, we shared in lengthy conversations. Rounds of golf were often followed by sharing the experience in telephone conversations. “How are you doing?” was quickly followed by “Have you played golf lately?” Major golf tournaments, like the U.S. Open, were immediately followed by telephone calls to discuss what we had each just seen, on different televisions in different states. Sometimes we would call as the leaders were coming in on the back nine to “share” the experience over the phone.
My dad loved Jack Nicklaus – the young, brash “kid” that he could identify with as he was growing up. I too shared his admiration for the greatest golfer of all time – a title he may forever hold despite being threatened for a stretch by Tiger Woods. When Jack won the 1986 Masters (at an age a year older than I am now I might add), my dad and I were both on cloud nine and talked about that victory over the years.
As I reflect on my dad as this Father’s Day approaches I’ve come to realize just how important golf was to our relationship – especially as I moved into adulthood and fatherhood in my own right. So it is only appropriate that I’ll spend this Sunday at the U.S. Open and have a chance to remember my dad and our common love for the game.