I played with my maternal grandfather, Sid Charney, during the last round of his life. It was the winter of 1995, and we were at Hillcrest Country Club, the public course that ran through his retirement community in Hollywood, Fla. ("Camp Hillcrest," he called it.) The heart that would give out four months later was already causing him trouble, so after Grandpa and I hit our drives, I would pick up his ball and hit my approach shots alone. He would walk onto the greens, drop his ball 15 feet from the cup, two-putt and say, "Put me down for a 3."
"You got to laugh," he liked to say, and around him I usually did. When we agreed on a tee time, he would remind me to "bring your wallet and a fast backswing." After I lagged a putt to the lip of the cup, he would say, "I'll give you the next two." I must have heard a hundred times about the match he won because a bird tossed his opponent's ball into the water. ("The guy says to me, 'I can beat you, but I can't beat you and God.' ") The only thing he loved more than winning a few bucks from his buddies was losing a few to me. He would strut into the locker room, point me out to a friend and say, "Do you believe tins guy took me for $12? He's a huss-lah!"
But more than the quips, what I remember best was the sheer joy he evinced simply to be playing. It showed in the way he'd look up at a cloudless Florida sky, spread his arms and say, "See what great weather I arranged for you?" And the times when he'd tell one of his fellow retirees not to get so upset after missing a short putt because "at least you're on the right side of the grass." Or the quiet moments when, all kidding aside, he'd pat me on the knee and say, "I love you, honey." Hard to stay mad about making a double bogey when he did that.
Grandpa shot a remarkably low number during that final round—and we had the scorecard to prove it. Sometimes, when I'm strolling down a fairway under a cloudless sky, I like to think he's still arranging good weather for me. Just his way of reminding me to keep my head down when I swing, to laugh when I play and, no matter how many short putts I miss, to always treasure my time on the right side of the grass.