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In that respect Betsy was nothing like her intensely competitive husband. The Fords love to tell about the time Frank III won his third Azalea, in 1988, by beating two-time U.S. Amateur champion Jay Sigel in the finals. "My granddad was 84 then," says Frank III with a smile. "He came onto the final green as the match concluded and said, 'Congratulations, Bubba. And now you can stop right there.'"
"He didn't want Frank to break his record!" Sarah says with a howl of glee. "He was a little bit of a peacock."
Asked how he had responded to the old man's jibe, Frank III shrugs. "I didn't know what to say." He then grins. "But I won the next three in a row."
Golf trophies, the Fords freely admit, may not be the best measure of a person, but the family sees the game as a kind of truth-telling device, a mirror of the soul. Frank Jr., by all accounts, was nervous and excitable on the course. Billy lacked his father's killer instinct. Tommy, despite having the best swing in the family, didn't become a confident player until he was in his 40s.
"Some people get right to the edge, but they can't jump off the diving board," says Frank III. "They don't trust themselves to go for it." His own search for the winning formula led him some years ago to the W. Timothy Gallwey book The Inner Game of Golf, which argues that the key to great play is simply getting out of one's own way. "I read that book four times, and I won a tournament every time after I read it." He laughs. "I think I'm going to go read it again."
The Country Club of Charleston, meanwhile, has to get used to the idea of a Lowcountry golf season without Frank Sr. riding around in his cart or leaning on his walker while giving pointers on wedge play. "I guarantee you, any event we had, he was here to watch golf," says Hart Brown, the head pro. "He was a gem."
Two years ago, when he was 99, Sarah took her father-in-law to a theater to see the Bobby Jones movie Stroke of Genius. Sitting in the dark, Frank Sr. looked up at the giant men in plus fours and flapping ties hitting shots with hickory-shafted clubs.
"Who is that?" he asked.
" Bobby Jones."
The old man snorted. "Don't look like him."