Golf Digest editors picks

Always By My Side

Jim Nantz on golf, life and lessons from his father's battle with Alzheimer's

June 2008

Editor's Note: Jim Nantz is the face of CBS Sports, a year ago hosting the network's coverage of the Super Bowl, Final Four and Masters during a nine-week stretch. Twelve years earlier, while his parents were visiting him during a PGA Tour event in Fort Worth, Nantz and his family were rocked when his father, Jim, suffered a mini-stroke, "probably the latest in a series of setbacks that we had failed to recognize for what they were," Nantz says in his newly released memoir, Always By My Side: A Father's Grace and a Sports Journey Unlike Any other.

"In fact, there were numerous other warning signals," Nantz writes. "For instance, my sister, Nancy, recalled a recent incident on a vacation, when Dad went to the hotel lobby for a quick cup of coffee and forgot what room he was staying in. We also remembered Dad's sudden difficulty in correctly pronouncing the name of our longtime neighbor. We had laughed off these awkward moments to put my father at ease. But these and other cognitive data points were hiding in plain sight.

"In the weeks after Fort Worth, my dad's condition improved," Nantz says. "His speech returned, and the partial paralysis of his left arm also disappeared. Still, something was amiss. We became more conscious of his inability to 'connect the dots,' and our suspicions and fears mounted.

Finally, we took my father to be evaluated by a prominent neurologist, Dr. Stanley Appel. He confirmed the clinical diagnosis that several other physicians had made. It was the word we all had come to dread most: Alzheimer's."

With the patriarch remaining under care today, Nantz; his sister; mother, Doris; and extended family continue to deal with "the unremitting nightmare known as Alzheimer's," but the book remembers the good times as well as the tough ones. And with Father's Day on June 15, Nantz offers this dedication:

"To my family, especially Mom -- a woman of deep faith, fierce loyalty and unconditional love. To dads everywhere, who encourage their sons and daughters to dream big dreams -- and inspire their kids to pursue them. And to all who cope with Alzheimer's patients -- may you, too, find grace through the legacies of your loved ones."

Here, we excerpt moments from the Nantz family's journey.

*****

BOARD MEETING AT PEBBLE
Augusta National is one of the most beautiful courses ever created by man. But God's gift to golf can be found on the Monterey Peninsula with a pair of classics: Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Cypress Point Club -- separated by only three miles. There is no more breathtakingly scenic spot on this planet than this corner of California real estate.

Each February, after the Super Bowl and the 20-week grind of the football season, I come to Pebble for renewal. I put the time change to good use, waking up before 6 most mornings to slip on my running shoes and jog the course. Following the cartpath in darkness, I work my way out to the tee at the seventh hole. There, I sit in silence on the wooden rail fence, waiting for the dawn to break.

When the unfolding panorama of a new day stabilizes, I conduct my annual one-man "Board of Directors" meeting, taking stock of my life and my career. Along this same jagged shore, I had often sought insight and inspiration as I thought about my dad.

Years earlier in my career, I was plagued by a sense of "success guilt." How, I wondered, could I enjoy the affluence of the Lodge at Pebble Beach while Dad was driving all around Texas trying to develop a customer base for his office-furniture business? That was when I began to develop the idea that my father would travel with me and help me in my business.

Sadly, before that dream for my father could become a reality, he was overtaken by Alzheimer's. It was on the Monterey Peninsula where I grappled with the traumatic decision regarding his transfer to a private-care facility.

Balancing the emotional ledger, Pebble Beach was also where I was able to share a wonderful father-and-son road trip. In 1990, I had the privilege of bringing my dad out to watch the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am; he sat with me in the tower and walked the course, and on the day after the tournament we played Pebble Beach together. For someone who enjoyed the game -- and adored the beauty of nature -- as much as he did, it was, he claimed, one of the greatest rounds of his life.

Although I was never able to duplicate that wonderful experience with my father, I did relive it vicariously through CBS Sports executive producer Tony Petitti. He and his dad, John, a 22-year New York City police officer, loved golf. On weekends, they would drive out to Long Island's famed public course, arriving at Bethpage at 4 a.m. to reserve a tee time before sleeping in the car. In 1999, Tony brought his father out to play Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. John Petitti passed away five years afterward, and to this day, like me and countless others, Tony says that he cannot go back to Pebble without thinking of his dad and the warm memories of their special rounds together.

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