Storytelling: First golf scorecard omits finest details about day with Dad

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My father didn't lie -- about anything. He was a religious man, though not especially spiritual, but mostly he just believed in playing by the rules.

Dad was a big-shot electrical engineer and well-traveled, but you wouldn't call him worldly. He was very basic, nothing risky about him.

He always told the truth, straight from the shoulder. I can't remember any "white lies," though there were many times I wished he had been a little less frank. But there was this one time ... Dad told a lie, and it was to give me a break.

When I was a kid I really, really wanted to play golf. It wasn't so much for the sake of golf. I wanted to play golf because Dad played golf.

Our house was full of women and girls -- three generations of them -- and of all their woman and girl friends who were always stopping over.

I think Dad loved golf because it got him out of there a couple of times a week. To me, it seemed exciting because his golf provided neat local travel. He went to places like Butler, Conneaut, Latrobe, Somerset and Connellsville -- none of them especially fancy or very far away, but they were away.

It all seemed grand to me. I was a dopey, bookish kid who never went anywhere except to piano lessons.

So I wanted to play golf and make those trips with my father -- just him and me. Otherwise, I wouldn't have seen much of him.

He was delighted when I spoke up about it and promptly got hold of some old golf clubs and cut them down to my size. At first we played miniature golf, like at Kennywood, then went to driving ranges. Soon I moved up to par 3 golf.

But the big deal was to play real golf on a real course. And the day came when I was 12 that Dad took me to South Park, which has both a nine-hole and 18-hole course. The trouble was that they also had a minimum age of 14 for players.

I was panicked about that when we got to the clubhouse, but Dad walked right up to the starter, looked him in the eye and said, "Sure, the boy's old enough. He just had his birthday."

I was startled that it worked, but far more startled that my father had fibbed.

It was just about this time of year -- chilly, leaves blowing everywhere -- and I didn't do very well. We played the nine-hole course, and I was whacking it all over -- not far, but not straight. There were no do-overs or "mulligans" with Dad. Every stroke counted; those were the rules.

Because my father never lied, the scorecard shows just how badly I did: 9, 8, 7, 8, 12, 8, 10 -- 62 strokes for just seven holes. Gathering darkness, the vocal impatience of golfers behind us and my childish fatigue from carrying a bag of clubs and taking all those swings combined to make it a short round.

Why was I so bad? Just like a kid, I thought every last person on the course and even people driving past were watching my every shot and snickering at my mistakes. Most of all, Dad was watching.

But he was uncharacteristically jolly about it all. He congratulated me for trying so hard and saved the scorecard for me, filled out in his precise, angular engineer's numerals. I have it in front of me right now. It's one of the finest things I own.

Dad's been gone 29 years, though he lived long enough to see me become a skilled golfer. I don't think he'd be pleased that I also turned into a nostalgia fiend. I write down everything -- the dates of both marriages and both divorces, the dates I bought my houses and when I lost them, the dates I bought each of the eight Volkswagens and the six Jeeps.

My long-suffering son puts up with an annoying stream of emails and letters when I discover some anniversary in my daybook. I'll write to him: "35 years ago today you got your first two-wheel bike," or "It's 16 years today since you graduated from the police academy."

Recently, the daybook reminded me about the 50-year anniversary of that first round of real golf. To commemorate it, I went to South Park and played that same nine-hole course on that very date. I shot a 47.

That's awful by my standards. I was nervous and distracted. Just like a kid, I thought every last person on the course and even people driving past were watching my every shot and snickering at my mistakes. But most of all, I couldn't shake the feeling that Dad was watching.

intelligencer

William McCloskey, a writer and editor from Regent Square, can be reached at wmpgh@msn.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.


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