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Ever since my father died, I don't play golf very much anymore. In fact, I only play once a year and when I do, I take just one swing and call it a day. One swing is all I need to put a smile on my face and go home. No mulligans, no excuses, no do-overs. On May 17, I hit one ball to honor my father who died on this day, and I do it early. passed away at 6:37 a.m on May 17, 2008.
On the anniversary of his passing, I get up well before dawn and drive to the Westchester Country Club in Harrison, New York. I make sure I allow for enough time for traffic, bad weather, and other unpredictable things, like leaving my Big Bertha driver at home, which I've done before. As long as I make it to the tee box at 6:37 a.m., all is good.
This first tee on the West course, which had been the home of a PGA tour event for more than 40 years, was a special place for me and my Dad. It's where we started the countless rounds of golf and shared truly incredible times together as father and son, but more importantly, as best friends. As a kid who grew up with nothing on the south side of Chicago, my father never played golf and never really spent a lot of time doing things with his Dad, who was always working two jobs.
Playing golf with me became my father's favorite thing to do and as I grew older, it became a special thing for me, as well. When my Dad showed up to the first tee, he was part Rodney Dangerfield and part Arnold Palmer. He was a funny guy who loved to crack jokes and bust the chops of the people in his foursome, including me. Caddies loved carrying my father's bag because they knew they'd be in for an entertaining four and a half hours of golf. He treated them as if they were one of his best friends, and they loved him for it. But after my father teed off, he could be very competitive and intense. He was tossing clubs long before Tiger Woods made it part of his game.
The first hole is a Par-4 and 308 yards long. Even when I was as young as 13, my father would make me play from the back tees. Like heck if he was going to allow me from to hit from the white tees because to him, they may as well have been the ladies. I drove the green when I was 16 which made my Dad grin from ear to ear, and over the years, I could pretty much get out of bed after a night on the town and drill the ball down the middle. I couldn't explain it, there was just something special about that first hole.
After my father passed away four years ago, I wanted to do something to honor him in a special way. I gave thought to organizing a tournament in his memory, but it just never happened, perhaps because I was too selfish and just wanted to keep our golf memories between him and me. Hitting a drive off the first tee at 6:37 a.m. felt like the perfect thing to do, even if things would never always be perfect. Last year, there was a torrential downpour that flooded the area. Staying in the comforts of my bed would've been easy, but that was never really an option. My father never missed a day of work in his life, no matter how sick he was, and he was always there for us, no matter what. I had to be there for him.
By the time I walked the 500 yards from my car to the first tee, I was beyond soaked. The sound of rain drilling the sidewalks and cart paths echoed throughout the club, but I was the only one who could hear it. It seemed so surreal and I felt like my Dad and I were walking side by side as we made our way to the first tee. Even without practice or playing as infrequently as I do, I always find a way to hit the ball straight down the middle, whether there is pouring rain or brilliant sunshine.
Everything seems so right when I'm on the tee on May 17 at 6:37 a.m. because I know that my father is watching over me just as he always did when he was alive.