You're on your way back to your next round." These were the first words I spoke to my father in the hospital after his recent open-heart surgery. He still had tubes in his nose and throat, sedatives in his blood. "Under par," he murmured.
Stanley Rothman, 72, is a golfer. Not a professional golfer, not a golf professional. He's a plain old seven handicapper. To say that he lives for the game is barely an exaggeration. Back in May he got the news that an expected routine angioplasty would instead be a triple-bypass operation. An angiogram had revealed a blockage of more than 95% in three of his arteries.
His response: to ask his cardiologist if the procedure could be put off for, say, six months, until after the golf season. Failing that, could the operation at least wait until he and my mother returned from their planned golf trip to Whistler, B.C., in two weeks? They would be traveling with a doctor friend--a psychologist, yes, but still....
Dad later admitted that his reaction was borne of shock. He felt great, as always, strong as a horse from walking 18 holes five times a week at his club, as he has done for more than a decade since his retirement from the real estate business. But all that exercise, and all the chipping and putting and living- room practice swings, were no match for genetics and a diet a college freshman might envy. Best-case scenario, said his cardiologist, was that his beloved clubs would be closeted for three to four months.
Thankfully, the procedure proved to be a best-case scenario. Dad pulled through surgery and responded well to rehab--too well. Only a few weeks removed from the hospital, encouraged by his ability to walk five miles, or about the distance of an average round, Dad became convinced that his next 18 was merely days away. Mom and I prepared for battle with him, common sense and caution paired against passion and willfulness. Dad's body ultimately told him to wait. He wasn't sleeping well; his chest remained sore and sensitive.
It was indeed 3 1/2 months after surgery when we celebrated his first round back at Essex County ( N.J.) Country Club, where the course had also recently undergone a successful restoration.
Twenty pounds below his presurgery weight, with a vertical scar bisecting the V of his open-neck shirt, Dad holed his second practice putt, a 15-footer, and began to extol the virtues of his latest used putter--number 1,057 by my count. He split the fairway with his opening drive and complained that he didn't catch it quite flush. It took him five holes to curse and six to make his first par, but he broke 90 with ease. By the time we finished, right at sunset, he was swinging fearlessly.
I'm thrilled to have him back.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Dec. 12 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.