An Old Golf Pal
I met him the first day of med school. He had on a frayed ‘Titlelist’ hat. “You play?” I asked.
“What’s your handicap?”
“Med school.” He laughed out loud. “”We won’t play much here.”
“I’m sure you’re right.”
And we didn’t. I studied like a wild man, and made a touch better grades, but Robert did well. He was smarter and didn’t have to work as hard. He found time to play a few chess tournaments and was a Grand Master kind of player. He was always laid back. “We aren’t here forever, B,” he’d say.
The first time we played I noticed a one iron in his bag. Lee Trevino always said beware of a man who carries a one iron. Robert was All-Conference in high school and a good two shots a side better than me. We always argued over whether I’d get four shots or three for our matches. Our standard bet was for a hot dog, an important item in med school. He said I always clipped him, but I recall it was the opposite. We played a little muni where you could walk for five bucks. I still recall how good those hot dogs were. They turned them slow on a rotisserie type cooker in the pro shop, and they had great chili.
Golf requires at least some time and money. We had neither, but we played a little anyway. One time he invited me and Marfar to his folk’s house for the weekend. They lived in Morehead City, and his mom had connections and got us on at Cherry Point. We played thirty six holes in one day. It was a crisp Carolina fall day; his favorite golf weather. I don’t recall who won and it doesn’t matter. After the match we went to his mom’s house, and she fed us all. There were big thick steaks, lobster, baked potatoes, bowls of corn on the cob slathered with butter, and lots of sweet tea. Mercy. Afterwards everyone told a bunch of tall tales and played cards.
When we graduated, Robert matched in a residency program in Florida. “I gotta chase the sun just a little B.” He kept a two handicap and played chess. He took his time as a Doc; the kind of fellow who’d pull up a chair to listen. His patients loved him.
We hadn’t been out of school a decade when Robert got sick. I heard about it and invited him up to our Member Guest. At first he protested. “Man, I can’t help you. I’ve got no game.”
“Heck man, after all those hot dogs I had to buy you surely you aren’t gonna turn me down.”
“Hm. Seems I was the one who bought all the hot dogs.”
I talked hin into coming. My kids were too young to remember the old days, and were still little children when he visited that weekend. He brought them presents. They were taken by this gentle giant who told all the funny stories. He was 6′ 8″ but had fallen off his old weight by forty pounds. They could have cared less he wasn’t a player anymore and it didn’t matter to me either, except I hurt for him.
We played two days, and neither of us acted like anything was different. We bought our team in the Calcutta, but the boys didn’t run up our price. He could barely hit it 200 yards, and there was no longer a one iron in the bag. He sunk a few putts and we’d yell like school boys. We knew we had zero chance to win, but we didn’t say it.
A year later he was gone. I took the train to Florida and played the blues on my mandolin the whole ride. Robert used to tell me some of his happiest days were in high school on the golf team. He’d get out of class early and they’d give him a sleeve of brand new Titleists. He didn’t see how life could be any better.
I played the Member Guest with Cuz today, and we had a good run of it. It was cold and rainy and the wind blew. Some of the guys griped, but I just can’t complain about the weather. I am sure Robert would have loved to had a few more days regardless of the temperature. I seldom play a round of golf that I don’t think of my old pal, and cherish every day I have here on Earth.
When I came in after my round my nose dripped, my ears were red, and my toes tingled, but Marfar had on a pot of soup and her best steak fries in the oven. I am certain I will recover without difficulty. I have no idea why such a good man as Robert has to go so early and leave behind a wife, a child, and a sister he loved so much. In Heaven, I suspect he has a new sleeve of Titleists every day. He sure does deserve them. I had three birdies today, and I bet he had four. In fact, I bet I’ve already run up a hot dog tab that’ll take an eternity for me to get back to slick again. (that’s golf talk for even)
Wait on me old pal, and when I get there I need three a side. I am sure you’ve had a lot of practice.