I was an avid golfer for ten years, from the ages of 12-22 years old.

It occurred to me recently that playing golf had NOTHING to do with golf.

Instead it had everything to do with my father, a dead ten-year-old boy and my high school best friend.

When I was 12 years old my dad took me to the driving range.

I had never held a golf club before so he gave me a little lesson. I’m sure I was fascinated by hearing my taciturn father speak so many words in a row.

I teed up my first shot and knocked it about 150 yards. He was most impressed.

Not long after that I scored a 65 during my first round of nine holes and he seemed pleased.

He was not a man to dole out praise so no doubt that’s what fueled my interest in golf in the early going.

Plus I impressed the heck out of the neighbor kids when one of my errant tee shots knocked a squirrel out of a tree. I lived off that story for quite a while.

Anyway, it never occurred to me to ask my best friend to golf with me. It didn’t seem like it would be her thing at all. She was into horses and stuff.

Then, one Friday in May 1982, I cheerfully said “have a great weekend!” to her as we boarded our respective school buses.

Later that evening she hitched her horse up to a wagon and set out for a wagon ride with her parents. Her 10-year-old brother Jeff hopped on his bike and joined them.

He raced a little distance ahead of them. It was near sunset and a driver’s eyes were temporarily blinded by the sun as he drove down that country road where Jeff was pedaling.

His car hit Jeff and killed him instantly. My friend and her parents arrived on the scene a minute or two later.

The next morning my friend’s grandmother called my mother with the news.

My mom came to the table where my 11-year-old brother (who was friends with Jeff) and I were eating breakfast and told us what happened.

My brother started crying. His tears literally splashed into his cereal bowl and he kept eating cereal as he cried, as if he was in shock.

For once, I wasn’t irritated by his noisy way of eating cereal.

For once, I didn’t roll my eyes at the sight of him crying.

It was the first time I saw him cry for selfless reasons. It’s a mental snapshot I feel privileged to have tucked in my memory.

Then came the visitation and the sight of Jeff in his Cub Scout uniform in his casket was too heart-wrenching.

Even my dad cried. It’s the only time I’ve seen him cry. Another mental snapshot that I gently filed away in my memory.

Then came the day that I was anxious about, when my friend returned to school.

What would I say to her? I couldn’t just pretend that life was normal. Plus, I still had a little brother…and she didn’t.

I was only 15 and didn’t have enough life experience to have anything profound or comforting to say.

Inexplicably, I ended up inviting her to the driving range and she accepted.

I gave her a little lesson at the range and she knocked a 150 yard drive before we were done.

A neighbor gave her an old set of clubs and we proceeded to play golf together as often as possible during the next several summers.

Golf gave us something to do with our hands as we talked and laughed. And dissed the Illinois golfers who would clog our southern Wisconsin golf course on the weekends. And rolled our eyes at the drunken twentysomething male golfers who would hit on us sometimes.

Golf also made it easy for us to be quiet together.

In short, golfing had NOTHING to do with golf.


Tomorrow’s golf story will be more upbeat. Stay tuned!


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