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Fred has had many years when he has logged 125 or more rounds, all documented in various journals. He played on the day his daughter was born in 1968 and again when his son was born the next year. On May 7, 1990, he had a beer at the Charlotte airport when he was returning to Philadelphia from Augusta, and he hasn't had a drink since. A couple of times a year Fred will say, "I've played more rounds at Augusta National than many members!" He is nothing if not open and direct.
Through golf, he got to know many of the people he appointed to the board of the large insurance company he ran for years, Pennsylvania Manufacturers. Many of his associations with Pennsylvania politicians and judges were developed through golf.
The nature of these quasi-business, quasi-personal golfing relationships would require a novel to untangle, but it's not the simple quid pro quo you might imagine. For instance, in the early 1970s Fred put a prominent Merion member on his board. Later, Fred hoped the member might help him get into Merion. He did the opposite. Fred stopped caring why years ago. He knows the value of being an outsider. Anyway, it all worked out fine. Fred got into Pine Valley, across the Delaware from downtown Philadelphia, and is a member of three other local clubs. He took me to one of them, Aronimink, as a tryout to see if I could handle the great Clementon, N.J., links.
That was in 1987, when Fred was in his mid-50s, as I am now. In other words, I'm one of his newer golf friends. Over the years, we've had scores of three-hour rounds followed by two-hour lunches. He once said to me, "It's not a menu for you—it's a list of ingredients." Analyzing a new course we had just played, Fred said, "Greens are to a golf course what eyes are to a portrait." Regarding investing, he told me, "I seek average returns." Of course, that's easy to say when you have millions in the bank.
Fred is consistently generous, but he knows what it's like to scrap and scrape. He paid for four years at Villanova and another three years at its law school completely from his Merion caddie money. Even as a young Philadelphia lawyer in the early 1960s, he continued to caddie at Merion. The original Tommy Armour, the Silver Scot himself, often came from Winged Foot to play, "smelling like gin at nine in the morning," Fred said.
One time, a Merion member named Frank Sullivan arranged for Bob Hope to play Cobb's Creek, a public course near Merion, and instructed Fred to meet them there. Bob Hope! In an era when it meant something to be a celebrity. Fred figured out what every smart caddie figures out. If you keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, you'll learn something. Among other things Fred learned early the value of the cash tip. On our visits to various clubs I have seen him holding a bank envelope filled with crisp twenties, dispensing them liberally and happily to anybody in his path. If you're reading this, Lawson Little, your man is paying it forward.
With some other students, Fred started the golf team at Villanova. "We went to see Jumbo Elliott," Fred said, referring to the legendary track coach and athletic director. "He said, 'What can you shoot?' We said, 'In the 90s.' He said, 'Come back when you can break 80.' " That was Elliott's way of saying you can have a golf team, but don't get me involved in it. In one match Fred beat a kid from Yale, at Yale. That was huge. Fred has told me that the lesson of his Lawson Little experience is to try anything, even if you are woefully unqualified. You might rise to the occasion.
The other day Fred and I had one of our long breakfasts, and then he drove me around his childhood. He showed me where he grew up, went to church, went to school, the public course where he first played. At Merion, he showed me where the dungeon used to be, and we toured the club's wonderful little West course, where he played hundreds of afterwork rounds. Fred looked completely comfortable. His memories of Merion imbue him with happiness.
When we are together, Fred will almost always say something insightful and memorable. On this day he compared the pursuit of improved golf with more spiritual quests. He used a phrase that covered both: "It is more important to seek God than to find him." He has a gravelly voice, a nodding head, expressive eyes.
Later he said, "When I speak of golf as an addiction, I am belittled. Golf is not respected as an addiction. It should be. I have ignored every obligation I have ever had in order to play golf."