Playing Golf with the Dead

I’m not much of a golfer. Never have been. Being a former football and hockey player, games that involve tempo and concentration over quick reaction and physical contact have never been my forte.  So, I pretty much suck at golf and darts. But, with the sun shining brightly and the temperature nearing 80 on a Thursday afternoon, I felt a calling.  I think I’ll go play golf. 

I drove to a little Par 3 course near my home called Walnut Ridge. I nice little course, it plays fast being only 4,860 yards (Par 54).  I paid for 18 holes and a cart with a twenty dollar bill and got change back.  Nice.  Now I’m thinking, hey, maybe I should come out to play here more often?  It was 4:15 PM and standing on the first tee box I looked across the flat landscape and realized I was the only one on the entire course.  I literally was going to be all alone on the golf course.  Then it hit me; play two balls, one for you and one for Dad.

My Dad introduced me to the game of golf way back in 1958.  An old 5 iron with a hickory shaft and plastic whiffle golf balls to hit around the backyard; that was my introduction to the game. We put a Campbell’s soup can in the ground in one corner of the yard and I would play make believe rounds to that one hole hitting amazing shots just like Arnie and Jack did on TV. Later I would caddie at Lancaster Country Club where my dad belonged as a member. He never paid for me to have lessons. Yes, an accountant by profession he was frugal but my guess is he probably saw at my young age that my temperament was not suited to make me much of a golfer.  I did, however, always enjoy my time at the club with my dad and in my sophomore year in high school he decided to make a serious wager to get me out on the course with him more often. 
“Buddy, you beat me two rounds, back-to-back, before you graduate from high school and I will buy you any kind of car you want.” Are you sh*ttin’ me?  Oh my gosh, let’s go play!  And play we did.  And so, our rounds of golf together on late Saturday and Sunday afternoons took on far greater meaning.  I have great memories from those Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent at Lancaster Country Club.  We’d tee it up about 4 PM. He would have already played that morning with his regular buddies and his rounds with me did nothing but help him get even better.  It was peaceful and quiet late in the afternoon on the course and I can remember the piercing sound of June bugs as the shadows grew long on the fairways.  Now, my dad wasn’t a great golfer by any means.  As I look back on it all, even as bad a golfer as I am, I should have been able to beat him in back-to-back rounds; but it never happened. I did beat him twice but never could string together back-to-back wins. But, after I had beaten him on those two occasions, our next rounds that we played were as tense as any Sunday afternoon at the Masters.
In one of those rounds I had him by two strokes and as I got ready to tee it up on #17, my dad reached into his bag of tricks and used his experience and wisdom to beat me.  As I prepared to hit my tee shot over water hazard on #17, he interrupted me to act as though he was conceding victory.  “Buddy, I know when I’m beat.  But, I’m just wondering how much this is going to cost me.  What kind of car do you think you want?” 
“That’s easy Dad, I want a maroon GTO with white leather interior, a 4-speed Hurst shifter on the floor and mag wheels.”
He winced in pain.  “A GTO!” he exclaimed.  “My God, your killin” me!  Do you know how much those cars cost?”
I had no clue how much they cost but he had already accomplished what he had set out to do.  My thoughts were now a thousand miles away from my tee shot. Thinking of my maroon GTO and picturing myself cruising around town in it, I totally rushed my swing and put my tee shot right into the water. Not once, but twice. It was over. There would be no maroon GTO for ol’ Buddy Boy. Now, like an angry, out-of-control hockey player I was slamming my 3 wood into the grass and all my dad could do was laugh this insidious laugh as we crossed the bridge over the water hazard.  It wasn’t even a laugh, it was this sickening wheezing sound that left him in an almost uncontrollable state, half crying and yes, laughing.  To this day, that same sound haunts me every time I either put a tee shot in the water or miss a three-foot putt.  
Now, some 40-plus years later, all alone on a golf course in Indiana, I decided to tee one up for me and one for my Dad.  I was going to play him once again and I was going to try to beat him just as I knew he was going to try to beat me. No gimme putts. No Mulligans. Play it as it lies and may the best man win. At the turn, I totaled our scorecard and I had him by 2 strokes.  I hit some good and bad shots, and several exceptional shots. In fact, I drilled a 7 iron on one 165 yard Par 3 to within three feet of the cup.  It was a great golf shot. And then, in true Bud fashion, I missed the putt and tapped in for a par.  As I walked off the green cussing to myself I swear there was a distant wheezing sound coming from the other side of the green.  I turned to look but he was nowhere in sight. My dad has been gone since 1984. 
As I played that round of golf, strangely, it became very special for me. I found myself talking to my dad and listening for his voice once again.  His gentle tips, “Take your time, make an easy swing” and the compliments when I did make a good shot…”Nice putt, Buddy, you can play this game.” I could see him lining up his putts and when I made a less than great shot for him in the round, I had my own out of body experience and could see him laughing at himself, something I have always struggled to do on a golf course (maybe that’s why I don’t play that much).
As I sank my final putt on #18, I turned and looked back on the course wishing, hoping my dad would be standing out there, somewhere. I would have loved to have taken off my hat on that 18th green and shaken my Dad’s hand just one more time. But, it was not to be. As I got to my SUV, I threw my clubs in back and changed my shoes. Ironically, there were now a slew of cars in the parking lot as the after work crowd had shown up to play.  Then it hit me, Ah, I wonder how we finished up?
I sat in the driver’s seat, a lone bead of sweat streaming down the side of my face as I totaled our scorecard.  Buddy – 73, Dad – 73.  No sh*t!  We had tied.  How the hell could that happen? 
Then it hit me. That day, I had played golf with the dead and his game and presence was as strong as ever.  Screw the GTO. Thanks, Dad, for the memories and so much more. 
Happy Father’s Day!      
Don’t waste your flavor – LIVE Deliciously!  
Coach B

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Harold “Bud” Boughton is a husband, father and grandfather who is often referred to as “the teaching coach.” A former senior executive, published author and professional speaker, Bud currently works for Shine.FM radio, a community-supported, not-for-profit Christian radio station affiliated with Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. He will continue to work for Shine.FM in conjunction with his responsibilities as Co-Director of Team Focus – Indiana. You can reach Bud Boughton by calling 317-258-6372 or click here to leave him a message