My dad was an avid golfer. As a boy who grow up poor in the industrial city of Buffalo, he viewed being able to play golf as one of the markers for making it in life. His very first job was as a caddy at one of the local golf courses, and he fell in love with the game. As a financier in Chicago and New York, he was able to live his dream and part of his job was playing golf with clients and coworkers. He was a phenomenal athlete and a phenomenal golfer. His passion for the outdoors and competition intersected on the golf course where you compete against Mother Nature herself … with a bit of help from masterful course designers.
Some of my finest memories of my dad involve golf. We watched golf together every weekend on TV, and the masterful Tiger Woods performance at the 1997 Masters is one of my most vivid memories. Until that point, I had wanted to be like Mike, but my passion for golf eclipsed my passion for basketball at the point.
I started to learn how to play golf. With some instruction from my dad, I learned the basics of the golf swing. I would spend endless hours out on the rolling lawns of our estate hitting wiffle balls and, when no one was looking, real golf balls. I was motivated by his constant encouragement that when I was good enough, I would be able to go out on the course with him.
In the summers, we would go to the country club, and he would go out to play a round of golf leaving me at the pool with the rest of the family. With his favorite saying of “drive for show, putt for dough” ringing in my ears, I would escape to the practice green to work on my putting. I couldn’t hit it 300 yards like he could, but I didn’t need crazy clubhead speed to sink putts. Putting matched quite well with my love of physics and math, and I became quite good.
We never got to play together. As he lay dying two years later, he apologized to me for not having been able to take me out to play. For years after his death, I had his 6 iron hanging on my wall. I would often take it down, grip it, and I would feel that he was right there with me. At his memorial, all his friends, coworkers, and golf buddies promised that they would take me out to play golf. They told me how he spoke so proudly of my natural swing and putting and how he had looked forward to being able to play golf with me; I had looked forward to it more than anything else.
He didn’t want to take me out until I was “ready” to play. It turned out that being ready to play came after he died.
Of all the people who had promised, precisely zero ever took me out to play. For years afterward, I would go through his rolodex during the golf season and beg his friends to take me to play golf. I begged my mother to find someone to take me to play golf, and I managed to play three rounds in the two years after his death. I always wanted to play, but I was without a partner.
For the next decade, I did not get to play. We moved to New York City, the wealth turned to poverty, and surviving overwhelmed my desire to play golf, but it was always in my mind. I promised myself that someday, I would attain the success that allowed me to be a golfer.
Two and a half years ago, at the very lowest point of my life, I stumbled on a job opening to be a cashier at a golf store. It felt like fate; I didn’t get the job. They had a better place for my talents and created a position just for me. In addition to a salary, it also gave me access to equipment and an indoor practice facility. I was able to avoid the high entry requirements of buying golf equipment, and I had the opportunity to practice every single day at the office.
A decade of being unable to play golf evaporated. I was hitting hundreds of balls every single day, working on my swing, trying to improve, and getting my fix. Then last spring, I developed tendinitis in my elbow. I was not going to let a sore elbow ruin my first season; however, by the time I finished my fifth round of the year on the 4th of July, I was unable to use my right arm. I lived in pain for nearly a year, with a completely useless arm. I was afraid that I would never have a fully functioning right arm again. Yet the emotional toll of not being able to swing a golf club was even worse.
This spring, I started two months of intensive physical therapy to rehabilitate my arm. I wanted to be able to play for the company 4th of July outing. Last week, after an entire year of no golf, I played in my first round since my injury.
There is one place in the world where I feel a strong connection with my dad, and it is on the golf course. Out there on the course with me was my dad, and I keep a photo of us in my golf bag. We never got to play together, but we’re together every time I play.
—Photo credit: Pranav Bhasin/Flickr