Recalling My Dad the Golfer at US Open Time

My dad on the 18th green at the Woodmont Member-Guest in 1981, seven years before his emphysema diagnosis. He was 59 then.

My dad died at 76 the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 1998. He had fought valiantly against the brutal emphysema. A couple months prior to his death, after celebrating my mom’s 75th birthday, whipped after his night out, he slumped into a chair and said, “I don’t know who came up with the Golden Pond theory, but if this is Golden Pond, we have a problem.”

He was a good man, and I miss him each day and will on Sunday, not so much because it’s Father’s Day but because they will play the US Open golf tournament’s final round. Dad loved playing and watching golf. Turning on the TV to watch golf was the first thing he did after playing a round. If I were already watching the tournament he wanted to watch, he invariably he adjusted the set’s picture (what a quaint world we lived in when you adjusted your TV picture).

“How’s that?” he said.

“Fine, dad.” It was of course, fine, before he adjusted it.

“With my eyes, I can’t see anymore,” he said.

In his 50’s dad had cataract surgeries on his eyes. Feeling restless after the surgeries, he decided to return to the game after watching the ’75 Open. Dad especially loved watching the Open, and if he were still here, he would hunker down in his den this weekend and chew on Necco Wafers and drink ice tea, with a little sugar island settling at the bottom of his glass. After that Open, it was as though he said to himself, “I’ve got to get out there again.” He impulsively invited his sons to hit balls at a range, and continued to play until his health wouldn’t allow it anymore.

When he was younger, dad was a 7 handicapper, and all his life he swung his club elegantly, one of the best swings you ever saw, many said. We often don’t know or understand the movement of grace in our lives, but when dad swung a golf club, he must have sensed that grace. I never asked him why he stopped playing golf, but I suspect raising a young family had something to do with him putting it down initially.

I’m happy though he went back to it. He spent many happy hours on the golf course, away from trouble and sorrow, especially with his closest golfing buddy “Big” Jim Castiglia. The Bull as he was also known played pro football and baseball, and was massive and formidable. Deep down though he was one of the sweeter more lovable persons the Lord ever made, and devoted to my dad.

Dad tenaciously held on to the game he loved. He carried his oxygen tank in his golf cart. You’re in bad shape when you need oxygen to ride in a golf cart. If dad hit a good shot though, The Bull said, “Let me have a swig of that.” Dad soon realized even his oxygen tank couldn’t help him get around the course anymore. In the end, dad could only putt at the putting green at his club.

“When it comes to self-deception, we are all vaudeville magicians,” William Maxwell wrote. This is especially true of golfers, who their entire lives chase the perfect shot and round. Why else would grownups work on a game? Dad was intelligent and self-aware, but no different than other golfers in his pursuit of golfing perfection. We must, the gospels tell us, be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. What Lee Trevino famously said though argues even that perfection is limited. “In a lightning storm hold up a two iron because even God couldn’t hit a two iron.”

In my mind, dad’s in Heaven and he’s with The Bull. The Bull’s in the cart watching and dad has out the two. And free of pain and that damn tank, out in wide space and under a vast, impossibly pristine blue sky, he takes her back, and the club is suspended. He’s poised to make a perfect turn.