To Absent Golfers

June 27, 2011

Our equipment editor went to any depth to deliver the goods.

They say death always plays in threesomes. In a moment this past summer it came to two golfers you knew and one you didn't but should have. Ely Callaway went and left us with a bagful of Big Berthas. Jack Lemmon missed his last cut at Pebble Beach. And a guy named Pete Farricker doesn't show up for work here anymore.

Pete was our equipment editor--the job of every golfer's dreams, he liked to say. He got all the plutonium drivers and diamond-faced wedges first--they poured out of his office when you opened the door. But he tended his scratch handicap with the oldest 3-wood in the barrel.

He was our best player and maybe our worst dresser. The light bulb never worked in his closet. The big redhead had kind of a slap swing that produced a squirt fade, instilling hope before wearing you out. He won all the championships at his club, but preferred the muny life, alternating with his buddies sleeping overnight in his car at the public course to get a morning tee time.

Pete handled his illness as a kind of competition. He wanted to win, even tried unorthodox techniques to beat what everyone said could not be beaten, and then he played out the match.

He came to work for two years after being diagnosed with ALS, known commonly as Lou Gehrig's Disease. The movie we've all seen of Gehrig considering himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth ends with Gary Cooper walking off gracefully. In real life, sportswriters spared us Gehrig's end. We still think of him whole and athletic. But the disease goes on to ravage the victim, in a cruel twist, shutting down the body while leaving the mind intact.

Pete, 45, melted like a candle from the outside in, as we watched him day by day, coming to the office in a motorized wheelchair until a week before his death. He changed our shop not just with his own heroics, but by the incredible kindnesses he inspired in others. Colleagues walking by the lunch table casually bent to wipe his mouth with a napkin or share a wisecrack.

He was very good at his job, fair-minded and clever at coming up with odd equipment angles. You may remember him as the scuba diver in the story about how water-logged golf balls perform. He also founded Golf Digest's Equipment Advisory Panel. On the side, he ran a charity tournament for the Mary Fund, a foundation in memory of his sister benefiting hospice care.

Before his wife, Mandy, took up golf--and I should add, they married at the town hall in Troon, Scotland, the day after Justin Leonard's British Open and produced a son, Jack, nine months later--she would often ask him, "So, what do you guys talk about all the time you're playing?" Pete would reply, "Nothin'." She'd say, "For four hours?" When Pete finally hooked her on golf and she heard the senseless banter that goes on, she said, "I can't believe it--you guys really don't talk about anything!"

Pete liked to talk about nothin' on the golf course, except for the times when he was singing old, bad songs like "Green-Eyed Lady" while sauntering down the fairways. But the memory I will keep is that of Mandy, holding Jack's hand by the lectern at the funeral, and reading flawlessly the eulogy that Pete had written for himself.

Never the hero of his own stories, Pete reflected on all that had been given him and ended poignantly with this: "You are probably wondering what great insight I came up with during my illness, because Lord knows, I have had plenty of time to think. Well, other than discovering that barbecue ribs really back up the old plumbing, there was never one crystalline moment when everything became clear. Never a moment in which I solved life's great mysteries. Believe me, I waited, but it just never happened.

"Instead, it was the never-ending gifts of love that came my way, which convinced me that the main reason why we're all here is to simply love one another. We all have what seem like complicated lives, and we often get caught up in the daily minutiae of work, family and school. ... It's love that makes us strong--and it's love that solves the mysteries."