If you think back, way back, to when you first picked up a club, chances are you weren’t alone. Chances are someone in particular was there, a guide, a teacher, someone who wrapped your palms around the grip, who told you to keep your left arm straight, your head down, who tweaked your setup and stepped back in silence to watch you let it go.
Playing with Pops
For me, like so many others I’m sure, my guide was Dad, a self-taught, not-generally-all-that-great player, but a guy who loved to play, who gave the game to his three sons at early ages as something to be shared, a “natural foursome,” a pastime, a ritual.
As hard as it is for me to comprehend, even three years later, Dad is gone now – taken too soon and too quickly by leukemia. But when I think back, when I scan over all of the life and times we shared, some of the happiest memories are of the four of us out there on the course, a father and his three boys, just playing.
Each swing is every swing
“What’s so hard about this game?” he’d say, beaming with pride after sinking crazy long (ahem, lucky) putts with his Arnold Palmer flat stick. I still think of the time he tried the ole putter-flip pickup and wound up chasing his ball clear off the green and 20 yards back down the fairway. We laughed too hard that day.
Or when one of us was blind with fury battling the shanks, he would pause during his address and say, “You know what? I think I figured it out.” We’d pause and listen close, because that’s what we always did with him, and he’d say softly, “It’s all about the shoulder turn,” as if this was life’s great secret, as if he hadn’t said that same thing a hundred times before.
There’s something to looking back like that. I think the game of golf lends itself to memory, to applying what we’ve learned from every swing on every hole during every round we’ve ever played. Each swing we take summons every swing we’ve ever taken; each putt is every putt. And yet still entirely new.
The game is a gift
I’m not going to wax poetic on golf being just like life – although there’s something to it. But Dad gave us more than I could ever express, all those habits and wisdom that I think about and draw upon every single day, one of the greatest being the game of golf.
We still gather and play, my brothers and me, even now without him, even now when every round and shot and ball flip summons memories of him, solidifies his absence in our lives. It’s something we cherish, not the handicaps or the scores, but that time together on the course, outside under the sun, across the freshly mown grass — it’s something we think about, constantly, just waiting for the next tee time.
A day for dads
And that’s what makes this weekend special, the U.S. Open’s final round on Father’s Day, an annual confluence of events that just makes sense for those of us who play because of pops. Every player in the Open has their father on their minds as they battle one of the toughest fields on one of the world’s toughest courses, playing either to make him proud, prove him wrong, honor his memory, or all of these at once.
Justin Rose lost his father and coach, Ken, to leukemia back in 2002, and after last year’s Father’s Day final round at Merion, he hoisted the trophy, welled up with tears, and pointed to the sky. “I couldn’t help but look up to the heavens,” Rose said after winning, “because my dad Ken had something to do with it.”
Whoever wins this Sunday, whatever the day brings you, chances are your mind will be filled with thoughts of dad, whether you’re blessed enough to still have him or you’re charged with remembering.
Me? I’ll think about him, about my Dad. I think about him every day. I’m thankful for every moment with him, every word and every silence, every laugh and every lesson. I’m thankful for the gift of golf, every round we’ve ever played and every round to come.
Because there’s something in that, in thinking back, way back, in that stillness before we turn our shoulders, before we trust the moment and let it go.
It’s that pastime, that ritual. It’s a gift, one my Dad gave to his kids to keep them close, and one I can’t wait to give to mine.