He had a swing like Arnold Palmer. When he addressed a golf ball, he would screw up his face, moving his mouth to one side. His backswing was quick and his follow through awkward and high, as if he might lose his balance. Despite his unorthodox stroke—he sure could hit a golf ball.
My dad, Jack Flynn, grew up playing golf. He earned his golfing privileges at Brockton’s Thorny Lea golf course by caddying for club members. On one occasion, after caddying 36 holes for a well-known cheapskate, the man offered to pay him 50 cents when double was the going rate. Offended, dad waved off the offered payment saying, “No, thanks. You need it more than I do.” Turning on his heel, he walked away. The infuriated member complained loudly to club management, asking that he be fired. My dad’s punishment: he was “sentenced” to work in the proshop for a few weeks. Apparently, my dad wasn’t the only one who knew the guy was cheap.
Dad loved to watch golf on television. He used fall asleep in his favorite chair, listening to the purr of the golf announcer. For us kids, it was boring. When we tried to change the channel to watch The Brady Bunch, my dad would pop awake and shout, “Hey, I was watching that!” We’d turn the channel back to golf and Dad would fall back to sleep in minutes.
Dad taught me and my brothers how to play the game. My brother, being two years older, was always better than me. In fact, he was better in every sport we played —especially golf. So, when I was a teenager, I decided to give up the game. This is one of my greatest regrets in life. Not only did I give up a game I loved and was good at, I lost out on spending quality time with my dad out on the golf course for years to come.
In my 30′s, I decided to take up the game again. I played a few times a week with some friends from work. Surprisingly, I could still hit the ball pretty well. My renewed interest in golf led to an invitation by friends at Yahoo to attend the Pro/Am at Pebble Beach. And I got to take a guest, so I invited my dad.
I decided to do it up right. I’d fly Dad first class from Boston to San Francisco, and I’d fly up from LA to meet him. I scheduled my flight with plenty of time to be waiting for him outside his gate. When I first caught sight of him, his Irish complexion was ruddier than usual. I was anxious to find out if he enjoyed riding first class. Was it comfortable? Was the food good? Instead, he just smiled and said, “They kept filling my wine glass!”
The next few days we lived in style; a beautiful hotel, great food — and a greenside press box on the 18th green at Pebble Beach—the works. We even got to play golf at Del Monte (1897) the oldest course west of the Mississippi. It was a special time.
At age 78, Dad still had a bit of the golf magic. We met the course pro on the 7th tee box— an elevated tee that looked down on a lush green fairway. The pro greeted my dad like a veteran coming home from war—treating him with the reverence his years deserved.
“What’s the best score you’ve ever shot?” the pro asked.
“64,” Dad said proudly. And he stepped up to the ball, screwed up his face, and drove a perfect 200-yard drive.
“And you’ve still got it!” the pro said with a laugh.
I discovered one more thing that day. Dad was getting old. It sounds like an odd thing to say, but having moved away from home 15 years earlier, I was surprised to see how quickly he tired. Even though there were people waiting on the tee box, he labored as he walked up the fairway. His usual cough (asbestos exposure from years of manual labor) ever increasing. I later learned that he hadn’t been feeling well, but he didn’t want to miss a chance to play with me. We wrapped up our round after nine holes, hitching a ride back to the club house with the pro.
That night he was still feeling bad. I helped him get undressed and into bed. He had a high fever and began violently shaking. Great, I thought. I finally get time with my Dad, and he may end up dying on me. My mother’s going to kill me.
But, of all the things I remember that night, one image never left me—his feet. In his old age, Dad had stopped caring for his tired old feet. His toenails were yellowed and misshapened. They were, in fact, the ugliest feet I’d ever seen. Those ugly old feet made me realize a hard fact: he wouldn’t be with us much longer. He had survived falling off a three-story roof, multiple car accidents and nearly drowning in a river. But years of hard labor as a roofer had taken a toll on his old frame.
The next day, the last day of our trip, he was feeling a little better. But it was time for him to go. At first I felt angry that my time with dad was interrupted by his sudden illness. But then I realized I had been given a gift. When you’re young, you think your parents will live forever. And though our time was cut short, he’d had the time of his life. He got to see some of his favorite players on a course he had only seen on TV. He got to ride first class, and they’d keep filling his wine glass—all the way back to Boston.
It was the last time that we played together. He would have been 88 years old today.
I miss you, Dad.
Disney Movie Night Recommendation: The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)
Shia LeBeouf stars as the golf champion Francis Ouimet in this biopic directed by Bill Paxton. Ouimet was the son of working class immigrants, and began his career as a caddy at an exclusive country club in Brookline, MA. In 1913, he wound up the first amateur to win the US Open. Part of what makes the film so compelling is the relationship between Ouimet and his critical father, who by the end of the film comes to accept and respect Ouimet’s passion for golf.