Courses & TravelJune 20, 2009

Happy Father's Day

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My Dad (pictured) didn't give me my official introduction to the game of golf. It was my friend's dad--Al Cohen. One afternoon, when I was maybe ten years old, Mr. Cohen drove his son, the "other Matt" and I to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for the first nine holes of my life. The other Matt and I were about ten years old and, combined, weighed maybe 100 pounds. We were built like the junior clubs we carried over our shoulders. I can remember teeing the ball up all over the course, and especially in the fairway. It was SO much easier to get the ball airborne with a two-inch headstart. To Mr. Cohen our score was well beyond insignificant. He only cared about the fun meter, and that was high.

I still use a tip Mr. Cohen gave me for chipping around a green. I was having a hard time not decelerating the wedge at impact causing the ball to do a variety of bad things. Mostly not go vary far. I know you're familiar with the results. So Al said, "Don't think about just chipping it to the flag. Think about a short backswing and chipping the ball to the other side of the green." Just the thought helped, and still helps me, control the dreaded decel.

As for the following rounds of young golf with my Dad, I remember a round at Oakmont Golf Club in Santa Rosa, Calif. when he taught me the proper way to tend the flag: step to the side and back and make sure my shadow didn't cover the hole. He also taught me how to rake a bunker and to always take my hat off after the round and before I shake the hands of my playing partners. I still like doing that today regardless of the state of my hat-head. A very underrated tradition of golf in my opinion and a tradition best passed from a father to a son.

And then there was the day my dad let me drive the cart. Mostly I remember learning the term, "ride the brakes."

From the top of a steep hill and headed to the bottom at a good clip, my dad shouted, "Ride the brakes!" I interpreted that to mean slam on the brakes as hard as my little limb could hold the slab of rubber to the floor without breaking a bone in my leg. It was after 1,480 degrees (or more) of rapid rotation as though we were a tea cup at a carnival, and two lives passing before four eyes, that I got the proper meaning of the term: ride the brakes. It means, simply, that the operator of the golf cart applies steady and only firm pressure to the brake pedal, allowing the cart to proceed to the bottom of the hill at a manageable pace. Was I supposed to know that at the tender age of 12?

Which brings me to my first memory of beating my dad on the course. "Well, the little s___ finally did it," is what I think he said to my mom. My Dad has always carried about an 18 to 25 handicap. And thus the start of a lifetime negotiation of strokes. One that, within reason and respectfully, but not without a fair amount of resistance and ridicule, that I'm always willing to lose.

My dad was a civil engineer for his professional life and he's faster than a calculator on any and all things relating to numbers. But he's also a very good writer. So in honor of Father's Day I asked him to write something for my blog.

This, I thought would be appropriate, because my parents recently moved to San Diego, a few miles from one of my two older brothers (I'm the youngest of five). My dad and my mom (married 51 years) have a little private nine hole course off their backyard (they share it with the neighbors of a gated community. It's very nice. I've played it once. It's short, narrow, well-kept and ridiculously cheap. I think we dropped $2 per player in a box on the first tee. My Dad has been telling me tales of getting better, winning club championships even, and a guy he plays with who has a hard time seeing and yet he has over 40 aces. And that's just one of several characters he has made friends with in their first year in Southern California. My Dad even has my Mom playing a game she hasn't touched since they lived in Chile back in the '60s. So golf is helping keep both of them young and active. And it has given my Dad and I countless memories of life on fairways (no more tees) as spectacular as the short grass (and long grass) of Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach. And there will be more. More rounds for $2 at the short course in his backyard.

So this is what my dad turned in for his Father's Day assignment to write a guest column poem to post on my blog. It's his ode to golf by John Ginella:

Dear Matty G,

We all remember where we were when.....

Our children were born

JFK was killed

On 9-11

When we took up golf

Joined a club

& made our first eagle, or,

Hole in one (same thing)

We got to play with our wife (on the course, that is)

Played golf with all our sons

Played a Saturday "bandit" game with friends

Watched Tiger roar through Augusta for his first Masters jacket

Retired to a place where we could play daily

Won a low net club championship, and,

Got our name on a plaque, and,

Know what it's like to be tagged a "sandbagger"

Play now with the over 55 group (mostly over 75)

'Set up' a 4some paired with an old (retired) pro vs two sons

Laughed when sons discovered the 'set up'--retired pro can still play

Play with 90+ year olds (with eye trouble) that have 43 Aces

Host three guests for a round at a cost of $4 per guest, per 18, then,

Take $1.40 each from two guests in side bets

That's about it except to use the time on the course to brag a little

(a lot actually) On our great group of Sons and Daughters.

Love, Pop

Here's a picture of the four Ginella boys last fall when my dad turned 75. His birthday is Nov. 11, 1933--that's 11/22/33. Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there . . . especially Papa John.

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