We are, of course, in a bunker.
In the fall of my senior year of high school, I played about a stroke or two better than bogey golf, which was just good enough to sneak onto the varsity golf team. Five of us made up the squad, we counted four scores in team events, and I was usually fifth, meaning I was essentially just playing 2-3 free rounds a week in a new golf shirt with no real consequence and a pass to get out of school two hours early. Or, in another way of saying it, at 17, I peaked.
I had also taught myself how to play. No one in my family did. My mom took one lesson — in a high school gymnasium as part of the city public schools’ night-class curriculum. My sister’s been to a few driving ranges. My dad played once. And that day also marked several firsts for me, too — the first time I played on a regulation 18 and the first time I drove a golf cart, which I was told needed to be driven next to every shot — which I also took to mean putts, and I think you can imagine the scene on the first green on that public course in northern Illinois.
The season-ending outing for the high school golf team, labeled “father-son scramble,” gave my dad his second round.
“No, I never played,” he told me last week. “Maybe I should have.”
Hey, he makes contact on his first tee shot at Whitnall Park Golf Course just outside of Milwaukee, and away we go. A scramble allows the players in a group to each hit a shot, and you use the best for the second and so on — and most of the ones we use come off the clubs of the team’s we-never-use-your-score guy. The other father-son duo in our group never need a second hand to tally their scores — the son was the team’s second-best player, the dad played weekly, and they belonged to the country club that used to host the PGA Tour’s Greater Milwaukee Open.
We eventually come to the last.
My dad may not have been a golfer, but he is a gambler.
“Lowest score for a soda and a beer at the clubhouse?” he asks the other dad.
The other dad, well aware of how both sides played the previous eight holes, is, of course, game.
Put a little heat on things, and all of a sudden Dennis Piastowski turns into Tiger at the ’97 Masters. My dad hits one about 220 down the middle, about 200 yards farther than any drive of his that day.
We dump our approach into the greenside bunker on the left. Our opponents’ drives are on the right side of the hole, in a bit of a valley, and they can’t see us as we measure up the sand shot.
My dad picks his ball up and throws it on the green.
We laugh. It’s maybe about 15 feet away. Looking back, I do kinda think, “Dad, if you’re gonna go full arm wedge, at least get us within 5, you know?”
“I had to get it up there for the hell of it,” he said.
Except, hitting it the way the USGA intends, I outdo pop’s shot. We have about a 10-footer for par. Now, sure, I was maybe a little more relaxed knowing we were safely on. But looking back again, I also totally could have gone Dad’s route on the shot, and I honestly don’t remember if I considered it. And what am I going to do, call a penalty on my dad? I needed the “good” car for homecoming. My morals remain perfect, yes.
Our opponents also end up leaving themselves a similar 10-footer for par.
Dad makes ours. The country club family misses theirs. I drink the Mountain Dew and dad drinks the Bud.
“We had a good time,” Dad said now, many years later.
Sometime after this publishes, my 12-year-old nephew will show it to my dad on a smartphone. Dad recently lost his best friend of 46 years, his wife and my mom. Good memories are important right now.
Yeah, I had a good time, too.