James Dodson always felt closest to his father while they were on the links. So it seemed only appropriate when his father learned he had two months to live that they would set off on the golf journey of their dreams to play the most famous courses in the world.
Final Rounds takes us to the historic courses of Royal Lytham and Royal Birkdale, to the windswept undulations of Carnoustie, where Hogan played peerlessly in ’53, and the legendary St. Andrews, whose hallowed course reveals something of the eternal secret of the game’s mysterious allure over pros and hackers alike.
Throughout their poignant journey, the Dodsons humorously reminisce and reaffirm their love for each other, as the younger Dodson finds out what it means to have his father also be his best friend. Final Rounds is a book never to be forgotten, a book about fathers and sons, long-held secrets, and the lessons a middle-aged man can still learn from his dad about life, love, and family.
Final Rounds is a tribute to a very special game and the fathers and sons who make it so. –>
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"We found Final Rounds to be a very special tribute to love—of family, of golf, and of life/'—Arnold and Winnie Palmer "A glinting, lyrical, heartbreaking, hilarious pilgrimage." —Yankee Magazine Ύou don't need to be a golfer to enjoy this wonderful book/' —The Atlanta Journal and Constitution "This story of intergenerational love will appeal to all readers/' —Los Angeles Times "I have never liked golf or understood the people who play it. Now I have an abiding respect for both, just as I understood fly-fishing and fly fishermen after reading A River Runs Through It!' —Lee Walburn, Atlanta Magazine "Wise, instructive, funny, andutterly enjoyable • • . Final Rounds is as carefully organized a book as you will find. It is a combination autobiography, biography, travelogue, andpainless history of golf/' —Portland Times-Herald "Final Rounds takes readers on a wonderful journey to some of the most famous golf courses in the world. . . . But like each round of golf, Final Rounds is about much more than the game itself. It is a journey of discovery for a father and a son and for their relationship."—USAToday "One cannot help but be moved by the alternately funny and sad, beautifully written elegy to a manand a game."—Kirkus Reviews "Powerful and deeply moving."—Publishers Weekly "There is something here for every reader." —News & Record, Greensboro, NC
"A unique and touching piece of writing, Final Rounds brought back memories of all the rounds in England and Scotland that I played with my own two sons* It won't improve your handicap, but it definitely will improve your appreciation of the game/' —Mark H. McCormack, founder of IMG and author of What They Ώont Teach You at Harvard Business School (i( Final Rounds is moving proof that golfers don't think only about their swings. It also demonstrates a point Γve been trying to make to my wife for several years: a golfing trip to Scotland can be a transcendent act of love/'—David Owen, author of My Usual Game "James Dodson's resonant memoir of life with his extraordinary father is a love story in the highest sense of the phrase a tender and beautiful book/'—Anne Rivers Siddons "Final Rounds is not just another golf book. Shot through with wisdom and humor and truth, Final Rounds is, in the end, a compelling and ineffably moving book. And an original one/' —James Finegan, author of Blessed Greens and Blasted Heaths "One does not have to be a golfer to recognize that Final Rounds is a lesson in sheer courage, filial love, determination, and good humor. There is immense drama in an individual's determination to overcome adversity, to attain a goal, and to realize a dream. This represents the learning experience of the book. So read Final Rounds, and come along on the tour with James and his father."—Jack Lemmon "Dodson's skillful renderings of Scotland's charm, golf's many and varied lessons and his love for his admirable father make his memoir well-crafted, engaging and meaningful."—The Plain Dealer. Cleveland "What comes through Dodson's book, besides a touching portrait of an enviable father-son relationship, is the life lesson available from golf for those who pay attention. , . . Dodson's book has captured much of what it is to be a golfer, a son and a father."—Winston^SalemJournal
FINAL ROUNDS A Father, A Son, Ίhe Coif Journey oj a Lifetime JAMES DO D SON BANTAM BOOKS New ϊcrk Toronto London Sydney Auckland
This edition contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition. NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED. FINAL ROUNDS A Bantam Book PUBLISHING HISTORY Bantam hardcover edition published in November1996 Bantam trade paperback edition / November 1997 All rights reserved. Copyright © 1996 byJames Dodson Book design by Donna Sinisgalli Cover photo by Photonika Cover design by Belina Huey Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 96-21916 No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in anyform or by anymeans, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by anyinformation storage andretrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information address: Bantam Books. ISBN: 0-553-37564-4 Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada Bantam Books arepublished by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words "Bantam Books" andtheportrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patentand Trademark Office andin other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036. P R I N T E D I N T H E U N I T E D S T A T E S OF A M E R I C A BVG 20 19 18 17 16 15 1413
To A. with love. For our fathers.
Many people had a hand in creating this book. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Mike Purkey, senior editor at Golf Magazine, who first suggested I turn our trip into a book, and Jennifer Hershey at Bantam Books for guiding the project to life. Brian Tart (who really should play more golf) did a masterful job of the final editing and Ginger Barber is a writer's dream agent (too bad she plays only tennis). I must thank others who have rendered cheerful support and enthusiasm along the way. They include Robin McMillan, David Barrett, andJim Frank of Golf Magazine, Gary Walther, editor-in-chief of Departures Magazine, Lee Walburn at Atlanta Magazine, and the indispensable Tim Clark at Yankee Magazine. A special thanks to Bob Sommers, retired editor of Golf Journal Γm grateful to Tony Nickson of Royaί Lytham, Norman Crewe of Royal Birkdale, Douglas andColin Dagleish, and Archie Baird of Muirfield for his spirited generosity and the use of the riding cart. Also, Tony and Julie Gilbert of Carnoustie, Tom and Elizabeth Jessop, and the unsinkable Murdo MacPherson. Thanks to Ms. Randy Jones (my daughter's godmother) and British Airways for helping us go in style. Γm deeply grateful to Edith Hazard, a pal who had the sense to tell me what not to include in the text, and to Kathleen Bennie, my Royal and Ancient mother-in-law, whose wisdom is exceeded only by herremarkably tolerant good humor. Γm grateful to my regular pals—Pat, Terry, and Sid—for bringing me back to the game when I needed it most. Most of all, I thank Opti for giving me the game and much more than I can ever properly repay. I know I still owe him some pocket change.
Thus is the earth at once a desert and a paradise, rich in secret hidden gardens, gardens inaccessible, but to which the craft leads us ever back, one day or another. Life may scatter us and keep us apart it may even prevent us from thinking very often of one another but we know that our comrades are somewhere "Out therev—where, one can hardly say—silent, forgotten, but deeply faithful And when our path crosses theirs, they greet us with such manifest joy, shake us so gaily by the shoulders! Indeed we are accustomed to waiting. —ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPERY, WIND, SAND AND STARS It is nothing new or original to say that golf is played one stroke at a time. But it took me many years to realize it. —BOBBY JONES
Father's Voice Toward the end of the afternoon, Tom Watson sits in his office talking to a golf writer. The golf season has just ended. The golf writer is me. We have been talking for almost two hours. There is a thin skin of ice on the pond in the park across the street. Traffic is a muted sigh in the winter shadows of Kansas City. Christmas presents for his children are stacked neatly in a shopping hag at his feet. Watsons wariness of the press is famous, hut he has been relaxed and generous, talking about the Ryder Cup team he will soon lead to Britain, about his life, career, children, heroes, even making selfdeprecating jokes about his well-publicized putting woes. This pleases me, confirms my best hopes. Watson is forty-three, five years my senior, the best golfer of my generation, now a lion in winter. In my former life as a political journalist, it would have been deemed grossly unprofessional to admit I am my subject's fan. But golf, unlike politics, as Alister Mackenzie is supposed to have once said, is at least an honest game. I am Watsons fan because he
/ played with such honesty and heart during his golden days, and because of how he conducts himself now that the glory has faded and his game seems almost mortal Sometimes during these conversations, I find myself unexpectedly wondering with pleasure how I got here. For me, a kid who tagged after his golf heroes and was lucky enough to grow up and be able to sit and talk with them, it's a dream job and a question rooted perhaps as much in philosophy as journalism. All philosophy begins in wonder, and the wonder of what Watson suddenly, intimately reveals of himself in our conversation is both thoughtprovoking and surprising. I ask if he can identify the worst moment of his career, and he responds by telling me about once rushing out of the locker room at the World Series of Golf, brushing off a boy seeking his autograph. The boyJ s father followed him and tapped him on the back. "He looked me straight in the eye and said, C I just want to tell you, Mr. Watson, what an asshole I think you are. My son was really a fan of yours/ " Watson shakes his head. "I couldn't believe it—how badly I felt, I mean." He falls silent, pursing his lower lip. Somewhere outside the building I can hear Christmas music playing, a slurry rendition of "Jingle Bells" fading away. There are writers around who would love to challenge Tom Watson's sincerity on this, question how such a trivial moment could possibly compare, say, to his heartbreaking loss to Seve Balksteros at the '84 British Open at St. Andrews. A wayward two-iron shot at the infamous Road Hole cost him a record-tying sixth Open title and made the fiery Spaniard the new darling of the British masses. For a second or two, Watson stares at the running tape recorder, then shakes his head again. "I still feel bad about it," he says simply. The thing is, I believe him. Watson could not believe what he says he believes—namely, that golf represents the most honorable of games—and feel otherwise. So Iβip the coin—best to part on a cheerful note—and ask him for the best moment of his golf life, certain he will either say his famous shotmaking duel against Nicklaus at Turnberry in Ί Ί or his "miracle" chip-in at Pebble Beach in '82 to win the U.S. Open. "It'sfunny," he says, pausing
/ x i i i again, "the greatest thrill I had may have been the day my father invited me to join him and a couple of his regular golf buddies at his club. I was so excited, really aching to show him what I could do. I guess I was maybe eleven or twelve." Watson, the former Stanford psychology student, studies me with those eyes that always look as if he's been out walking in a linksland wind. "Even now I think about that. It was a very powerful moment. My father means so much to me. I can always hear his voice in my head, telling me to keep my head still or make a good swing. I don't know if I ever felt that way again, you know'" He smiles somewhat wistfully, revealing the boyish gaps in his teeth. Turning off the tape recorder, I admit that I know what he means because I hear my father's voice, too. Almost every day of my life.
Opti the Mystic That Christmas, I sent my father a new set of golf clubs. I was sure he'd love them. After all, they were ultralight and graphite-shafted, designed to put zip back into a faltering swing, the latest thing in "super senior" equipment technology. My father's Wilson Staffs were almost as old as me, heavy blades meant for a man half his age and twice his strength. He sent them back to me two weeks later. The box was barely opened but a pleasant note was attached, addressed to Bo, his nickname for me . "Thanks for your thoughtful gesture, Bo. These are mighty handsome clubs, but I dont think they're for me. I have a good idea, though. Since these are so light and easy to swing, why not keep them for Maggie and Jack to use? Γd be honored to buy them their first clubs. Γve enclosed a check. Love, Dad." The check was for a thousand dollars. He'd clearly missed the point of my thoughtful gesture. I called my mother to see if perhaps
/ F i n a l R o u n d s her husband had recently been beaned on the golf course or simply forgotten that his grandchildren were only three and four, respectively, more interested in making music with a purple dinosaur than divots in the yard. When I explained the situation to her, she laughed and said, "Well, sweetie, bear with him. Just between you and me, I think your father may be a little down in the dumps. Although with him, as you know, it's never easy to tell/' She was right. My old man was the original Silver Lining Guy, a man who could have taught the entire Hemlock Society the power of positive thinking. As a teenager I dubbed him, not entirely kindly, Opti the Mystic because of his relentless good cheer, his imperturbable knack of seeing any problem or crisis as "an opportunity for growth/' and his embarrassing habits of kissing strange babies in grocery stores, always smiling at strangers, and quoting somebody like Aristotle or Emerson when you least expected it, usually in the presence of my impressionable high school dates. Among Opti's more unfortunate personality traits, in my view at the time, was that he appeared utterly immune to social embarrassment and almost went out of his way to expose his crazy optimism to strangers. One time he picked me up from a guitar lesson with a startling occupant in his car: a drunk in a Santa suit. He'd found the man wandering aimlessly around the parking lot of his office building with a bottle of wine under a wing, muttering about shooting himself for the holidays. Only Opti would have rescued a suicidal Santa and attempted to cheer him up. We took the man to the Irving Park Delicatessen, and Dad bought him a hot meal. The man poured out his tale of woe to us—he was dead broke and his wife thought he was a bum and his girlfriend was pregnant again. But after the spiel he calmed down and sobered up and even appeared to feel slightly better for having gotten his problems off his chest. We dropped him off in front of his dingy
/ 3 crackerbox house on the east side of town, and Dad discreetly slipped him a fifty-dollar bill and asked him to buy something nice for his wife. Perhaps it was a foolish gesture, a hopeless charity. The man's social worker, if he had one, would no doubt have said it was money burned. The guy was just going to go buy more wine and drink himself into oblivion and maybe even shoot himself after all. I still don't know. What I do know is that as he left our car, the man reached over and grabbed the arm of my jacket with a surprisingly firm grip and looked at me with his bloodshot eyes. "Your father's a real southern gentleman, kid," he growled. "I hope you fuckin' know that. Merry Christmas." I knew Opti was a southern gentleman because people told me this my whole life—school chums who thought my old man was cool, girlfriends who thought him amusing and gallant, parents who needlessly reminded me how lucky I was to have a dad like that. In Mrs. Moon's English class I couldn't read Geoff Chaucer's line about the noble knight en route to Canterbury with the other pilgrims—"a gentle, parfit knight"—or hear the voice of Dickens's Old Fezziwig exhorting his employees and neighbors to come join the Christmas dance, without thinking of Opti, my sappy old man. I knew of plenty of small acts of kindness Opti had quietly perpetrated over the years—funds he sent to crackpot relatives whom the rest of the family ignored, employees he'd helped through hard times, strangers whose cars he'd hauled from ditches, dogs he'd fetched from interstate medians. But on the downside, it sometimes annoyed me to have people think I had such a saint for a dad, a human Hallmark card for a father. If Opti, after all this time, was now finally "in the dumps" even a little bit, as my mother described it, this qualified as big news. My first thought was that it must be his health. After all, his advertising
/ F i n a l R o u n d s business was thriving, his golf handicap was holding steady at 22. Pointing out that Cicero learned Greek in his seventies and Socrates took up playing the lyre in his dotage, Dad liked to say he would indeed someday consider retiring, when and if he finally got old. But even he had to accept that he couldn't live forever. It was easy to forget that Dad was pushing eighty and facing, medically speaking, a situation that would have wilted the spirits of a man half his age: a daily injection of insulin and the unpleasant aftereffects of a radical colostomy, now almost a decade old, as well as a poorly done trim job on his prostate that left him wearing a pair of unwieldy collection bags strapped to his thighs the way some undercover cops pack a .38. He also suffered from a deteriorating cataract condition that caused his left eye to drift in and out of focus. His knees were weak, and his hearing was going. Typically, he never even mentioned these problems, and if we mentioned them, he merely laughed off our concerns. "So what's wrong'" I asked my mother. I was afraid she was going to tell me he'd fallen off the roof while cleaning out the gutters and damaged his excellent shoulder turn. Perhaps he ruined his remaining good eye for lining up putts by blowing up the gas grill in his face. "He lost his golf group." I thought about what she said. "You must be joking," I finally replied. "I wish." This explained a lot. Dad dearly loved his longtime Saturday morning golf group—Bill, Alex, Richard, and sometimes an old Chapel Hill friend named Bob Tilden. They fussed and squabbled at each other like old married folk and could find more ways to take each other's pocket change than a convention of Times Square pickpockets. But they were clearly addicted to each other's intimate sporting companionship in the best way available to fully grown,
/ 5 heterosexual, registered Republican southern males. I once tried to explain the allure of this mysterious exclusive male phenomenon to my nongolfing Yankee-born spouse, pointing out that its highminded origins probably date back to ancient Greece, where lonely sports widows used to call it agape, an even higher and purer manifestation of the spiritual passion, say, than Arnold feels for Winnie Palmer. My nongolfing spouse only shook her head at the mystery of men. It turned out that Bill Mims, Dad's best friend and primary golf nemesis, had developed a heart condition that allowed him to play only on warm mornings, and Alex the Scotsman had retired and moved to the south of France with his wife, Andree. Richard had somehow just "lost interest in playing" when the others gave up the game, which left only Dad, the senior swordsman of the group, to try and soldier along the links on a regular basis. "He's taken to playing with younger men," Mom reported in a carefully lowered voice, as though Opti might be listening in the other room. "But I honestly don't think he likes it." "Of course he doesn't like it!" I shouted back at her, thinking of how desolate I'd feel if my own regular group of buddies and bandits suddenly vanished from my life. "That's why these clubs I sent him are so important. They'll help subdue those dangerous young turks!" "In that case, maybe you should send them again," she suggested primly. "I'll speak to him." I mailed the high-tech super senior wonder clubs to North Carolina the next morning, along with the check he sent the clubs back to Maine the next week. The only people prospering from this long-distance minuet, I began to realize, were the boys in brown from United Parcel Service. "Dear Bo, Again, many thanks. I just dont think these clubs are right for me. Maybe Γm just too sentimentally attached to my old Wilsons. After all, we've been down a lot
/ Final Rounds of fairways together. (Ha ha.) I do appreciate you thinking about me, though. When5your next research trip? Any chance youll he coming this voay? Γd enjoy a chance to pin your ears back on the course. Love, Dad." Opti the Mystic had spoken. Ha ha. I donated the clubs to the church's summer auction committee, hoping somebody could find use for them. JL he poet Ovid said we give gifts to try and seduce men and the gods. Seduction was obviously my game. Deep in my heart, I knew that. With those clubs, I wanted to seduce my father into believing he could still compete in the most difficult and fulfilling game of all. I wanted his game to rediscover its vigor and the golf gods to grant us a bit more time on the links together. We had been golf pals for thirty years, ever since he put the club in my hand at about age ten, showed me the Vardon grip, and introduced me to the complicated splendors of the game he loved most. Like Tom Watson, I can remember the day my father invited me to play with him at his club as if it were yesterday. I was thirteen, the age Mark Twain says boys begin to imitate the best and worst traits of their fathers. I barely broke 100. Thirteen is the age of manhood in most cultures. My father helped me become a man, and golf showed me the way. But it wasn't easy. I threw a lot of tantrums in those days. I threw a lot of clubs, too. Early on, I cheated, shaved my scores, ignored rules I found stupid or inconvenient. I didn't wish to play golf so much as conquer it. As I look back, I don't know how my father tolerated these volcanic outbursts. I was so impatient and in such a rush to reach the future somewhere down the fairway and finally be good that he would sometimes place a hand on my shoulder to slow my pace and urge me to "relax and enjoy the round. The game ends far too soon, Bo."
/ 7 I didn't have a clue what he really meant. He was given to pronouncements like that, an adman with a poet's heart. Watching me flail at the game, he once observed, "The peculiar thing about this game—any game really, but this game far more than most—is, the more you fight it, the more it eludes you. Everything contains its opposite. By trying to make something magical happen, you create the opposite effect—you drive the magic away. When you worry about finding the way, you lose the path. Someone said the way to heaven is heaven. A little less is a lot more/' He sounded so damn sure about this, I almost hated him for it. Once when I was sulking about a skulled shot, he made me lie down on the golf course. It was so embarrassing—a group of men were back on the tee waiting to hit —but I did it anyway. "What do you feel'" he asked. "Really stupid," I replied, feeling the cool, firm earth beneath my back. It felt good, but I couldn't or wouldn't admit that to him. "Then tell me what you see." "Nothing. My eyes are closed." "Then open them," he suggested. "That way, you'll see everything." I didn't begin to understand Opti's little exercises, or his words. Not then, at any rate. It is the fashion these days to speak of golf as a kind of religious experience, a doorway to the spiritual side of man, an egress to the eternal. My father was a man of faith, but I don't think he viewed the golf course as a path to God. He thought golf was a way to celebrate the divinity of life, the here and now, and simply the best way to play. He loved healthy competition and was playful to the core. During the Depression, he'd played semipro baseball and helped guide his high school football team to the state finals. Ironically, he'd made money as a caddy in those days but couldn't afford
/ F i n a l R o u n d s to take up the game seriously until he went away to war and discovered the great golf links of England and Scotland, For thirty years my father had been the senior southern rep for the world's largest industrial publishing firm. He'd transformed a sleepy advertising backwater into a thriving multimillion-dollar territory, becoming one of his company's legends in the process. Both of us knew he would never give all that up and "officially" retire because he found the daily grind so rewarding and fun. To Opti, hard work was a form of play because work involved solving problems, a life view that fit the philosophy of his favorite game like a glove. Golf was the ultimate playful exercise in problem solving. The real joy of playing, he said more than once, was bound up in the mental process required to create solutions to the riddle of any particular golf shot—an unfair break, a horrendous lie in the rough, and so forth. Golf was the greatest challenge because no two golf shots were ever the same. Every situation was unique, every moment "new and pregnant with possibilities"—another of his favorite phrases. In his view, this explained why the best players were almost always imaginative shot-makers—they could see the problem, create the solution, and seize the pleasure of the moment. To him, golf was also a character builder that could teach you valuable lessons about yourself, others, and the wide world around you. For that reason, he was a stickler for the rules, a gentle but firm rulebook Elijah. I used to hate this about him, besides all the cornball philosophizing. You marked your ball properly you fixed dents in the green you putted in turn you offered to tend the pin you congratulated an opponent on a good shot. I sensed he believed these silly courtesies were as essential to the game as oxygen, but I suffocated under their constriction. One day I missed a short putt and slammed my putter into the lush surface of the fifteenth green at Green Valley Golf Club, my
/ 9 father's club. He grew silent, then calmly insisted that I leave the golf course. To add insult to injury, he made me walk straight into the clubhouse, report my crime, and apologize to the head pro. The head pro's name was Aubrey Apple. He was a large man with a smoldering stump of cigar jammed in a corner of his mouth. A profane legend in Carolina golf circles and a teacher who had sent several fine players into the professional rank, Apple called kids like me ''Valley Rats/' When Fd reported my crime, the pro shifted the smoldering stump to the other corner of his mouth. "You're Brack Dodson's kid, ain't cha'" My father's name was Brax Dodson but it didn't seem like the right moment to correct him. I merely nodded. "Anybody who beats up my golf greens," Apple said, "is a little shit. We don't need any little shits out here." He then summarily banished me from the golf course for two weeks. This verdict was torture, like a death sentence. Eventually, when I calmed down and grew up, golf became much more than a game between my old man and me. It acted as my personal entry hatch to my father's morally advanced cosmos—a means of seeing who this funky, funny, oddball philosopher really was, and who I needed to become. I know no other game that would have permitted us the opportunity to compete so thoroughly, so joyfully, for so long. The golf course—any golf course, anywhere— became our playground and refuge, the place where we sorted things out or escaped them altogether, debated without rancor, found common ground, discovered joy, suspended grief, competed like crazy, and took each other's pocket change. We played the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and the day Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis. We played the day before I got married, and the day after my son Jack was born. We played through rain, wind, heat, birth, death. We played on holidays, birthdays, to celebrate nothing and everything,
/ F i n a l R o u n d s so many rounds in so many places, I couldn't possibly remember them all. We played some of the best courses in America, and some of the worst cow pastures and goat tracks, too. We discovered that in good company there is no such thing as a bad golf course. We preferred to play late in the day, following our shadows in the last of the light, the fairway ahead of us robed in hues of red and gold and very often deserted. You could see the contours of the earth so well then, feel the coolness of approaching night, perhaps witness a sliver of moon rising over the creek poplars. Our routine almost never varied. My father would leave work early, I would ride my bike to the club, with my bag swaying on my back. After the round, he would put my bike in the trunk of his car. Sometimes we would grab dinner at the Boar and Castle on the way home, sit eating our Castle steaks in the rustling grapevine arbor while eavesdropping on the murmurous voices of teenage lovers in the musky foliage around us, or sit in the glowing foxfire of the Buick's radio, listening to the evening news report. There were race riots going on in Memphis and Miami one summer. A full-blown war was raging in Southeast Asia. Poor people marched on Washington, Bobby Kennedy was shot. A tidal wave of so much news—and yet so jar away from us. A couple times, we stayed out on the golf course to look at stars. My father knew the constellations. He showed me Venus, the evening star, Aries the ram, how to find the North Star if I was ever lost in the woods. I never got lost in the woods, but I loved those times and never even knew it. It's as if I were sleepwalking and he was inviting me to awaken. This pattern of play, this communion of being, carried us straight through my college years and into my first reporter's job at the same newspaper where he'd begun as a copy runner in the early 1930s. For years we would meet at a golf course somewhere, get in nine, sometimes eighteen before dusk. We walked and carried our bags. Later we took carts, to spare his legs. We did this for years up
/ I I and down the East Coast, in big cities and small towns. We found this a great time to talk. No topic was out of bounds: sex, women, God, career, money. We argued intensely about Nixon's Cambodian policy, TV evangelists, the fate of the modern novel, orange golf balls. We had epic putting duels on darkened putting greens, in motel rooms, in the lobbies of his business clients. Jung said children dream their fathers' dreams. In those private moments of play, something ordained my future and sealed my fate. As a boy, I dreamed of being either an actor or a classical guitarist I grew up instead to become a political journalist, a job I worked hard at for a while before having the good fortune to become a golf writer. More important, at several particularly difficult moments in my life, when I drifted away from the game and even seemed to lose sight of my life's purpose, my old man was always there to shepherd me back to golf, and myself. Out of the blue he would call up, make a joke, challenge me to a round. He always said he was going to pin my ears back, though he seldom did. He wasn't just my best golf pal, but my best friend. That's really something. I see that now. As a father of small children myself, I perhaps know some of what he knew, felt, and understood way back then: that we really get only a few precious moments to connect before the magic vanishes. Not surprisingly, I read my,children the same storybooks my father read me. The Just So Stories, Treasure Island, Stuart Little. Their overwhelming favorite, as it was mine—written by a Scotsman to entertain his niece—is about a boy who lives to duel a notorious pirate in Neverland, a lad who refuses to grow up because life outside that magical realm where no one visibly ages or has to eat their veggies is clearly no fun. Only when Peter Pan fails to believe in happy thoughts does he fail to fly. The truth is, when my father sent back the new golf clubs, I couldn't bear to think he and I had played our final rounds together. That's why I'd tried to bribe both him and the golf gods.
/ F i n a l R o u n d s A child's belief is so strong, an adult's so fragile. At forty, I was still my father's child, and I told myself we had unfinished business in Neverland—somewhere out on the golf course. If we believed that, we could still βy. ±t was not until the next October—far too long to suit my tastes—that we played again, Γd been working hard, traveling a lot, trying to figure out why it was that whenever I was in some glorious, glamorous golf place, I spent so much of my time thinking about home, worrying about my children and my roses, both of which require a lot of hands-on attention. Two of my colleagues at Golf Magazine invited me to join them for a round at Pinehurst Number 2, the marvelous Donald Ross course where Opti and I had played many rounds over the years. The course was one of his favorites, I invited my father to join us, and he agreed. The day was raw, wet, and cold, and everyone's game was off, but my father's was really desolate. He topped balls and missed putts he could once have made with his eyes shut. At one point I was passing a steep fairway bunker when I heard him sheepishly call my name, I turned and saw him asking me for a hand up, I reached and took his hand. It was trembling ever so slightly. My heart almost broke on the spot. We attempted to joke off the disaster on the hour drive home, I told Dad those super senior clubs he rejected would have saved his skin, and he said at least nobody died in the train wreck. We rode along for a little while in silence, looking at the slick road and rainy countryside. He seemed as down as I'd ever seen him. Then an idea came to me, "Let's take a trip," I said, "What trip'"
/ 1 3 "The trip we always talked about. The one we never took/' He glanced at me and steered Old Blue, his ancient barge-sized Cadillac, around a farmer pulling a hay wagon. "Don't you remember'" I said. "Of course. But you go there all the time." "I go there all the time by myself," I corrected him. "I've never been there with you. We've got some unfinished business." "I suppose so." He managed to conceal his enthusiasm for the idea. I hoped his rotten day on the course accounted for this. In any event, that's where it really began, the first step in our final golf journey—a trip to the places where he learned to play golf as a sergeant in the Eighth Army Air Corps during the war. "There" was St. Andrews, the birthplace of the game. Thousands of golfers went there every year. But we hadn't. It was now or never and almost that simple. But nothing is really that simple. I knew not to push my father on the subject. Things were obviously changing fast in his life. Losing his golf pals had merely revealed his mortality. I sensed a powerful urgency in him to tie up loose ends, to finish whatever needed finishing at home and in his life and work. We didn't speak of it again for months. I got on with my own life, telling myself I'd planted a proper seed. What else could I do? I hoped—I even prayed—it would grow. L/ife is weather, someone said. Life is meals—in my case lots of airplane meals. Almost before I realized it, summer had come again to Maine, and the routines of my own family's life had nudged thoughts of the trip to the back of my mind. Due to the wet spring, my roses had grown into a tumult of blossoms and thorns that badly needed pruning. But on the plus side, and seemingly overnight, my daughter Maggie had learned to swim in a tea-colored lake, while Jack had
/ F i n a l R o u n d s taken to stalking around the yard making surprisingly Hoganesque swings at pine cones, half-chewed golf balls, and the occasional sleeping golden retriever, with a cut-down seven-iron he mysteriously called his "outside club/' The mystery resolved itself when I heard him call his cut-down putter his "inside club/' Of course, I thought. That's exactly what it is. During telecasts of golf tournaments, you see, I sometimes practiced my putting on the living-room rug, and the kids, bored with further demolishing their rooms and finger painting the dog, occasionally joined in. Jack never lasted long—the game was obviously too sedate for him. Maggie, on the other hand, displayed signs of becoming a putting prodigy, which perhaps explains why she felt compelled to reveal gleefully to her entire kindergarten class that her father had a job "watching golf on TV." On parents' night, her teacher leaned forward and confided, "My husband would love to have your job. Do you get to play golf with Jack Norman? Ed adores him." "I'm sorry. Who'" I was pretty sure she meant Greg Norman. "The one they call the White Shark." Unfortunately no, I hated to admit to her. I said Maggie mostly got it right. When I wasn't watching the world's finest golfers perform in person, I was usually watching them on the tube. I left out the uninteresting part about flying forty thousand miles a year, renting the same tired rental cars, and staying in the same tired hotel rooms as I raced either to conduct an interview or to see a golf resort and then raced home. For some reason many airports are located next to golf courses, and frequently that spring and summer, when I was doing that part of my job, I found myself gazing from a plane window at an unmistakable oasis of green, a familiar patchwork of fairways below, idly wondering if my father had completely forgotten about the golf trip I'd proposed. I heard nothing about it from his end. Hope began to fade. Maybe I would offer to take Ed instead.
/ 1 5 Stories about the fiftieth anniversary of the Allied invasion of France began to crop up on the news. Reunions were about to happen, old paratroopers were mustering for a jump in Belgium. Clinton went to Normandy. I went off to California to interview a young tour player somebody said would be the next Nicklaus, which usually guarantees nobody will remember him in another ten years. Then one day in early July, the phone rang. It was Opti. We made our usual lighthearted banter about the state of the world and the decline of civilization as we knew it for a few minutes, then he paused and said: 'Okay. You set the whole thing up, and well go. Let's shoot for late summer, after all the D-Day hoopla has settled down." "Great," I said without hesitation, knowing exactly what he was talking about, trying not to sound too pleased. My elation was so strong, I actually felt light-headed and couldn't have been happier if Greg Norman had called up inviting me to play golf and borrow his yacht for the weekend. 'Til give you seven strokes a side on a two-dollar nassau. Two bits for greenies and sandies. Please don't ask for more, though. You're getting the senior citizen discount." This was our usual game. "Who's asking for more? I'll take six and pin your ears back, insolent pup." By early August, everything was set. I'd made plane and hotel reservations, reserved the rental car, and contacted several club secretaries who were enthusiastic about helping out. It read like a grand tour of the British golf establishment: Sunningdale, Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham, Turnberry, Royal Troon, Carnoustie, possibly Gleneagles and Muirfield, and of course, St. Andrews. I'd been to most of these places on my own but couldn't wait to go back with my old man.
/ F i n a l R o u n d s Two weeks before the trip, he called again. I took the call on our cell phone, standing out behind the perennial garden where I was trying to figure out the best place to build my daughter a playhouse like the one she'd seen in a local theater production of Peter Pan. "Γm afraid the trip will have to be postponed/' he said. With a sinking heart, I asked why. "I had some bleeding. I didn't think it was any big deal, but I guess I was wrong. They did some tests. They want to do some more, starting tomorrow." The cancer of a decade ago had come back, he said, spreading radically throughout his pelvic region. It had moved into his back, had even invaded his stomach and intestines. I asked for the official prognosis and will never forget what he told me: a month, two at most. Then he laughed. Only Opti would have laughed at such a verdict. He said he would call back in a couple more days when he knew more. I hung up the phone and sat down on a wooden bench. My first thought was undeniably selfish: Christ, we'll never play golf again. I went through the next few days in a trance. I tried to read stories to my children but kept missing passages. I tried to write my columns and prune my roses but nothing helped. I went to my golf club and played three holes and quit. I picked up the phone to begin canceling reservations but put the receiver down again. Then my father called back. "Well, the options are not good," Opti said, sounding eerily like his old self. "They can pump me full of poisons and maybe hook me up to some machines and buy a few more weeks. Who the hell needs that'" He said he planned to let nature take its course. I told him I admired his courage. He told me to save my lung power for the golf course.
/ 1 7 "I'm planning to whip your tail at Lytham and St. Andrews/' he said. "Hope you haven't canceled those reservations or anything/' I said I hadn't. "Good. Here are my terms," he continued. "No complaints. No long faces. We go to have laughs, hit a few balls, maybe take a bit of the Queen's currency from each other's pockets. But when I say it's time to go home, I go home. No questions asked. I've got plenty of stuff to do. But I do want to pin your ears back for old times' sake—so you'll at least remember me." I sort of laughed then agreed. "Good. See you at the airport in Atlanta," he barked happily, banging down the phone. Opti the Mystic had spoken again. I went out and finally pruned my roses, damn near barbering them to the ground.
The Road Hole As our plane bored through the darkness five miles above the Atlantic, Dad put aside his Wall Street Journal and turned to me, smiled, and said, "Know what Γm anxious to see'" "It's just a wild guess. Either Dean Smith win another national basketball championship, or possibly the Queen Mum in her Calvins'" "Smart mouth/' "It's my job," I reminded him. This was true. Dad was such a perfect straight man, I always played Bob to his Bing in our thirtyyear road show. His smile widened. "I'm wondering how you'll take the corner when the pressure's on." I knew exactly what he meant. This was an elliptical code for taking the dogleg corner of the seventeenth hole on the Old Course
/ 19 at St. Andrews, sometimes called the Road Hole, regarded by many as the toughest par-four hole in the world, 475 yards of celebrated Scottish madness that offers the player the difficult choice of firing his ball dangerously over a set of old replicated railway sheds that invade the driving line of the left-to-right dogleg, or the opportunity to play "safe" and face a tough long iron or fairway wood shot to a shallow, unforgivingly firm, slightly elevated green bordered by severe out-of-bounds to the right and an infamous pebble road and wall in back—to say nothing of the murderous pot bunker that lurks in front and has buried the hopes of more ordinary mortals and great players than probably any single patch of sand on earth. "Same as always/' I assured him, sipping my expensive scotch. "Grip it and rip it over the shed to the heart of the fairway. A neat fiveor six-iron to the center of the green, followed by two putts. No problem/' "You seem to have it figured out nicely. You've played it that way, have you'" "Only in my dreams, Γm afraid." I knew exactly how my father would play the Road Hole, though. His usual short fade off the tee, two more irons to the green, and one good putt for par. That was the ideal approach and how he basically approached every par-four hole—pretty much how he approached life in general, come to think of it, a patient player who accepted the physical limitations of his game and waited for his moments to score. Never gifted with length off the tee, his salvation was his short iron game and his putter. "How many times did you play the hole'" I asked him. "Only twice. I took the train to Scotland two times, once in late '43 and again in '44, just before D-Day. Then they sent me off to France." "So how'd you do on it'" "I double bogeyed it the first time." He was now fiddling with
/ F i n a I R o u n d s his earphones, trying to untangle them from his newspaper, preparing to plug into the inflight movie, in which several cars were already exploding. I helped him by taking the newspaper, glancing absently at the date as I did. It was late September, and something gently stirred in me. "And the second'" I asked. "I almost hate to say/' "C'mon. I won't tell. A snowman'" "No. A birdie, I think." I stared at him. "You think you birdied it'" "Actually, I know I did"—he smiled again, remembering—"because the little gentleman I was playing with was so ecstatic about it, he insisted on buying me supper to celebrate. I have to say, it was one of those crazy shots you couldn't do again if your life depended on it. Basically a fluke. I chipped in from off the green." "From where exactly'" I was pleased to hear this but shouldn't really have been too surprised. Over the years I'd seen him chip the ball into the cup dozens of times, from the worst kind of lies—out of sand, penal rough, hardpan dirt. Like Paul Runyan, the great short game impresario who used his putting and chipping talents to compensate for his relatively puny game off the tee, Dad seemed to relish any opportunity to extricate himself from Bogeyville with his trusty chipping iron (usually his seven-iron) or bang the ball into the back of the cup from the backside of nowhere with his old Ping putter, crushing his opponent's spirits in the process. I'd been the victim of his great chipping and putting touch far too often to write off his good fortune at the Road Hole, however improbable, merely as a fluke. Still, a bird at the Road Hole! I couldn't think of anyone I knew who'd done it. Most professionals never even came close. Dad was fiddling with the volume knob now, the headphones in place, tuning in to his blow-up adventure movie. He was obviously in no rush to reveal anything more. He sipped his scotch, settled back,
/ 2 1 then glanced over at me and smiled. "I have a better idea. Why don't I show you when we get there'" He obviously wanted me to leave him alone for a while. I got up and went to join the after-dinner queue for the toilet. .It's said a great calm descends on you when you begin a long journey. The road ahead stretches so far, you can think only of what is happening now. The thing was, I didn't have a clue what was really happening at that moment. My father was supposed to be dying, but he didn't appear to be dying, and the idea that he would soon vanish from my life—the worst fear of my childhood—seemed utterly incomprehensible, almost laughable. Opti the Mystic was so alive, so constant, still so there despite the direst verdict of medical science. And what's more, we were streaming through a cold black ocean of air, drinking scotch, and getting our digs in as always, finally bound together for the Road Hole. Was it the beginning of a trip, I wondered, or the end of a journey? As I stood in line for the bathroom, arms braced against the bulkhead, gently swaying with the plane, I stared out a porthole window thinking about that Road Hole birdie and told myself not to put too much expectation on this trip. Opti would have stressed the importance of staying in the moment and not worrying about the outcome. But living in the moment had always been so difficult for me. So much of my life was spent worrying about things that were going to happen in the future, racing to make plane connections or conduct interviews or make approaching deadlines. Reporters live in the land of tomorrow. So do fathers and gardeners. I was all three. On our hill in Maine, I'd cleared almost two acres of land by hand, propelled by a single vision of how glorious my vast yard and gardens would
/ F i n a l R o u n d s someday look. Sometimes I worried about the kinds of boys Maggie would bring home or how Jack might fare on his college boards. These events were only ten or twelve years in the future. Through the porthole, I found myself gazing at a star. The unexpected brilliance of it made me think of my own childhood. Every story my father read my brother and me as children seemed to have two things: a moral and a guiding star. There were legends of Indian warriors crossing wildernesses in search of their destinies, Greek myths of seafaring sons in search of their fathers, Columbus on the prow of the Santa Maria. Sojourning man pursued undiscovered worlds by contemplating the stars and the ancient Greeks, for one, believed that men's souls were composed of the same elements as stars, Plato believed a man who lived his life well on earth went to reside happily on a star afterward. He said the soul was pure memory. 1 said Balzac, is insignificant. For me at least, the reason for, if not the soul of, this trip was almost entirely bound up in the memory of hearing about St. Andrews and the Road Hole for the first time. It was a balmy evening in the 1960s, and my father and I were headed up the eighteenth fairway at Green Valley. A small plane flew overhead. Dad looked up and smiled. "Look at that/' he said, with obvious pleasure. "An old J-3 trainer. I flew one just like that before the war/' As we watched, the plane's engine suddenly stopped the ship seemed to hover dangerously on the evening's air currents, and then the engine refired. "He's practicing stalls at sunset. I used to do the same thing. It's amazing how well you can see everything from up there at this hour. Saint-Exupery said the airplane revealed the true face of the earth to man."
/ 2 3 I looked at him. "You flew an airplane'" "Sure. Didn't I tell you'" No, he hadn't. Γd never heard of a saint called Exupery, either. That evening a box of old letters and photos came down from the attic. I was surprised to learn my parents had lived another life before my brother Dickie and I were born. Dad had been a pilot, and Mom had won the Miss Western Maryland pageant. They lived on Schley Street in Cumberland, Maryland. Dad wrote an aviation column for the paper, sold advertising space, and flew on weekends. He loved to fly his old Cessna low along river valleys, following the seams of the earth, and he once frightened my mother so badly on a trip down the New River Valley, she refused to fly with him again. She drew the line when he volunteered to fly a plane through a flaming wall at a Jaycee airshow. "I told your father it was that plane or me," she said, sliding him a meaningful look. "For a while," he added with a wink, "it was a toss-up." Not really, of course. There were all these black-and-white photos from that time. They were both so young, carefree, aping for the camera at the rail of a tramp steamer out of Baltimore harbor or posing in the deep snow outside a handsome white house in a suburb of Chicago—just the kind of cozy little place, my mother explained, where they hoped to raise a family of their own someday. She thought Dad looked like the movie actor Alan Ladd in his tech sergeant's uniform. There were other pictures of him from the war: posing with a bunch of grinning GIs around a big-breasted sculpture of a woman fashioned from the muddy snow outside a Quonset hut in England sitting astride a white horse at the edge of a forest in France taking a swing with a golf club on a barren piece of ground with the broken rooflines and church spires of an almost medievallooking town rising up in the distance. The town turned out to be St. Andrews. The picture went into a frame that sat on my bedroom
/ F ί n a I R o u n d s dresser for years* I used to lie on my bed and gaze at it and think: I'm going there someday. For me, everything seemed to happen that year in the mid1960s. The Beatles came to America, and I got my first guitar, a Silvertone from Sears. I also got a new set of Northwestern golf clubs for Christmas and a book called Education of a Golfer by Sam Snead. My aunt Polly Tracy lived on the seventeenth hole at Sedgefield Country Club, where the Greater Greensboro Open was played every spring. That April, in 1965, we all went out to the tournament for the first time. Aunt Polly really wasn't my aunt. She was the wife of my father's friend, Bob Tracy. They worked together in advertising and were planning to open their own ad agency soon. The Tracys had a house full of noisy kids—Mimi, Pam, Bobby, Teddy, Paula— people always coming and going, kids carrying on, and meals being served. Mimi's boyfriends were always pulling up in sports cars. Bobby was a golf star on his high school team. Pam had actually drunk house paint and had her stomach pumped out! Teddy was the first girl I ever kissed. Paula was just the tag-along kid. I wanted to see Sam Snead because he was my father's golf hero. I also wanted to get him to autograph my copy of Education of a Golfer. On Saturday afternoon, my father and I followed Snead in the third round. Two months shy of fifty-three, the Slammer was on or near the lead, and the excitement was palpably building in the gallery. I hugged my book and waited for my chance. We followed him to the eighteenth hole, where the crowds grew very large. I remember laying the book down on a concession table to climb up on a radio broadcast tower to try and see better. My father and I had gotten separated. When I climbed back down, the book was gone. I couldn't believe it. I watched Snead head off, and then I walked back down the fairway toward Aunt Polly's house, furious with myself and blinking back tears.
/ 2 5 The next morning, another copy of the book was lying on the breakfast table. "Try and hold on to this one for a while, will you, Bo'" was all my father had to say about the matter, glancing at me over the Sunday funnies. We drove out to Sedgefield again and watched Snead make history. By winning Greensboro, he became the oldest man in history to capture a regular PGA title. The problem was, his triumph made even getting close impossible. Snead was surrounded by jubilant fans and disappeared into the Sedgefield Inn before I could reach him. My father told me we would get the autograph "next year/' | ot long afterward, I told a girl named Kristin Cress that Sam Snead had autographed my book. It was a daring lie, and I don't know why I did it except I desperately wanted her to like me. She was two inches taller and a year ahead of me in school, but we sang in the same youth choir at church. She was very popular and very pretty, a junior high school cheerleader with big brown eyes, shiny black hair, and an unusually fine singing voice. She was the star in school plays, and older boys were always hanging around her. Kristin didn't seem impressed by my Sam Snead story, and it was another two years before she even seemed to notice me. By then, Γd invented a secret golf game involving Kristin Cress, which I sometimes played on the putting green at Green Valley. The stakes were always high in these intense fantasy matches. Normally I putted against Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer for the "Championship of the Entire Earth/' a cool million dollars, a box of new Titleist golf balls, perhaps a chance to play rhythm guitar with the Beatles, and a new Corvette Stingray I would eventually be old enough to drive. But this game was different. If I could putt my way completely around the nine-hole putting green in fourteen strokes or less (Kris-
/ F i n a l R o u n d s tin was fourteen), it meant Kristin Cress would fall in love with me, I could envision the whole thing. We would marry, have children, maybe move into a big house on a golf course like Aunt Polly's, drive a Stingray, get nice big Christmas cards from Arnie and Jack. But I would have to knock at least four putts into the jar in one stroke and do no worse than two-putt on the remaining five holes. For a while I played this game over and over, after almost every round—you got only one chance per day—for most of my thirteenth summer, trying to make the magic happen. But it never did. Belief ebbed. I pretty much gave up. Then one day in the autumn, when I was just fooling around, waiting for my father to arrive at the club, stepping up and rapping putts for the heck of it, I realized that all I needed to do in order to complete the sacred Kristin Cress love grail was to finish the ninth hole in one putt. The putt was a twenty-footer with a one-cup break from left to right. I took a deep breath and set my putter behind the ball. I made a solid stroke and watched the ball roll beautifully to the edge of the cup . . . and stop. I remember looking at the perfect black script—Tiΐleist. "Get in," I whispered. The ball dropped into the cup. She was mine. It took a while for Kristin Cress to realize this. Four more years, in fact. How could I tell the love of my life that Γd won her heart in a cosmic putting match? The answer was, I couldn't. So I admired her from afar, practiced my game, and helpfully grew several inches. Then one day, not long after Γd performed Lennon and McCartney's "Yesterday" in a school assembly, as she and I were walking out of the senior high choir practice room, Kristin turned and asked me for a ride home. As we sat in her parents' driveway, she explained that she'd just broken up with her college boyfriend and out of the blue asked me if I wanted to go with her to the homecoming dance.
/ 2 1 I never told her about the cosmic putting match because she thought golf was kind of silly, "Republican religion/' as she put it. "That's why so many men worship it on Sunday morning/' Her love was drama. Still, after we began dating, she agreed to walk along and watch me play. She picked flowers, wrote in her journal, and studied her lines for Long Day's Journey into Night while I took dead aim at the third green with my seven-iron. One afternoon near Christmas, I almost aced the Valley's par-three fifth hole, a steep downhill shot. My ball bounced on the front apron of the green, kicked right, and followed the contour of the putting surface right up to the pin. One more half-rotation, and it would have dropped. I shouted, "Get inΓ but this time there was no magic. Kristin looked up from her book. She'd missed the brilliant shot entirely. I was incensed. We quarreled, and she left me to finish the round alone. That night I called her to apologize and explained that an ace was every golfer's dream. It was the perfect shot in golf. "If it's supposed to happen," she replied, "it'll happen." We dated until the beginning of my senior year, at which point Kristin went to a college in the mountains to study drama and I broke off the relationship because I didn't wish to be "tied down." The golf coach invited me to try out for the golf team, but I declined because a music store offered me a better deal teaching guitar for the princely fee of five dollars an hour. I had a new girlfriend and a new gold Camaro. I played golf matches with my father or my best friend Pat, sang in the school madrigals, earned the musical lead in the Little Theater production of Spoon River Anthology, and won the city's short story contest. I gave Kristin Cress no more than a passing thought. At Christmas, she sent me a card with a single star on it. Have you scored that hole-in~one yet? If not } keep the faith. Everything happens when it should. Miss you, K. I never wrote back. A year later, I heard she was getting married.
/ F i n a I R o u n d s T C/xcuse me," said the man ahead of me in the bathroom line. "I thought I heard you and your friend talking about the Old Course. Y'all must be golfers/' I didn't deny it, which would have been pointless since I was wearing a bright green U.S. Open cap. "You ever played the Old Course'" he asked. "A few times/' I admitted. "Never very well, I'm afraid. My father, though, says he birdied the Road Hole." "No foolin''" He seemed genuinely pleased. The plane hit an air pocket, and as we bounced together, the man extended his hand. "Name's Bob Tanner." We shook. Bob had an Auburn War Eagle cap on his head. He explained he was with a group of fellow dentists from Birmingham, en route to the golf vacation of a lifetime. "Fourteen days, no wives, and all the single malt whiskey we can legally stash in our golf bags. Two weeks of pure boy joy. How 'bout you'" Without thinking, I explained I was taking my father back to England and Scotland, where he'd learned to play golf as an airman fifty years ago during the war. I realized, too late, I was probably telling Bob a lot more than he cared to know. "That's great," said Bob enthusiastically. "I wish my old man and I had been like that. We always wanted to murder each other. He used to say there were only two ways in life—his way and no way. "Sorry to hear it. What did your father do'" "High school football coach. Real hardass. He was sure I'd be a high school football coach like him." "You like being a dentist'" I had a picture of Bob going after some poor slob's impacted wisdom tooth the way his old man kicked some lazy lineman's rear end. His hands were massive. "Sure. I mean, it's okay. I don't think I sat around as a kid thinking, Ήey, Bob, you oughta be a dentist when you grow up,' but
Γ h e R o a d H o I e / 2 9 it's kinda fun. Pays good. I get to play a lot of golf/' He gave a dopey grin. "That's the important thing, isn't it? How 'bout you'" I admitted I got to play a lot of golf, too. He asked what I did for a living. I considered telling him I sold coffins. A curmudgeonly golf editor I knew sometimes did this to prevent people from asking him for swing tips or wanting to know what Jack Nicklaus was really like. I worked for the same magazine as Jack Nicklaus, had watched him play in person dozens of times over thirty years, and had even spoken to him a couple times on the telephone, but I basically had no clue what Jack Nicklaus was really like. As for swing tips, in my book it was better to receive than give them. Still, I enjoyed being a golf writer immensely—getting paid to watch golf on TV, as it were—and usually had no problem admitting it. I got to travel to a lot of swell places, test new equipment, hang out with tour players and meet the game's living legends, eat free meals, sometimes even get free golf stuff. Who wouldn't like that? One of my regular golf pals in Maine liked to say he couldn't wait to see what kind of a real job I got when I finally grew up. "I'm a golf writer." "I'll be dogged." Bob was impressed. "How do you get a job like that'" I'd known he was going to ask me this. Unfortunately, I didn't know quite what to say. The answer was either very complicated or pretty simple, either destiny or dumb luck. So I said what I always say. "You know, Bob, I'm still trying to figure that one out." Bob the dentist laughed, and I laughed. The bathroom door opened. The plane bumped again. I guess he thought I was joking. was snoozing when I got back to my seat. I took the scotch glass out of his hand, removed his earphones and spectacles,
/ F i n a l R o u n d s lifted The Wall Street Journal from his chest and covered him with the blanket, then turned off his overhead light. I leaned forward and gazed out the window. The brilliant star was still there, guiding our little odyssey. I sat back and stared at the front page of the Journal but didn't really see what was written there. Kristin had been on my mind a lot lately, a bittersweet apparition that always seemed to come calling around the middle part of autumn. Some years the hauntings, as I thought of them, were worse than others. This year they were worse than most. Why was that? Had the stark reality of my father's approaching date with death triggered an unexpected flood of thoughts and feelings about Kristin I thought Γd kept safely bottled up for years? It was possible. My father and Kristin had been so much alike in many ways. Γd lost one. Now I was losing the other. Was that it? As passengers around me settled down under blankets to sleep, I tugged my father's own blanket up to his chin and sat there wondering why the past is such a maze we never seem to escape. My mind slipped into that dangerous maze to try and find an answer. I'd almost finished my English degree and decided to take extra semesters of religion and drama classes to kill time and figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. The problem, in some ways, was having too many options. I'd been offered a reporter's job at the Greensboro Daily News, and the English teaching assistant's position I'd applied for at a Virginia university looked as if it might pan out. To complicate matters, a drama professor had urged me to consider seriously graduate studies in theater up North, while somewhere in the back of my mind I even thought of going to a music conservatory to study classical guitar. Heck, maybe even striking off for Nashville. Predictably, my father was elusive as fairway fog on the subject, of no help whatsoever in the parental advice department. My best
/ 3 1 friends, Pat and Frank, by stark comparison, had fathers who had no difficulty whatsoever rendering advice—in their case, proper assembly instructions was more like it—about what they should do with their lives. Frank was going to Duke graduate school and make a zillion bucks in finance, Pat was someday going to take over his old man's thriving electrical supply company after he cut his hair, quit talking about impeaching Richard Nixon, and stopped dating the rock-androll singer (whom he eventually married). When I posed some of these same questions, my old man merely smiled and came back with one of his maddeningly Socratic evasions: "What do you really want to do, Bo'" His response put the whole thing ridiculously back on my young shoulders. Finally, one afternoon when decision deadlines were looming and we were playing together at Green Valley, the subject came up again, and I snapped at him that all I really wanted to do was talk to Kristin Cress. "Why don't you call her up," he said, as if that were all there was to it. "Yeah, right, Dad. In case you forgot, she's married." "So? Doesn't mean she won't be pleased to hear from you." I took his advice and called her up. Kristin's marriage had ended, and she was living in a small house on the outskirts of Hickory, a town in the Smoky Mountains, working as a social worker and part-time steakhouse hostess, and acting with a highly respected Equity rep company at a mountain playhouse on weekends. She invited me up to visit. We stayed up all night, that first night, talking and catching up. In the morning we went out to watch the sun come up over a quarry lake. There was a high rock where Kristin went on Sunday mornings. She called it Sabbath Rock because she no longer believed in "any one church." Her interest was in the religions of the East, Buddhism and Hinduism mainly. I learned she'd done a play off-Broadway and
/ F i n a l R o u n d s was saving money for a long trip to India. Meanwhile, she was rehearsing for a Bertolt Brecht play called The Good Woman of Szechwan and working with a black woman named Elsie who was trying to raise her three grandchildren in a shack near the ice plant. We took Elsie's kids bowling at the college, then for chili dogs at Tastee Freeze. Kristin, the only vegetarian steakhouse hostess in America, had to work later, so I went back to her house and put on a Chopin record and started making bouillabaisse for a midnight supper. I practiced my guitar, talked to her cat Omar, then browsed her bookshelf—a translation of Tao Te Ching, Kapleau's Three Pillars of Zen, The Collected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, a modern translation of The Upanishads. When my head was sufficiently full of this mystical soup, I went outside and practiced sand-wedge shots over her gorgeous rosebeds, causing an old lady across the street to visit her porch and glare at me. It was a balmy evening in late September, but Kristin's red roses still had blossoms as large as grapefruits, and I was suddenly incalculably, almost unbelievably happy. I went back to see her four weekends in a row, a five-hour haul down the interstate each way, falling more under the spell of my first love, I believed, each time. I gave her my spare classical guitar and taught her beginner chords. We sat on Sabbath Rock and read books or sometimes said nothing until I couldn't stand the meaningful silence any longer and started cracking jokes. She told me I should learn to meditate because silence "quieted the soul" and made true speech possible. I told her she should learn to play golf because reaching a par-five in two was a religious experience. She said golf and music might be my yanas—rafts to enlightened consciousness. I wondered if you had to pay green fees when you got to Heaven. "The great spiritual teachers of almost every tradition say that Heaven is right here and now, all around us, every second. We only
Γ h e R o a i H o I e / 3 3 have to wake up to that fact in order to see it," she said. "The only sin is ignorance of that awareness/' I asked why she was so hot to go to India, and she said spiritual journeys always revealed things—not always pleasant but true realities. I said this might explain why Γd always wanted to go visit St. Andrews. Been dreaming of it since I was a kid, I admitted. Every man has his India. Mine just came with caddies, tee boxes, and yellow flags. She looked at me and, smiling, shook her head. She said I would probably never grow up. Unfortunately, as I shot back at her, growing up was precisely the problem. Her remark gave me the perfect opening to ask her what she thought I should do with my life. Take the reporter's job? Go to drama school? Study classical guitar? Jump off this cliff) Like my father, Kristin maddeningly resisted giving a straight answer. She said I would find my dharma—life's purpose—when I quit searching for it. I told her she sounded just like Opti the Mystic, my old man and his famous less is more spiel. "Your dad's always been very cool," she said, "for a Republican and a golfer." She suggested that we meditate. I asked if this meant we were going to take our clothes off, but she only smiled. We put our legs in the lotus position, tilted our faces to the blue sky. I felt incredibly self-conscious, like the time my father had made me lie down on the golf course, wondering if some hiker across the pond was laughing his hindquarters off at us. I closed my eyes and began to snore, making my usual mockery of her daily ritual. Two days later, Kristin was dead. My father drove down to school to break the news to me. On the Tuesday after we parted, she'd gone to work at the steakhouse, and three young men had strolled in to clean out the cash register.
/ F i n a I R o u n d s One of them put a gun to the pretty hostess's head, and terrified patrons later recounted to authorities that they heard her speaking consolingly to the guy, reassuring him. He pulled the trigger anyway. The killer had just turned seventeen, a baby robber. I drove home to Greensboro in silence with my father, numb to the bone. I told him I couldn't bear to visit the funeral home, or see Kristin's family, or face any of my friends, or even attend the funeral. He said he understood these feelings but thought I should make myself go anyway. Addled with grief, seething with anger, I said nothing. Γd finally shut up. "I have an idea," said my old man. "Let's play a straight-up match. No strokes given either way. If you win, you choose whether to go or not. If I win, you go whether you want to or not. And I'll go with you." I looked at him as if he were crazy, searching his pale gray eyes for the reason he was pushing me on this. It was so unlike Opti. Didn't he understand what the hell I was going through? Hadn't he ever felt so goddamned miserable, all he wanted to do was find a hole to crawl in and hide? Public grieving, I said emphatically, wasn't my style. Besides, if I went to that funeral, people who knew what Kristin meant to me might sit there and feel sorry for me. I didn't want or need their damned pity. Even worse, I might sit there and feel sorry for myself. And who wanted that? Feeling sorry, I insisted, wouldn't do anybody any good, and most of all it wouldn't bring Kristin back. "No," he agreed, "but a long time ago I learned it may help you go on." I looked at him. We were sitting in his office off Battleground Avenue near the end of the workday. I remember hearing a clock ticking faintly in the outer office and the sigh of Friday afternoon traffic outside.
/ 3 5 "What are you talking about'" He shrugged, slowly turning a paper clip in his fingers, and smiled a bit, "Something that happened long before you were born, Sport. A little girl I knew died. I probably should have gone to her funeral, but I didn't. I regretted it later. It's what stays with you/' He fell silent. Then: "Shall we get our spikes'" "You don't have a chance," I snorted. My handicap was probably nine strokes better than his. "We'll see." He had me dormy by the sixteenth hole, shut-out one hole later. "You knew you'd win," I said to him as we climbed the eighteenth fairway toward our second shots. The hike had done me good. My mind felt clearer, my troubled soul a bit more at ease. At least the entire world was no longer lining up against me. "No," he replied. "But I knew you'd go." I sent roses and a small note to Kristin's parents that said,She gave to all and showed us how to give. I don't know why I wrote those words. I also didn't know until many years later—because I never went back to her grave—that Abe and Alice Cress had those words engraved on their youngest daughter's headstone. All I knew for sure at that moment was that Kristin had given me something powerful and nurturing, and some kid with a handgun had taken it away from me forever. The church was packed—her old cheerleader pals, kids we'd known from catechism class and choir, lots of her professors and acting mates from college. Even her ex-husband showed up, taking a seat somewhere at the back. It was very possibly Greensboro's saddest public occasion that year. I sat through the service without uttering a peep, my father's hand resting helpfully on my left shoulder throughout.
/ F i n a l R o u n d αt 'u the window of the plane, I realized, the sun was coming up. A new dawn was on the horizon. Patches of green below the swirling mass of clouds would be Ireland or maybe even Scotland itself Our descent, our trip, was finally beginning. My father was still sleeping, mouth open, snoring lightly. I unfolded his Wall Street Journal and tried to read a story about a bank megamerger deal, hoping to chase away the phantoms of that terrible far-off autumn. That's when it came to me: It was now twenty years since Kristin died. We stand against fate, Emerson said, as a child stands against the wall of his father's house, notching his growth year by year. A biblical generation had passed since my first love's incomprehensible death. Γd grown up entirely since that sorrowful autumn, moved south and then north, got on with things nicely, found a career I loved, started a new life, married a wonderful woman, became a father, and planted roses of my own. Like a mature rosebush, I had plenty of visible notches of growth to show. Yet apparently I hadn't entirely outrun every demon of anger and grief. Once upon a time Opti had simply asked me to grieve. And Γd done the best I could, and then Γd gotten on with living my life. Wasn't that enough} Wishing to think no more of these things, I leaned forward to see if our guide star was still loitering around. As fortune would have it, it was—shining like the Morning Star. But in the new light of day, I realized something pretty funny. This whole time Γd been meditating on the plane's wing navigation light, a regular Telemachus in Topsiders. Another time, I might have laughed out loud.
A* A Sunday in London I opened The Sunday Times and settled into one of the Hotel Berkeley's overstuffed reading chairs, hoping the four aspirin Γd swallowed would soon do their job. The combination of too much scotch and too much thinking and too little sleeping had given me a doozy of a headache. Dad was in the suite's spacious bathroom, preparing to shower. We'd been in London only four hours. The suite had lovely fruitwood paneling. I was already bored and still worried, which is why I hoped to distract myself with somebody else's problems. According to the Times, John Major's declared war on Yob Culture was a miserable failure, and London's tourist sites were crumbling into the Thames. A sign of how bad things were in Britain these days was the fact that the Queen was reduced to digging for oil
/ F i n a l R o u n d s beneath Windsor Castle, prompting one Fleet Street wag to rename the place South Fork-on-Thames. I heard the bathroom water start and stop and my father swear softly. I got up and walked to the door and knocked softly. "You okay in there'" "Yup. Just trying to remember how to work fine British plumbing." "It can be a challenge. May I help'" Uh . . . sure. I opened the door andwent in.He was stripped naked, wrapped in a large white terry towel, standing uncomfortably by the sink. Against the harsh afternoon light, he looked pale, vulnerable, and old. He felt embarrassed, andI did,too. His shaving kit was open on the marble vanity there were various rubber bags, frightening straps, and unopened packages of syringes lying about. I tried notto look at this medical paraphernalia, but I could smell his menthol shaving cream and see his old-style blade razor lying on a fresh towel, where he'd just laid it aside to dry. As a boy, Γd loved to watch my father shave. He shaved so slowly, standing before the mirror and lathering his face with meticulous care, making a little ritual out of each pass with the razor. He told me civilized men always shaved this way. In college I started shaving with a disposable razor in the shower and never broke the habit. I fiddled with the ornate knobs on the shower, remarking, "Isn't it strange that the same English brains who invented golf, the Magna Carta, and Page Three girls almost in the same year can't seem to produce two showers that function the same way." "At least they have showers in hotel rooms now,"he replied. "I doubt Kate Bennie would appreciate you giving credit to the English for inventing golf, Sport." - He was right about that. Kathleen (popularly known as Kate) Bennie was my Scottish mother-in-law, a no-nonsense daughter of
/ 3 9 Glasgow's Netherlee neighborhood, a proud school principal, devoted grandma, and something of a one-woman Royal and Ancient rules committee whom I could reliably count upon always to take the opposing view in any discussion about God, politics, or the future of organized field sport. Scots are naturally contrary, the way Germans are naturally humorless or Russians giftedly morose. As it so happened, at that very moment Kate was up visiting her Scottish homeland, making her annual tour of the premises just to ensure that everything was being properly looked after. We planned to try and hook up for a haggis lunch and perhaps a quick, invigorating debate of some sort in the days ahead. "You're quite right," I agreed, stepping back out of the shower. "Better strike that heresy from the record." The bath pipes were singing lustily now, the water beginning to steam invitingly. I backed away giving a butlerlike wave of the hand. "Your shower awaits, m'lord," I said. "Your cockney accent needs work." "True. So does my short game. ΓU work on both while we're here. Meanwhile, I was thinking of ordering a sandwich. Would you like one'" "Make mine ham and cheese. Now scram." I went back to my comfy chair by the window and dialed room service. At well over three hundred dollars a day, the venerable Berkeley, one of London's premier society hotels, had been specifically chosen by me as our starting point because fifty years ago my father's first night on English soil had been spent hunkering under a military poncho in the November rain. He'd come over with three thousand other GIs on theQueen Elizabeth but had had it better than most. Having been picked by the brass to serve as a military liaison to the ship's head purser, he was given the run of the ship, an actual cabin bunk, a dry wool blanket, as much bad coffee as he cared to consume, and at least one hot meal
/ F i n a I R o u n d s a day. Many of his friends slept either in the QE 's congested hallways, on the passenger decks, or in the empty swimming pool and had to live off cold rations or marmalade sandwiches, which the QE's crew sold for the extortionate price of three dollars apiece. Dad's job, as a de facto peacemaker and policeman, was to make sure nobody got thrown overboard during the inevitable disputes that arose from negotiations in the thriving marmalade black market, as well as help the crew keep a sharp eye posted at the stern for lethal U-boats. Because of severe military food shortages on land, his first three meals on British soil had been vanilla ice cream. A Jeremy Irons impersonator answered the Berkeley's room service phone. I told him I wished to place an order for two ham-andcheese sandwiches, lightly toasted, with a dollop of real English mustard and perhaps a splash of mayo, two large Cokes, chips if available, and perhaps a nice sturdy dill gherkin or two. "Γm terribly sorry/' said Jeremy. "The hotel kitchen is closed for the afternoon." This surprised me. A world-class hotel kitchen shut down on a Sunday afternoon? Jeremy didn't sound the least bit sorry, though. He sounded as if I'd thoughtlessly interrupted the annual reading of Brideshead Revisited to the housekeeping staff. I explained that my father and I had been up most of the night flying in from Atlanta, gotten lost taking the shortcut I knew like the back of my hand from the airport to the hotel, and missed both lunch and a scheduled teetime at Sunningdale Golf Club. Jeremy was unfazed by this tragic summary of our day thus far. He explained that the kitchen staff of the Berkeley had been given the day off because they were recovering from a big debutante party in the hotel the previous week. London's social season had just wound up, he explained, a tradition "that dates all the way back to the restoration of the monarchy." Sniff, sniff. "We don't require a whole lot," I reassured him. "How about a