March 27, 2010

Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies.”  Bobby Jones

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Life in the Fairway

March 27, 2010

My daughter helped me create this place, and I told her I’d experiment with this as long as it was worthwhile. So, this is my first post here. For over 45 years, I’ve lived life “in the fairway”. It all started with Ben Hogan. I remember watching him rip the golf ball like no one I’ve ever seen before, and I thought to myself at the time, “I can do that.” Perhaps a little arrogance involved, but I knew at an early age that my career would somehow involve the game of golf. Growing up in Michigan, weather restricted me from playing as much as I wanted, and it wasn’t until I spent a summer with my grandparents in Florida that I realized I needed to live somewhere that fostered my passion 12 months a year. While other kids were playing Little League baseball, I was toting around my little second-hand bag and my “seen better days” clubs from sunrise to sunset. I was completely hooked. After high school graduation, I went to Georgia Tech on scholarship, and I continued to grow in the game. Class, golf, sleep, occasional party, but there was always golf.

After graduation, I went to Hilo, Hawaii to learn a few lessons on golf management and design. I later learned my father had his hand in the entire deal, but at the time, I thought it was because I showed so much potential. At the end of the summer, an opportunity came up in Savannah, GA; and I ran with it quickly. First day I arrived at the course, I prepared to practice all that I had learned while in Hawaii. It turned out that I was the biggest peon this side of the Mississippi. For the first two weeks, I did nothing but replace divots and rake the occasional sand trap. Eventually, I moved up….to advising players on the distances their golf balls were to the hole. It was Caddyshack without the gopher. New ownership lent me the opportunity to move into a role I was excited to get and eager to maintain. I became Assistant Golf Pro. From there, I eventually became Pro. From there, I eventually became owner of my very own club (established yes, but still mine). 45 years I’ve been trying to figure out this game. Every game I walk on the course, it surprises me. The wind’s never the same. The lie is never the same. It’s the greatest sport there is; with apologies to my football, baseball, soccer, basketball, or curling fans.

That was all “inside the ropes.” Those first few years, my life outside the ropes wasn’t much of a life at all. I was at the golf course from sunrise to sunset nearly every day. I knew that no one would have wanted to marry into my lifestyle at that point, until one day…

I remember I was standing in the pro shop when a very pretty young blonde walked in the door. She was with her boyfriend, and they wanted to play a round. The minute she looked at me, I smiled like an idiot. She looked away, and they paid for their round. For the next four hours, I made every excuse to leave and station myself wherever they were going to be on the course. I knew I was likely playing with fire, but I didn’t care at that point. After their round was completed, they left. Any thoughts of me ever seeing her again left with them. However, as God and luck would have it, I did see her again. I saw her five times to be exact; in the next two weeks. The last time I saw her, she was alone. I got up the nerve to ask her where her boyfriend was, and she said they were no longer together. “Such a shame, ” I told her. She gave me a smug look. Not really being Rico Suave, I asked her if I could take her to dinner. For some incredible reason, she agreed. That dinner at a little Italian restaurant that has now since been made into a retail shop was where I first fell in love with my wife. Or was it the first time she came walking into that pro shop; I don’t know.

25 years later, she’s still the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. The only problem is; I can’t see her anymore. I have the memories. I have the pictures. I have the videos, and I have four of the greatest kids any man should be allowed to have. But I don’t have her. Almost four years ago came the first lump. She called me into the bathroom to feel, what she felt, was the end of her life. I blew it off. I’m glad she didn’t. A couple months later came the second lump on the other side. Doctors told her what she already knew; breast cancer. For over three years, she fought the evil monster. She won a couple times, going into remission and saving our worst nightmares from coming true. However, the evil monster is a hard one to bring down. She eventually lost her battle last November. And now we’re left. We’re left to figure out life without our rock. I’m left to figure out how to raise four children on my own.

My children are incredible. Four unique and amazing creations. T.J. is, like me, a dedicated soul. I know he’ll break into this world and help change it, because his passion is even stronger than mine was at that age. We’re on countdown mode at the moment. Two months until graduation. The University of Florida beckons in August. His sport of choice; baseball and tennis. Golf is about fourth on his list I think. Whitney is my sassy one. Taking her mother’s death the hardest, I’m doing my best not to lose her. It’s tough. She’s such a brilliant writer. She wants to become a doctor; so she can defeat the evil monster once and for all. Zoe is my little rock star. Having played guitar and piano since age 4, she’s quite the musician. Every night I get in from the course, she’ll play me a melody. I’ll smile, and she’ll laugh. She has her mother’s laugh. Abby is my little tomboy. Volleyball and soccer, karate and ballet. Wait, ballet? Yes; for four years now. She’s innocent and spunky. I imagine her mother at that age, and I know there are severe similarities.

I don’t know why I have been given this particular life. Then again, I don’t know what I’d do if I had lived a different one to this point. I have been thrown some hooks and slices, but I’ve never once given up. One of my friends gave me a quote that now sits on my office desk. “As you walk down the fairways of life, you must stop to smell the roses; for you only get to play one round.” Who’s the author? Ben Hogan. Ironic, isn’t it?