Southwords

A Day at the Open

Memories of a father’s gift

By Tom Allen

My father, decades ago, played one round of golf. Never again.

For Dad — a fisherman and dove hunter — golf was too tedious. He was, however, captivated by televised tournaments, especially the Masters and the U.S. Open. He was an armchair quarterback for college football and a recliner referee for ACC hoops, and a wannabe umpire for Braves baseball. He followed celebrity golfers from his generation — Trevino, Palmer, Nicklaus — and watched enough golf to know the names Mickelson and Els. And Tiger, like Michael Jordan, was a household name.

In 2005, I snagged two tickets for Friday’s U.S. Open Championship on Pinehurst No. 2. I asked Dad if he wanted to go, a Father’s Day gift from a son who broke a hundred once. He smiled at the chance. I smiled too. The day might be a bust — a 46-year-old and an 83-year-old, whose conversations over our adult years covered reminders from Dad to change the oil in my car every 3,000 miles to his chiding me for setting my tomato plants before the soil warmed while I, in turn, reminded him to keep his cellphone turned on and to get a flu shot. These conversations inevitably ended with my changing the oil every 5,000 miles and planting my tomatoes in cool, sometimes frosty, late March. He, likewise, continued to keep his phone off and never rolled up his sleeve.

We met that Friday morning at my home in Whispering Pines. I drove us to Pinehurst, remarkably without any comments from Dad about my tendency to drive faster and brake later than he did. We parked and took a shuttle to the main entrance, arriving as the gates were opening. I suggested a walk through the merchandise tent, not for want of anything but just to see Dad’s reaction to the prices.

A finance major in college, Dad was drafted in 1942, one of two in his graduating class at Oak Ridge Military Academy who wasn’t assigned to a combat unit. Dad ended up in the 109th Finance Disbursing Section, stationed for a few years in England. He received a Certificate of Merit from his commanding officer. The U.S. Army had no idea what a good decision they made by placing an adding machine in his hands instead of a rifle.

At 83, Dad was robust and thriving, but I knew he’d tire trying to trail certain players, so we positioned ourselves in a shady section of a grandstand, an ideal spot to watch approach shots and putts and to see Tiger birdie and tip his cap. Dad loved every minute though, like father, like son, he had to be shushed a few times by a grandstand marshal when players were putting out. Thankfully, she was a member of the church I serve and tempered her shushing with a smile.

By noon he was done. Walking out, we got a glimpse of a Mickelson fairway shot, long and straight. Dad showed no interest in paying U.S. Open food prices. Bojangles was the choice for lunch, his treat. At home, his garden needed tending and his bird dog feeding. It was a short but good day. Actually, one of the best.

Ten years later, at 93, weakened by an illness that caused a rapid decline, Dad and I watched the U.S. Open from his hospice room. A few weeks later, father and son were alone. I whispered I loved him, thanked him for being the best dad ever, told him Mom would be cared for, and gave him my blessing to go home. A few seconds later, as gently as he had lived his life, he left.

In April, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, reflecting on Prince Philip’s final moments said, “It was so gentle. It was like somebody took him by the hand and off he went. Very, very peaceful . . . ” Her words resonated.

Not a U.S. Open passes that I don’t think of that day in ’05 — sunny, warm, just enough breeze. At 63, I’ve moderated my speed and widened my brake time. Dad would be pleased. He would probably shake his head at automotive technology that allows for twice the mileage before an oil change. I imagine he would stick with 3,000. This year, unlike others, I waited to plant my tomatoes until the soil warmed and any chance of frost had passed. Those tomatoes, like Dad on that warm June day, have thrived. In the end, I guess Father really does know best.  PS

Tom Allen is minister of education at First Baptist Church, Southern Pines.

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