Friday, April 19, 2013

masters at it.

daddy loves golf. is not very good at it, but years ago, when a group of men formed a small country club a few miles outside of town, we no longer had him at home for Sunday dinner.

i don't know if he had every played before the club started up, but he played most weekends when he was off. i am not athletic, so i never took it up, but i remember playing once with him, taking about 30 strokes to get to the hole, then putting what felt like a long way to me to to the hole on the green, and sinking it.

but what i remember more was sunday afternoons when he was home, and i watched golf with him.

daddy went to wake forest when arnold palmer was there. they didn't know each other, but when i was growing up, Arnold felt like family. he was one of us, a demon deacon, about the same age as daddy, and whoever was playing in a tournament that week, well, we were pulling for arnold. it was just right.

daddy and i last watched the masters together with any vengeance in 1980.  i remember sitting in our family room during those final moments as seve ballesteros sank the putt that would win it for him, and i actually said to daddy: i wonder where i will be during next year's masters?

that master's for us was one more benchmark that another year had ended — the long winter over and new life just about to begin. 

that spring, i was hoping for some sort of new life myself. i was searching — just a year out of college — for i didn't know what. after graduation, i'd found a job at a small daily newspaper, but as a photographer, not as the writer i longed to be. so when the job grew stale i pulled together my pitiful resume, typing it out on my trusted olivetti, sending it out blindly to the n&o, the atlanta paper, charlotte, anywhere to get myself out of eastern north carolina. i'm sure if i could find it now i would be embarrassed.

that summer of '80, i called (yes, people actually called other people in those days) the placement office at the j-school at carolina, asking if they had anything — i might even scrub floors to get out! — i could apply for.

oh, yes, said the woman on the other end of the line. a classmate of mine was working in augusta as a feature writer, and her department was looking to add a writer.

augusta. my mind thought back to that sunday afternoon in april when i'd watched the tournament with daddy and it felt like fate. the azaleas! the green lawns! the clubhouse! what fun!

i whipped out the olivetti and banged a new resume out, pulling together the very best clips i could find. (aka those with as few typos as possible) put a stamp on it, dropped in in the mail and prayed.

some days later, i got a call from the editor. could i come for an interview?

three weeks later, there i was, a working writer on my first assignment. wouldn't you know the husband of the woman i was interviewing for my story had once been an assistant football coach in my home town?

(a side note, though this i not part of the story: i met a rakish reporter my first night there. a year later we married, celebrating at a reception in my parents' back yard.)

that next spring i found myself standing in the clubhouse at the master's, and there they were, all of daddy's friends: arnold palmer in his hot pink golf shirt, gary player, jack nicklaus. even sam snead. all of them close enough for me to touch. my job that day was to report the color of this storied golf tournament, and all i could think of was the story i would tell daddy when i got to see him next.

that afternoon at sunset, i sat with my editor on the front lawn at augusta national, gin and tonic in hand soaking in the sunset on one very pinch-able day.

+++

when the hospital speech therapist first put the speaking valve on daddy's trach she asked him what he like to do now that he was retired. 

'read. play golf.' he said. 
'what kind of golfer are you?' she asked.
'not a very good one,' he said.

on saturday, daddy and i watched the masters together again for the first time in a very long time. as the old guard — player, palmer, nicklaus — teed off to open the tournament and new names took their places on the greens, i asked him if he remembered that day in 1980 when we watched balesteros don the green jacket. he shook his head, and so i reminded him, then shared my story of the 1981 clubhouse crowd once again.

'i think tom watson won that year,' i said and his eyes told me he didn't believe i could remember it right after all those years, so google answered the question for us. 

on sunday, when adam scott sank his putt in the pouring rain to win this year's event, i was back at home, imagining daddy's eyes glued to that sudden death putt. it was among the most memorable tournaments in master's history, the pundits all said the next day, and it was indeed. but for very different reasons to me.

daddy's old clubs are collecting dust in the storage house that holds all of his tools and the blue wagon he used to tote the grandkids around in with the riding mower. though he has not played golf in a good long while and he has a newer set, these are the ones i remember. 

tomorrow daddy comes home, a place he hasn't seen for 67 days.

i think about his homecoming, and in my mind, i can hear the crack of the wood against the ball, see it soar through the air toward a perfect line drive. hear the whir of the golf cart as he heads up the fairway to take that next shot toward the green.








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