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And this," I said to my five-year-old granddaughter Maddie, "is for you to hang on the tree." I handed her a small crystal disk, upon which was engraved ST. FRANCIS XAVIER 2008 GOLF TOURNAMENT—MEN'S 1ST PLACE. Holding it by the red ribbon, she scampered around the tree in our living room, looking for a vacant branch. "Here we go," she chirped, looping the ribbon over a north-pointing twig. She hopped and clapped her hands. "Perfect!" � "Well," I said modestly, "the field wasn't as deep as last year's, and my partner, Jim Carney, bailed me out a couple of times." I turned to the mantel and picked up the pewter drinking cup from my U.S. team's lopsided victory over Europe in the biennial Rolex Media Cup. "But if you'd been in Louisville on the 16th of September, you'd have seen your Papa in a flattering light. There was one par-4 where you had to carry the ball 230 yards over water...."
Maddie squealed and ran for the kitchen.
Chuckling, I polished the cup with my sleeve and returned it to its place of honor. But later, as I sat by the fire, I reflected on the events of the year: Ochoa's first-half brilliance ... Tiger's one-legged mastery of Torrey Pines ... Norman's thrilling charge at Royal Birkdale ... Harrington's back-to-back majors ...the U.S. Ryder Cup team's redemption at Valhalla. If not perfect, I was thinking as my eyelids grew heavy, the year 2008 was as close to perfect as a golf season can be.
I hooked a toe under the ottoman and dragged it closer. "What a game," I mumbled, putting my feet up. "It just keeps getting better and better."
Sighing contentedly, I settled back in the chair and closed my eyes.
A COLD DRAFT woke me. The room was dark but for a flickering candle in the corner, which cast formless shadows on the ceiling. I rubbed my eyes and yawned. I was taking my feet off the ottoman when a looming shadow caused me to look up and gasp. A Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. It was shrouded in a hooded rain jacket that concealed its face and left nothing of it visible save for one outstretched hand.
Although well accustomed to ghostly company by this time, I was terrified. The spirits I had written about over the years had been loquacious spooks wanting nothing more than to correct the historical record (or, in the case of Paul Runyan, to give me a chipping lesson). But this Phantom neither spoke nor moved.
"Am I in the presence of the Angel of Death?" I asked in a shaky voice.
The Spirit answered not, but pointed toward the ceiling, which suddenly presented as a starry vault. A great wind lifted me as easily as a child picks up a toy and drew me up above the rooftops and higher still, until the Spirit and I were flying through clouds and over moonlit seas. In a matter of seconds night turned to day and I found myself suspended above a tree-lined golf course. Looking down, I saw a tented village, a network of canals and thousands of milling spectators. Looking up, I saw a blimp with the words CHEVY VOLT pulsating on its diaphanous skin.
"Is heaven a golf tournament?" I asked the Phantom, which hovered behind me.