Of Masters and Memories – a Letter to My Father

Dear Dad,

Since you have been gone, I have to admit, I don’t feel your presence in my day to day goings on nor do I think you are watching over me.  I think, you are, simply gone but what I do have are memories and whenever I watch golf, especially the Majors, I think of you the entire time and miss you dearly. This year was the 81st Masters Tournament at Augusta National. It was a Masters of memories as this was the first year in over 60 years without Arnold Palmer in attendance; Masters Sunday would have been the 60th birthday of 2 time Masters Champion, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros and all the contenders had unique and interesting statistics that would add to the history of the Masters should they have won.  And after taking this all in, I realized this 81st Masters, Dad, is our 9th Masters without you but still we watch (me at my house, Mom and Reina at theirs) and we cheer and remember the things you said and smile as we predict the comments you would have made today if you were watching with us.

You would have loved the tribute to Arnold Palmer, Dad.  You would have been touched to see the ceremonial tee-shot and how much Jack Nicklaus misses his beloved friend and rival, tipping his hat to the heavens, teary-eyed.  The many memories of us watching Arnie and Jack on our dining room wall when I was little, flooded into my mind and made me smile.

Arnold and Jack – rivals & friends.

It also made me chuckle, Pops, at the realization that I really am half a century old!  We were watching the greats in sports from that monstrosity projector you would haul home from work because in our tiny Caribbean island back then, it was the only way people could witness such greatness, even if it was a week after history was made.  Next to you taking me around to see the costumes and hear the steel bands in the pan yards at Carnival time, watching sports, especially boxing and golf, was my favourite time with you.  Of course, later on when we were able to watch Wide World of Sports and numerous other televised sports as technology progressed, the four of us we were more comfortable in Mom’s and your room, crammed on the bed glued to the greatness we saw in colour on TV.

This Masters was beset with the obstacles of Mother nature.  High winds and rain made practice difficult and players ventured out to take shots whenever she allowed, for as little time as she allowed.  Fate had it’s hand in this year’s tournament too.  World number 1, wearing socks while taking the stairs in his rental home slipped and fell injuring his back resulting in him withdrawing from the tournament just as he walked onto the first tee. A former world number 1, was just happy to play, relieved to know that his mother’s cancer surgery went well, though nowhere the top 10 in the competition, he gave his best performance nonetheless.  Fred Couples showed that at 57, the love of the game could and sheer experience and maturity could put your name up on the leader board with the young guns right through to Sunday and Ernie held his head high as a 23rd attempt at trying to win this thing resulted in a last place finish.

In a tournament that belongs to a post Tiger dominance sport, it really is anybody’s to win today.  Of those yet to wear the coveted Green jacket, spectators (armchair professionals)  like to pass judgement on social media, using phrases like “not mentally tough”, “lacks maturity” or words like “inconsistent” and “choke” that really don’t apply to the game today.   Their words don’t apply because everyone is that good today.  Maybe it has to do a little bit with today’s clubs and balls, a little bit to do with advanced analysis of swings and stances with the use of high tech research equipment but mostly I attribute the calibre of golf I see with the passion for a game made sexy by Tiger Woods.  His drive to win, his love of being at every course, at every tournament and his love of the challenge of the game and his love of winning encouraged kids in TV land and later, in cyberspace, to go out and become stars.  Post Tiger, no one player has dominated each and every tournament the way he did because in their unique way they all dominate and it comes down to who can put the pieces together from Thursday to Friday and hold on to a lead or make a surge forward on Saturday and take it home on Sunday.  It is hard to win golf; harder than it has ever been and it is fantastic to watch.

Young Sergio with Seve 1999.

Coming into the final day, the leaderboard had Garcia and Rose, Fowler and Spieth with names like Pieters, Kutcher, Casey, Scott, Hoffman (who at 40 held on to the lead and stayed in the running right through to Sunday as best as he could) Schwartzel and slow to climb, but there nonetheless, McIlroy.  It was anybody’s to win and Dad, would you believe in a finish of the ages, in a playoff, Sergio Garcia won over Justin Rose to finally win a PGA Tour Major after 73 attempts.

At 37, he is no longer the best player without a Major title under his belt.  I remember you agreeing with the broadcasters that he was great but had something missing, some demons to conquer and no one understood why he was always the bridesmaid, so close to grabbing a Major title yet not able to close.  Today, on what would have been Seve Ballesterros’ 60th birthday, Sergio Garcia joined him and other 2 time Master’s Champion, Jose Maria Olazabal in being one of three Spaniards to win the tournament.  It was beautiful to see and even more beautiful to see the photo taken at the 1999 Masters of a young Sergio as the Low Amateur Champion beside the champion, Seve wearing the Green Jacket.

While I was happy for Sergio finally getting the win, I was disappointed my favourite, Rickie Fowler had his worst day on the last.  Rickie turned pro in 2009, the year after you died, so I don’t think you would have known of him but you would not have liked his flashy, colourful clothes and at the time, longish hair.  You would have said he was young and silly and dressed like a clown and I would have countered your point by drawing your attention to Payne Stewart, whom you loved and we would have agreed to disagree.  You would have fallen in love with Fowler’s game at the  2015 Players Championship where he was the victor.  You would have quietly admired the his stats in tournaments especially his top 5 finishes in Major tournaments . You would have admired him, but quietly so I wouldn’t call you out on it.

Rickie is quiet on the course in spite of his boldly coloured threads.  He doesn’t have loud outbursts, does not throw tantrums or curse and is more of an observer – a thinker.  He was not a country club kid, but a driving range kid who did what needed to be done to become a pro golfer.  Young and willing to define himself when he became a professional on tour, he grew up before judgemental eyes of television broadcasters, viewers and on social media which reaches people more than television and radio have ever and will ever reach.  In spite of the scrutiny, he continues to be himself, continues to redefine himself as he gets older.  He is blessed with a gift for golf – he has a long drive for his small stature and has a hell of a short game. Rickie is the Bobby Jones of our era when it comes to the putter, Dad.  He sees the green, the grass, and reads it all like a book and can visualize that ball dropping into the hole.  It’s like he can play a recording of what he wants to have happen in his mind.  He is also blessed with articulation and he is a smart and good looking kid  – the two latter qualities also can be considered a curse especially when it comes to the haters on social media who generally are a bunch of jealous twits.  He emulates the greats, especially Palmer and is well liked on tour and by fans.  His time can be now but he is human and though he has won on tour, with Sergio’s victory, he is now the best player yet to win a major and whenever he does, it will be great; it will be historic, epic and truly deserved.  He reminds me a bit of our Logan (though Logan will disagree because he is a teenager and God forbid he agrees with his mother).  He is talented at his sport because he is a hard worker. He is decent and is a good man and we see that unfolding in our Logan as he grows up .  He is generous and has an appreciation for his family and fans and people in general and shows great sportsmanship and is a good role model.  In the hands of these young gentlemen, Dad, I believe golf’s greatness will continue to shine for generations.  The sport has lowered the walls that once made the game elitist and stodgy.  The game is everyman’s game more than it has ever been and it is nice to see that the networks have figured out how to balance their cameras on skin tones darker than white.

It was a Masters of memories for the organizers, the players, the broadcasters, the fans, viewers and for me.  I remember you most fondly during the Masters and I know one day I’ll get to be there and see it in person.  I’ll see it for both of us because I remember how you so loved this game.  The grand boys have chosen different sports to excel in, Dad. It makes me a bit sad that golf is recreational for them but they have made their choice and that is what matters.  We will get out more now that they are older but my guys’ hearts are on the ice and Luciano’s is in extreme sports.  I wish we got more rounds in, you and I, but I won’t forget the ones we had.  I am flattered to this day that you admired my “natural swing” as you called it and I remember all the tips you gave me and I still have that hand written list of clubs that you said were my strongest weapons in my golf bag…which Dad, was your bag.  I still putt left and right handed and on a good day, I can drive the ball long …sometimes longer than the occasional guy and I think you would have enjoyed playing with me.  I’ve made a promise to myself to get out and play more often this year and I will remember you when I tee up; remember you when I putt and remember you when I put that bag on my shoulder.  There is no game more challenging, unpredictable, unforgiving yet fabulously rewarding than golf.  There is no game more scenic, more strategic or more refined and I am glad you made it part of your world and mine.  Till next Sunday, my dear Dad, when I tune in again and remember you and your love affair with the greatest gentleman’s game.

Danie

 

Two Years to Fifty – Boys to Men – To Logan …So, About those Heroes…

In the summer, man-child number 2, the sports fan, heard some startling news about his favourite hockey player. At first, he didn’t believe his idol would do what he was accused of doing.

“She’s a puck bunny, Mom.  She’s looking to get his money, that’s all,”

Ohhh-Kayyyy.  Time to have the conversation. And by the way, guilty or not, thanks Patrick Kane. You need to learn son, that people, especially younger players are watching and you need to conduct yourself with some dignity and class so you don’t get yourself into these pickles.

You can’t hide much from your children these days.  Information is everywhere and you have to be prepared to address all kinds of questions and word brutal honesty in a way they can understand, simply and tastefully.  The truth was not easy for Logan to accept because in his mind such great talent on the ice meant greatness in every aspect of the idol’s life and it took me and his father days to explain to him that talent does not dictate character.

During one of our talks about the importance of everyone’s behavior and responsibility to be respectful (especially those in the spotlight) he looked at me and asked,

“Who are the heroes Mom?”

A valid question asked with a mix of disappointment, weariness and not as much hope as I would have liked.  So I began by having him look up the definition of hero – a person, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.  So instantly and quite proudly he started name dropping the usuals –  Mother Teresa, Anne Frank, Mandela, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. which made me quite proud but I needed to make this lesson more real for him; more identifiable with his interests and I wanted to challenge his thinking in a different way.  I decided to go the sports route and gave him the names of athletes who are regarded by some as solid role models.    So Logan, if you read this, perhaps it will help find the answer to your question.  Lets start with your beloved hockey and Jonathon Toews.

Jonathon Toews is a young man who is regarded by fellow NHL-ers and people in his community as a stand up, polite and respectful young man on and off the ice.  The Winnipeg native has captained the Chicago Blackhawks since he was 20. A calm and composed demeanour gave rise to the nickname “Captain Serious” by his teammates. His hard work and talent earned him and his team two Stanley Cups and he also has won back-to-back Olympic gold medals with team Canada.  He is an ambassador for the Canadian Tire Jumpstart Program, a charity that funds sport participation for underprivileged kids and he supports Misencordia – a group home for youth with special needs in Winnipeg,  the Winnipeg Nourishing Potential Program feeding kids facing hunger and has supported the Make a Wish Foundation.  His actions off the ice have resulted in this 27 year old being awarded the Order of Manitoba.

Rickie Fowler is another young athlete who is a great role model for youngsters. The beautiful thing about this young guy isn’t just his face.  He is his own person and has, with the help of his family been able to shake off the haters and senseless criticism and  has kept marching along in his colourful golf attire to the beat of his own drum. He is a book, misjudged by the cover.  He is young, good looking, earns a decent paycheck and a lot of it comes from endorsements and as such there is a lot of fodder there for jealous haters. As flashy as he looks, this youngster does not drink and does not swear. He likes his cars and his dirt bikes and likes to have fun but he isn’t a party animal. He is proud of his faith and family and is known to be one of the nicest and most respectful players on the PGA tour. He gives as much as he receives and started the Rickie Fowler Foundation that supports (his heritage) Asian American and Native American youth in need and he is involved in the First Tee  – a youth golf development organization.  My favourite Rickie situation this summer was watching him come from behind to win the The Players Championship 2015, coming down the stretch carding birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie ultimately winning a 3 man playoff against Sergio Garcia and Kevin Kisner with a (-12) twelve under par.  But it wasn’t the score that impressed me.  It was the quiet victory shutting up the criticism of his peers in a Sports Illustrated Poll that regarded him as the most over-rated golfer on tour.  When asked his thoughts on their opinion of him, where he had every right to vent his feelings, he simply smiled that gorgeous smile and said,

“Well, (firmly gripping his trophy) this seems like a significant enough win,”

If I wasn’t already a fan, that comment would sealed the deal for me.  He let the golf speak for itself and in an era of  trash talkers, this young man chose to take the high road, with grace, dignity, the prize money in his pocket and the trophy in his hands and it was more effective and classier than retaliating with harsh words or gloating. Gotta admire the guy.

LeBron James is sort of like the King of the NBA. He is a four-time MVP and two-time NBA Champion who has simply dominated the league since he joined it, and  is without a doubt the league’s best player today.  He is also a great human being off the court.  He has an active role in the Boys & Girls Club, ONEXONE, and the Children’s Defense Fund. as well as having his own charity – the LeBron James Family Foundation, which raises money for numerous causes in his native Akron.  Humble and charismatic, he is also described as fan friendly and loyal.  LeBron makes time for signing autographs and taking pictures and interacting with the fans whom he holds close to his heart.  He is loyal to the community he grew up in, purchasing new uniforms for his alma mater high school’s football team and even showed up at their pep rally. Once in Oklahoma, the team’s plane was fueling up alongside a bunch of helicopters transporting military personnel.  The soldiers wanted photos and autographs.  While security said no to the soldiers, LeBron gathered the team together and went to the soldiers and took as many photos and signed autographs for as long as the vehicles were being fuelled, making the soldiers very happy.  LeBron James, of course has the incredible work ethic needed to be a great athlete and a great ambassador for his sport. He trains and practices long hours in order to be the best at what he does and puts his time in as Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association.  Since his involvement, James has begun taking a bigger role in the direction of the league and how players conduct themselves, setting the example by his own behavior on and off the court with a heavy emphasis on sportsmanship, constantly complimenting fellow NBA players in person and over social media, as well as expressing his support when guys get injured or are unable to play.  Watching him stay out of trouble and handle public scrutiny with dignity and class is a pleasure and is what makes him an ideal role model for young people.
I could go on about other athletes who are positive role models but the greatest example I could give you, son, just requires you to look in the mirror.   In your reflection you will find reflections of your father, your brother and grandfathers and uncles and cousins and grand mothers and aunts and hopefully a little bit of me in there.  You see, my boy, you are a good person.  A really good person – even on the days you drive me mad.  You have learned (and are still learning) the lessons we teach and we admire how you try to apply them to your everyday life. You are accepting of others and are kind even when others are not kind to you.  You don’t intentionally try to hurt anyone’s feelings and if you do, you apologize.  I have never seen you make anyone uncomfortable in our home and I really admire how respectful and polite you are.  You work hard at the things you are passionate about and you are very open to new things.  One of your most endearing qualities is your generosity. One of my favourite memories with you was in church one day when you decided you were going to contribute to the collection plate with your own money. You pulled out a $5.00 bill (that I knew you intended to spend on ice cream) and said,
“You know, I could enjoy the ice cream, but this money could make someone happier and change something for them. I’d rather give them a nice day,”
Child of mine, you truly uplift my soul. You add so much joy to our family and are so amazing with Adam, jumping in and spending time with him and helping us out without being asked many times.  I believe you are the kindest person I know, next to your father, that’s why when some idiots go beyond casual ribbing and poking fun at you, my blood boils a little.  I know you struggle with that at times and I know you don’t understand why some kids think its cool to try and make others uncomfortable. There are days I wish you had my loose cannon temper so that you could go nuts on them, (hence why I am just a sliver in what makes you a hero, lol) but you are your father’s son and he has several admirable qualities I fell in love with right away and so of course you are like him and I know, no matter what you face, you will choose the high road. (Just don’t forget to continue to stand up for yourself, even if you don’t think you want to …never let people walk all over you.  You are far too good a person for that and you always deserve respect.  Always.  So … demand it.)
So, man-child #2 here is the conclusion.  A hero is a person who is mindful of others.  A hero does right by other people and gives of himself and though you might find you do good things and the gratitude does not come, do not let it sour who you are, because who you are is beautiful and heroic and your character far outweighs those of men much older than you.  You are my hero, Dad’s hero and most importantly, Adams hero.  Life will dish out it’s fair share of crap but I feel if you remember who you are and where you come from and be true to yourself, you will find happiness and satisfaction.  I believe in you.  I always have and I pray that nothing or no one changes you.  I wish you the most adventurous life journey.  I hope you get to see and do great things and while you do, just be you because everyone you encounter along the way will be lucky to have met you.  Who are the heroes?   They are the people who see good in the darkest of situations, the people who give without expecting anything in return and the people who are happy for whatever they have and not preoccupied by what they do not have or just can’t seem to get.  Keep being our hero my boy by staying as sweet as you are.  You are a blessing and I am so grateful you came to us.  Love you forever,
Mom.