My brother Bret died on December 15th. In my teens and early twenties I was my dad's main partner on the course, but after that Bret filled that role. My dad misses him in many ways. Here are some words from former teammate and head pro at A.L. Gustin in Columbia, Jim Knoesel,
"As for stories, the one that will stick out in my mind always about Bret is from the Phil Cotton a couple years ago (2011 I believe). No one in the state of Missouri over 50 was playing better golf than Jeff Johnson. He had won every senior event that year coming into the Cotton. He ended up winning the Cotton as well, but Bret hung with him the entire second round while playing together in the final group. Jeff had to make a breaking eight foot putt on #18 for par to seal the win. I was out there watching quite a bit of that last nine and Bret played some great golf. He made three or four 8-15 foot putts and kept Jeff uncomfortable the entire time. It was great golf by them both and really fun to watch. Bret was a hell of a competitor that day and played some really impressive golf. He had no back up in him that afternoon and I will always remember that about him."
That's Bret and his daughter Amy above. And today is my dad's 77th birthday. Happy birthday just doesn't seem to cut it this year. So with nothing better to say, "Here is to your Red Grange birthday, dad. I love you."
Happy 76th Dad! That's us above on the 12th at Ute Creek in Longmont this fall. We walked all 18. He's tough to keep up with.
Happy 3/4 century Dad!!
One year my wife wrote a tribute to her dad as cancer was in the process of doing it's thing on him. I wrote this one (and post it each year) to my father remembering all the time we spent together playing golf and competing in golf tournaments. He is 74 today. Happy birthday, Dad.
12.24.10 Happy Birthday Dad.
12.24.09 Happy Birthday Dad.
That's him out of the front bunker on 18 at Pebble Beach last March (actually March 05) with Stillwater Cove in the background.
My Dad's birthday is December 24th. It's kinda hard to have a real special birthday when that guy named Jesus also had one the next day every year. :) I gave this to my dad on Father's Day this year. Thanks Dad. Happy Birthday.
How Me and Seve whooped Wally and the Barefoot Boy: A tribute to my father
It was a gorgeous early June day near the Rocky Mountain foothills. I enjoyed the crispness of the air, the lack of humidity and the southern big sky view from my back deck. I thought it made a great day for grilling and wanted something top of the line so I headed to Tony’s Specialty Meats. At Tony’s I looked through the glass at swordfish, crab, salmon and continued moving to my left to the beef. I saw the Filet Mignon. $14.99 per lb. I gasped.
In the early eighties, my dad and I used to win filets playing in golf tournaments in Boonville, Missouri. They came in boxes of twenty. You won four boxes per person for 1st, three for 2nd, two for 3rd, one for 4th and maybe a dozen balls for 5th. I gasped at the price of filets in Tony’s because my wife and I used to use those filets for stew meat! In our twenties, in our naiveté, we were living the high life in our little rented red house on a slab.
Usually the primary competition from Boonville consisted of Wally and the Barefoot Boy. Wally was a forty-something, portly, pear-shaped man who liked his bourbon and coke when he played. He was easy going with a fluid, smooth golf swing.
The Barefoot Boy was a little younger and taller and shoeless and scarier. He was about 6’5” and strong. Imagine Hulk Hogan, his Fu-Manchu, with brown hair and dark prescription sunglasses. That was the Barefoot Boy. The Barefoot Boy put the F-U in Fu-Manchu. His drink of choice was Miller beer in 8 oz., pony size bottles. At some point the men in Boonville got tired of getting their butts kicked by him on the golf course so they passed a rule that shoes had to be worn by all players. He got the thinnest pair of moccasins he could find and kept on playing. Wally and the Barefoot Boy were both generally good company to tour the greens.
On this particular May afternoon we teed off at the first hole on the second and final day of this 2-man scramble tied or near the lead with Wally and the Barefoot Boy and Dee and Doc, also from Columbia. The course sits in a little bowl. Highway 5 runs along and above the 9th hole and borders the east. Kemper Military Academy sits above the 2nd green and 3rd tee on the north, woods and the old MKT railroad border the 7th on the west and an open field was behind the 7th and to the right of the 8th going up a hill. The rest of the course was more in the bottom of the bowl. After the first nine on this nine-hole course we were a shot down to Wally and the Barefoot Boy.
We teed off on the short par-four 1st hole for the second time. It ran west and could be driven in ideal conditions. My dad (christened Seve after one day getting it up and down from every rock, weed, hole and ballwasher at the Gustin course in Columbia) and I made birdie. The 2nd was a dogleg left par-five with a creek running down the left side of the fairway. To go left of the creek was a big advantage. Huge trees however had to be carried in that direction. The risk was a two-shot penalty. The reward was a short iron into the green and a good shot at eagle. Seve and I eagled. We teed off on the par-three, downhill, 3rd with Kemper to the rear and the clubhouse behind the green. Neither of us hit good shots. We made par.
The 4th ran south in the middle of the course. It was a good par-4 with ditches and trees to manage. Seve and I made birdie. The 5th was another short hole. This one had a severely sloping green. We got on, got our par three and headed to the sixth. We were headed back north on the short, easy par four. It had a big sloping sideboard on the left just below the 7th fairway, which pitched any balls hit a little left back into the fairway. We made a short one for birdie and headed to the 7th. We were tied with Wally and the Barefoot Boy. Dee and Doc were a couple back.
The fairway on the par-four 7th sloped sharply from the woods on the right down to the left where a big oak tree resided in the rough. The ideal shot was down the right side, but too far right and you were walking like a hobo down the MKT looking for your ball out of bounds. If you chickened out left the big oak had you blocked out. To make the hole even more difficult, the green sat like an upside down saucer tilted slightly toward the rear of the green. So a ball hit on the front of the green stopped and anything hit past the middle ran the risk of going over and possibly into the hedges, which sat fifteen feet behind the green. This particular day the hole was cut in the back slightly toward the right edge of the green.
Seve and I hit our approach just past middle on the left side about thirty feet away. Wally and the Barefoot Boy were on the right front about five feet farther than us. Seve and I lined up our putt and watched as they both putted and missed. That’s when the fun started.
In most scrambles a team can buy mulligans, one per person. It helps the club raise some cash and adds a little strategy to a twisted type of golf. When the first person putts he leaves his coin out about a putter length to the right of the ball so the second player has a mark from which to place his ball and putt if the first player misses. Before the 2nd player putts he usually picks the coin up unless there is a chance one of the two might use his mulligan. In this case Wally still had his mulligan and left the coin on the ground.
Seve stood up to putt wielding his Ping Anser. He noticed Wally’s coin still on the ground and looked at Wally. Wally was standing relaxed, one foot crossed over the other, leaning on his putter like he was waiting on somebody else to putt.
Seve inquired if he was going to use his mulligan. Wally said it depended on if we made our putt.
Seve was growing a little irritated and told Wally something to the effect that if you’re going to use your mulligan you’re still out and need to go. Wally just said, “I believe I’ll wait.”
Seve shook his head and mumbled something about poultry excrement. He placed his ball and addressed his putt. He cut across it outside in like he always did and sent it towards the hole. It was screaming hot when it slammed into the back of the cup, hopped up and fell into the hole. Hide your damned head, Darryl Dawkins! Seve had in your face dunked on Wally and the Barefoot Boy. As masculine as a man can look wearing mauve shorts (it was the early eighties you know) Seve strutted the ten yards to the hole to retrieve his ball. I shouted aaalllllright and hooted and hollered. Dee and Doc smiled took a drink of Bud and offered congrats to Seve. On the other side of the green Wally’s butt hole puckered up.
Surprise of surprises he was going to use his mulligan to try to keep things tied. After Seve’s putt though his butt cheeks were so tight he could have crushed some coal into diamonds in there. He missed his putt badly and we headed to the long, uphill par-three 8th with a one shot lead and the satisfaction of winning the slam-dunk contest.
We all made good pars on the 8th and headed to the 9th.
The 9th hole was another par-five that could be reached in two with a good drive. The hole set up heading north with Highway 5 on the right. The tee box sat up a good thirty yards above the fairway. The first goal was to carry the deep creek, winding across the fairway about two hundred yards from the tee. On the left was the 4th fairway, marked in course out of bounds (OB). The left side of the fairway was flat and the desired landing area for the tee shot. The right side of the fairway sloped up sharply towards the highway and back towards the tee box. Anything hit down the right side would generally stick and roll down and back, but too far right was OB in the highway. Carry some water and land it between OB on each side from on top of a hill, a fun tee shot.
We still had the tee because of Seve’s hide-your-damned-head slam so he hit first. His ball started out down the right hand side and curved right, hang on, hang on, hang on, boing. He was out of bounds somewhere across Highway 5. We had already used our mulligans. Now it was my turn to crush a little coal into diamond.
I began to think about what to do. I could hit a seven iron off the tee short of the creek. That would leave us with a down hill lie out of long grass for our second. Most likely we would make par from there and end up in a playoff with Wally and the Barefoot Boy. Or I could hit driver over the creek and hopefully find some piece of land in between the OB’s. That piece of land had seemingly shrunk dramatically after Seve hit it out. If I hit it OB we would suddenly be one shot down. I looked at Seve and asked him what he thought.
Looking back on this moment some recent reading comes to mind. A while ago I read a book about masculinity and our struggle to define it in this country since our victory in World War II. An intriguing part of that book was a small section where the author, a woman, asked a man to define when he knew he had become a man. The one answer that caught my attention was, “You know you are a man when your father tells you that you are or when he dies.” Something deep inside me resonated with this.
Another author on masculinity wrote recently that a man’s biggest question is, “Do I have what it takes?” That question lines up with my internal world as well.
Seve looked me in the eye, “Hit the driver.” Dang, I was sorta hoping he would say the 7-iron. He knew something about me that I didn’t. You are a man he was saying. You have what it takes.
I pulled out the big stick. It was a Power Built head with a SuperGraph graphite shaft that I borrowed from TCat. In the early 80’s graphites were mostly flimsy and had to be swung easy, but the SuperGraph was ahead of its time.
In golf the moment before a shot is a wonderful, mysterious time. In seconds one can feel a grand sense of accomplishment, a thrill running clear to the bone, enlivening all of who one is. Or there can be a sense of failure, dread and disgust as the ball flies crooked towards doom or dribbles off short of the ladies tee.
I teed up my ball, surveyed the fairway from the hilltop, and lined up down the left side knowing that the ball was probably going to fade to the right just a bit. I drew the club back into the depth of the mystery. This time the tumblers fell into place unlocking the secret.
Kaboom! That ball shot out, and must have circled the earth and came back over my shoulder heading over the creek like the Israelites crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land. The noise was so loud, people in Boonville said it was a sonic boom from one of those new Stealth Bombers over at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster. It was so loud it could be heard all the way to the Missouri River east and north of the golf course and down to the Lake of Ozarks to the south. It was so loud that over to the west it interrupted the 3,333rd performance of Always Patsy Cline at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theater.
That ball flew straight without a hint of fade and landed on the terra firma, firma, eight foot wide brick-like tan grass where the golf carts rolled. It flew two hundred fifty yards, boinged and bounced and rolled another eighty-three yards to end up three hundred thirty-three yards from the tee box, one hundred eighty yards from the hole.
My dad looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “Great shot.”
Wally and the Barefoot Boy were dizzy with confusion. The Barefoot Boy stepped up and airmailed one across Highway 5. Wally then hit a lay-up short of the creek. They chopped and hacked and farted and sliced and belched and chunked their way to an eventual bogey six.
Seve and I had one more shot to hit. He pulled out his eight-wood that Eff’N had made. This was before every JoeBob around had lofted woods. Seve was magic with that thing. He could play it back and hood it and hit it farther than my five-wood or he could open it up and send the ball high in a Nicklausian fade that fluttered to the green like a goose landing on a Missouri farm pond. He opened it up this time, feathering it in to fifteen feet. He holed the putt center cut for an eagle three.
We won by four shots. On the back nine we made nine straight threes for a 27. We scored par on the threes, birdied the fours, and eagled the fives. We slam-dunked Wally and the Barefoot Boy on their own court.
So that’s how me and Seve brought home the bacon at the Boonville two-man scramble, wrapped, of course, around one hundred sixty filets.