Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: Like Father Like Son to the ‘Tee’

It’s weekends like this past one when we realize how lucky we really are. I mean, did you see the U.S. Open? Did you watch those three eagles from Tiger Woods? Did you see the birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff? And did you see that 19-hole playoff on Monday? Yowsah! What a tournament.

The best part for me was the 18th on Sunday. It wasn’t my favorite hole because Woods managed to collar one more birdie to drop him to one-under par for the tournament and tie him with Rocco Mediate atop the leaderboard. It was my favorite hole because I spent the final moments of Sunday’s action talking on the phone with my dad as we both watched the Open on TV.

It was fun to fully embrace the union of the final round at the Open and Father’s Day because golf has always played a large role in my relationship with my dad. Of course I didn’t realize just how large until recently.

It is borderline scary how much influence my dad has had on my life. Let’s just take this past weekend as an example. There was a time for me when watching golf ranked a distant third to paint drying and grass growing. And when I say “distant third” I mean Torrey Pines’ longest-ever-course-for- a-U.S.-Open 7,643 yards distant. On Sunday, I stood in front of the TV putting Titleists across my living room rug while watching the final round unfold.

That sort of thing is so my dad. When he watches golf on Sundays, at some point he will inevitably pick up a putter or sand wedge and practice his swing. He makes a little “whoosh” sound effect with his mouth and everything. It’s an endearing behavior now, but when I was growing up I could never fathom how the sport of golf could be remotely enjoyable.

Back then I was all about baseball. I always loved baseball. I mean, how could you watch Donny Baseball play first base for the Yankees and not fall in love with the sport? But golf was different. I had no love for the links.

At the time, I wrote off my disenchantment for the sports because it was slow, played by men even older than my father, some of whom looked like they could retire into a comfortable career in lumberjacking or sumo wrestling. Today I realize that my early distaste for the sport was because I stunk at it. I mean really stunk at it. My game had more strokes than a Rembrandt. Worms the world over still fear my name for beheading so many of their kind with my groundballs.

But my game has improved, largely — okay, make that entirely — because of my father. If not for him I would have forsaken this maddening sport years ago. But because of him, because I enjoyed spending time with him, because he taught me to laugh at my mistakes while learning from them, because he looked like he was having so much fun playing this absolutely infuriating game, I stuck with it. And I improved. The worms are safe now, though I make no guarantees for low-flying birds or any vertebrate within 50-yards of either side of the fairway.

More important than my improvement though, was that continuing to play golf with my dad has allowed me to appreciate the game and the once-in-a-lifetime talent that is Tiger Woods. I know how hard it is to play this sport and I know how good Tiger must be to make it look this easy. I mean, three eagles? In the U.S. Open? On one knee?

So yeah, now I can “get” Tiger Woods. But the other reason I am so lucky to have the dad I do is because I can also appreciate Rocco Mediate. I loved watching him play this weekend. Loved seeing him smile. Loved watching him talk to anyone within earshot. Loved knowing that Rocco had to win a local qualifying tournament in Ohio just to get into the Open field. Loved watching him defy conventional wisdom to actually tie the man who may become the greatest golfer the world has ever seen.
I loved him because I know him. I understand the everyman. That’s my dad.

He’s not the millionaire, he’s not the natural-born athlete. He’s a hard-working man of great passion. He enjoys his life so much that it becomes infectious, sharing that enthusiasm with all who are lucky enough to know him.

Even if Sunday wasn’t Father’s Day, it would have been impossible for me to stand in front of my TV, putter in hand, and not have dedicated that day to him.