I tried to keep my son out of golf. In nine years as a club professional in Pennsylvania, I learned the drawbacks of a teaching pro's life. Working on weekends, I couldn't take my family to church or to Sunday dinner. We couldn't take vacations on the Jersey shore with friends. Still, when Jim turned 12, he was determined to play. I agreed to help on one condition: that he play not for me but because he was having fun.
Jim always had the now famous loop in his swing. It was Tour player Bruce Lietzke, an acquaintance with an unconventional swing of his own, who put my mind at ease about that. "Help him trust the swing he has," Bruce said. "If he trusts it, his swing will take him where he wants to go." From then on, we never looked back. But I'll always remember what a big-name college coach said after Jim won an American Junior Golf title. He said, "With that swing, there's no way the kid'll play major college golf." Another NCAA coach recruited Jim but said he couldn't wait to change his swing. Fortunately, Arizona coach Rick LaRose took Jim as he was, and he went on to be a two-time All-America.
Jim has won two Tour events and more than $4 million, but he still calls me after every round. Lately we've had something new to talk about. After decades of neglecting my own game, I'm playing again. I have been entering Senior minitour events, and do you know what's fun about that? Having Jim call to ask how I played.
Each of our phone calls ends the same way, with an echo of the words I must have said to Jim a thousand times when he was growing up. "Just one thing, Dad," he'll say. "When you're out there, make sure you're having fun."
I bugged my dad about golf for years. Finally he agreed to teach me the game when I turned 12. He forgot saying that, but I filed it away. On my 12th birthday I said, "O.K., it's time." I had him! The next day he signed me up to play at the Overlook Golf Course, a muni in our neighborhood, and I've been playing ever since.
Dad used to drop me off at junior tournaments and pick me up at the end of the day. What I didn't know was that after dropping me off, he'd park down the street and sneak back to the club to watch me play. He didn't want me to be nervous.
It's been almost two decades since then, and Dad's still the only teacher I've had. Nobody else knows my game the way he does. We talk after every round, good or bad. If things get tough for me, he drops what he's doing, gets on a plane and comes to help. We'll be out on the range at some Tour stop, working hard until we get my problem fixed, just like the old days. Sometimes he takes my game more seriously than I do. Not long ago I called him to complain that the ball wasn't coming off my putter correctly. A few nights later I was sound asleep when the phone rang. "Jim, I've been thinking about that putting problem," he said. He had been dwelling on it for three days while I was sleeping in.
Whenever I play, I remember him telling me that if golf isn't fun, it's not worth playing. Even now, 16 years and 40 days after my 12th birthday, I couldn't agree more. It's comforting to know that he's still worrying about me, that he's always there for me and, most of all, that we're both still having fun.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.