SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Time advances in a straight line, but our lives do not. We exist in swirls of circles and cycles, our paths sprinkled with irony, coincidence and fate.
Today’s final round of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills marks a full circle of the Father’s Day celebration for me. June 18, 1995, 23 years ago, dawned as just another Father’s Day for so many men, but I marked it with a sense of pride I’d never known before, having welcomed a baby boy the previous month.
When my son Alex was born, I was working as sports editor of a mid-sized daily newspaper in Ohio, while on the side I wrote about television for a golf publication. So I watched the NBC coverage of the championship from home. When Greg Norman lost to Corey Pavin, my father called to talk about the Shark’s latest setback, our second conversation that day. Named after his father, Chester, my dad liked the Shark. Which was a lot like being a fan of his beloved Cleveland Browns. Disappointment seemed inevitable.
My emotional stake was invested elsewhere. I had a son. And he was—as he is today—awesome. Father’s Day was my day now as well as my dad’s. Consequently, I understood my father better. A fresh door of perspective on who he was and what he was about opened to me. You truly do not connect with your parents until you become a parent yourself, and the feeling of being a dad for the first time stirred unparalleled exhilaration. Naturally, I had to write about it in a Father’s Day column that shared the front page of the sports section with third-round coverage of that year’s U.S. Open from Shinnecock. I wrote of Alex:
“You came into the world with hands like Arnold Palmer and feet that reminded us of Fred Flintstone. We can only assume, then, that you might one day become either one of the great golfers of your era or a fine barefoot water skier. It makes no difference to your mother and me.”
Not surprisingly, there are golf references throughout the piece.
“You arrived on May 10, some 25 days ahead of schedule. We’re taking it as a good sign that you will never be late for a tee time.”
“… Certainly, I look forward to the day we can tee it up together.”
“… Believe in yourself … and the back-nine press.”
Alex has never seen this column. I intend to share a copy of it with him today. He is here with me at this year’s 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock, working with the USGA’s photo department. It means the world to me to have him here, and I wish my daughter, Ellie, two years younger than her brother, were here as well, as she has been on a couple of occasions during previous championships.
Father’s Day at the U.S. Open. It’s been our tradition since 1999.
Another tradition has been to call my father on U.S. Open Sunday from wherever the championship had taken me, early in the day, before the leaders teed off. When he died in February, suddenly, at age 79, I had to accept that the tradition was gone along with him. And it’s strange how Shinnecock ties it all together, how I celebrated my first Father’s Day as a dad and 23 years later my first without my dad.
It is neither bittersweet nor funereal. It just feels strangely hollow.
He would have loved this year’s championship. He loved watching the carnage unfold on some of America’s hardest golf courses, because he had played the game and knew how difficult it could be, even for the game’s greatest players.
My dad was a powerful man with a swing like Arnie’s. Which was not surprising. His arms and shoulders were rock solid from his days as an apprentice plumber. He began playing when my older brother Chet and I were young. We lived in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, and most of his rounds were confined to quick nines at Lyndhurst Golf Course, a public facility that doesn’t exist anymore. He could pummel a driver, but he lacked short-game finesse.
Eventually, he let us try it, and later, when we moved to Troy, Ohio, we spent many of our summer days at the public course in town, the Donald Ross-designed Miami Shores. Somehow, my dad and mom came up with the money for season memberships and bought us starter sets. Who knows how they managed? They just did it.
As for instruction, Dad largely left us to ourselves to figure out the game.
There came a time still early in his life when whatever attraction golf held for him vanished. Without fanfare one day he let me have his Billy Casper signature matching woods, irons and putter, which were wrapped in cool black and burgundy leather grips. They were sweet.
The 3-wood was the first to leave my bag. I used it so regularly that one day it simply gave out, splitting in two, a victim of its own reliability. The blade putter was the last to go, sometime around the mid-1990s, when technology usurped it. I know exactly when I abandoned the irons. A large rectangular box arrived at my one-bedroom apartment one spring day in 1986, not too long after Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters title and all of us nutty Golden Bear fans were still in the throes of celebration. In the box were new irons, a surprise gift from Dad.
In his later years, Dad developed an antagonistic streak that seemed to be his way of challenging his three kids the only way he still knew how, which was intellectually. My brother, younger sister and I all had our unique way of dealing with it. Mine was to debate him fiercely and then fall back on our common love of sports. He always spoke his mind.
I know he died disappointed in the Cleveland Browns and Phil Mickelson’s inability to close out the career grand slam. Phil was another one of his guys. Nevertheless, he'd have been extremely disappointed in Lefty’s antics on Saturday. Never would he abide such disrespect of sport.
I know he loved watching the majors. I know he loved the game for the opportunities that it gave his second son. I have loved sharing the game with my two children as much as possible—as much as they can stand, perhaps?—and some of my favorite memories are the times we’ve spent on a golf course.
Possessing an uncannily natural swing, Ellie actually was the first of the two kids to complete 18 holes with me, on her ninth birthday. It remains one of the greatest days I’ve ever had on a golf course. Because he has traveled with me to several U.S. Opens, Alex has had the chance to sample a few great American layouts, the highlight being our late Sunday round, which we raced to finish in the gloaming, at Pebble Beach in 2012.
Each has met Jack Nicklaus, got an autograph from Tiger Woods and had a picture taken with Rickie Fowler. I don’t know if either loves the game, but I think they have enjoyed these moments, some of the cool clothes I’ve brought them from here and abroad—Ellie dressed as a golfer one year for Halloween—and being a part of the world in which I work.
The U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock Hills in 2026. Those eight years will fly by, I know. A part of me can’t help but think another milestone could be achieved that year, if it hasn’t by then, and that I’d become a grandfather. That would be sweet. That would be poetic.
That would be another perfect circle, but come what may.