‘He gave me the gift of golf’

Golfer in the sunset

The odds of being born, let alone being able to read this, are exceedingly slim. Do a little research on this and bask in appreciation, for a moment, at the exceptionalism of your existence.  

Those odds get ever longer when you bring the ability to play golf into the mix. You need your health for a start, but you also need someone to introduce you to what has become a way of life for me, something that is more than a game, hobby, obsession, job, or competition. For me, golf is a place I transcend to in my waking hours and in my dreams. How do I get to this point? As with any story, it all began with an introduction.

Golf was bestowed upon me by my mother’s father, whom I affectionately knew as Pappi.

Golf Pappi
Golf was bestowed upon me by my mother’s father, my Pappi

Born in Germany in 1933 he fled to England in the summer of 1939 shortly before the invasion of Poland. He lived as a refugee in an internment camp, served in the Queens army during the Korean war and by the late 50’s was venturing to a new adventure in the United States, though he remained a loyal British citizen.

Golf did not enter his life nearly as early as he ensured it entered mine. Little did I know the magnitude of the gift I was receiving when he handed me those first plastic clubs. Nor did I realise the value of those lessons on etiquette taught to me in practice areas before letting me loose with his cronies.

Golf Pappi 1
My Pappi taught me far more than just how to hit a golf ball

All that mattered to me, was that I was with him. Here, out on the golf course, I was getting quality time with my Pappi, away from any ‘real world pressures,’ surrounded by the elements and marvelling at those well-struck shots, which I remember thinking looked like they defied gravity.

In my life, golf and Pappi blend into one wonderful force for good. Even when I play all over the world, these days, he is there with me, reminding me to be patient, respectful and committed to the shot I am about to hit. There isn’t a round which goes by without one of his slogans, which aren’t unique, but mean something to me. I hear that familiar refrain of “head down and swing easy” delivered with that familiar accent as I approach my ball. And somehow it doesn’t feel strange.

You see, my Pappi passed away recently and the more golf I play without him in the world, the more I feel him by my side. I still hear those Pappi-patented mantras – “poor as piss and vinegar” after a topped tee shot, or “got a monkey in there?” after an errant shot rebounds back into the fairway from high in the trees. 

Golf Pappi
Pappi in the military – he is top row, second from the left

His voice is with me on every green too. He was not a  particularly renowned putter, unless it was with one hand, but Pappi would constantly remind me to never leave a birdie putt short and to never take a putt, even a fourth one, for granted. ‘Make sure you line that up.’

He may be with me, but I am peppered with sadness that I’ll never be able to look him in the eye again after a special shot or listen to his voice as I tell him about my latest round on the phone. But I have got the next best thing – he’s still with me and when someone in a baggy Ashworth pullover lights up a cigarette, I can even smell his on-course attire too.

Golf Pappi
My Pappi in his younger days

I get a sense of rejuvenation from is presence and by embracing his on-course pearls of wisdom. I often find myself wishing others could feel it as well. Not because I want to “grow the game” but because I want more people to grow from the game. How much more productive and pleasant would our workplaces be if everyone was a golfer? If everyone understood the “rub of the green”? Could shrug off the bad breaks because they understood that they eventually balance out with good?  

The gift of golf which Pappi gave me has taken me all over the world, created memories I will never forget and brought me into contact with people I may never have crossed paths with. Those willing to persevere through the challenges of being new to the game get to reap the rewards it can offer for a lifetime.

Because of Pappi, I was too young to know I should be scared at the prospect of pegging a tee in front of strangers for the first time. Back then, I had no perception of embarrassment or nerves because he was there by my side. These days, I am more aware of it, of course, and occasionally get butterflies when visiting a private club or playing in front of a loved one or with a new pairing. By the 1st green that feeling subsides and I’m overcome by a certain present-moment euphoria that only a golf provides.

I attribute all of that to Pappi, who would consistently present the aura of the perfect gentleman on and off the course – everywhere he went in fact. He would always make a point to get to know the people we were spending time with; he was genuinely interested and inquisitive. By the time we left a course or clubhouse it was as if everyone was now a friend. He believed that to enjoy a day out golfing, you didn’t have to break par, you just had to be present and be great company. Pappi lived by that rule, every round  could be a success and that feeling could last well beyond the confines of the golf course. Like so much else he gave me, I try to take that with me and live that out.

Hopefully, as my fellow wanderers read this, they pause over a sentence or two. Maybe they are even taken to a familiar feeling, place, or time.

Those who give us the gift of golf have done something we can never find the words to thank them for. Not only for the shots we play and the courses we visit, and it my case, because of the way we contemplate the game, well beyond birdies and bogeys and towards the values and meanings of it all. A thousand words will never be thanks enough but if we can all find a sense of bliss on the links then we can carry something special with us and maybe even make the world a better place – one round at a time.  

Thank you, Pappi.

Zack's grandfather introduced him to golf as a small child and in doing so gave him the keys to a lifetime source of adventure. He may call New York home but Zack has travelled the world in search of golf and new challenges. He is, however, no stranger to the UK, having spent five years there completing his degree in veterinary medicine.

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