On some base level it’s always been about the search for a connection.
I’ve got two older brothers, 11 and 12 years my elder. One has the business he took over from our dad. That’s a tie that binds in ways on an off a Quickbooks payroll file.
The other has Jack Reacher, Tom Clancy and Brad something or other to share and discuss in a sort of informal father / son book club. I know only enough to say with some level of certainly that one of those names is a fictional character and two of them are authors.
To say I share golf with my father would be a step too far.
There’s his old set of PINGs he gave me during my 5th grade Catholic school confirmation party at a candlelight restaurant famous (or at least famous in the hungry eyes of a certain husky 10-year-old who had just gained ‘Kyle’ as a sort of middle name) for their hot dinner rolls and cold salted butter, and there were all the chunks of divoted earth I’d been taught to replace on courses from here to Bermuda, but the game never suited my temperament as a boy.
It still doesn’t.
I did, however, enjoy the hours spent watching my dad’s unorthodox swing. It was a sort of hitch and twist that would cause golfing purists minor back pain to look at but for many years provided my dad a 6 to 8 handicap.
Despite hating that he smoked them, I also reserved a special place in my heart for the way he’d place his lit cigar on the fringe of 18 manicured greens while routinely 2-putting for par after par after par.
Yet it is golf and, most specifically, the idea of shared golf experiences that percolated inside my mind since before my dad’s bum left knee forced him to hang up his white and brown Lovejoy spikes for good and abandon the private club member card he’d carried since before I was a Payne Stewart-knickers wearing young boy begging to drive the cart. I couldn’t help but see golf as the best way for me to have something special to share with my dad.
And so I kept trying to find ways to make that happen for us.
For even a casual golf viewer, these four words should hold some major significance: ‘Pebble Beach’ and ‘The Masters’.
There are others too, ‘Pinehurst #2’ being near the top of that auxiliary list, but for my father, those first four words — those two golfing sanctuaries — were, for him, like a pair of brass rings dangling teasingly out of the reach of giggly small-armed school children on a Parisian carousel.
Pebble Beach and The Masters are the shiny prizes all golf lovers wish to claim.
My dad had become a father for the third and final time when he was in his late 30’s and I, his youngest child, just turned 40. The math doesn’t lie: the proverbial clock was ticking…and loudly.
I made Pebble Beach happen for him, and for us, in 2015. We had one day to shuttle between Spyglass and Pebble, observing the annual celebrity pro-am.
At the former course we watched Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson putt and then tee-off with Wayne Gretzky. That’s about as killer a threesome as a golf-obsessed dad and a hockey-obsessed kid could ever hope to produce in a pairings laboratory.
When we finally found our way to the hallowed grounds, to the rocky Pacific coast, to the famed 18th green of Pebble Beach, we saw Condoleezza Rice finish her round and other pros and celebs of various note pass in front of our eyes. It was glorious, or, at least it should have been glorious.
The problem was that by the time we made it to the 18th at Pebble, my dad was a hot mess and he had no one else to blame but himself.
The stubbornness of age and his patented power-through-it disposition caused my dad to wave away any semblance of breakfast, foolishly refuse to purchase (or allow me to purchase) the Pebble Beach hat he wanted all along until the end of the day thus placing his melanoma head under the California sun for hours, and shook off any fluids until having a beer at lunch.
He staggered, stumbled and turned a dream of a day into a lush green nightmare.
We’ve since reconciled the mistakes of that fateful day in Northern California, cried, hugged, and moved on, but The Masters was still a pie in my sky. I couldn’t let it go. Despite a frustrating day at Pebble Beach, I wanted to take him to The Masters before it was too late.
I knew I’d suffer the harsh sting of regret when he’s gone and there were no photos of us together at Augusta National for me to hold tightly against my chest while walking the back nine of my own life.
A public Facebook update from dad blogger pal. Then a private message. And suddenly in the literal blink of an eye a strange twist of fate had placed in my hand two tickets to Friday’s 2nd round of The Masters at Augusta National last spring.
This was our moment; a shot at redemption, a cinematic father & son memory, one last chance to make the special connection with my dad I’ve craved since I was little.
I called him excitedly. I bought the plane tickets to Atlanta. I booked a hotel. This son was going to take his dad to The Masters. Holy shit.
I could think of nothing else. Every day I visualized us there. Hogan bridge, Sarazen bridge, Amen corner. My god, I was going to take my dad to The Masters.
A week went by and I found myself sitting before him in my parent’s kitchen as he told me with tears in his eyes that he didn’t think he could do it; the flight, the early morning drive across Georgia, the walking and standing at the golf course, the long night back to the airport, the traveling home. It was all going to be too much. Shit.
It would be a lie if I told you that his reversal of plans came as a complete surprise but that didn’t make his decision not to go to The Masters with me hurt any less. If only he hadn’t spent the last half decade putting off that knee surgery. If only. Regrets, I’m sure he has a few.
I didn’t go to Augusta alone because, after reading a remarkable magazine story many years earlier about a writer taking his father to The Masters, I didn’t want to have the experience without my dad. That’s not the way it was ever supposed to happen, so it didn’t.
I’d have enjoyed watching The Masters alone, sure, but in the most miserable way imaginable. I sold the tickets for a ton of money and donated the proceeds to a couple of different causes so that some good would come from all this.
When that Friday eventually came around, I made a fresh batch of chicken salad, baked a loaf of crusty bread, and bought some craft root beers and a bag of potato chips. Instead of flying to Georgia I drove to spend the evening with him in front of the television.
We watched the 2nd round of the 2016 Masters together in a way that provided him the most comfort possible. We enjoyed our dinner and talked as loudly as we wanted, sometimes too loud so he could hear me better, but we didn’t say anything about what it would’ve been like to press our feet down on that lush green Bermuda grass.
One year and a knee replacement surgery later, the lost chance we had to walk Augusta National together during Masters week is still not something either of us has been willing or able to discuss.
One year later and I’m still in search of a special connection to my dad that’s mine and mine alone.