Sure, it’s one of my all-time favorite Golf League stories. But I bet it’s been 15 years since I told it last. Then, curiously, I find myself telling the tale twice in two days – on two different courses.
How blessed I am, you must be thinking – to be able to play golf twice in two days. And to have a dollop of mystical grace poured out upon my sporting travails besides?
Indeed, my cup overflows.
I’m not even sure how the subject came up on Thursday, but here’s (more or less) the account I related to Greg D., my opponent, as we waited for a fairway to clear ahead. I recalled the fateful day some 22 years earlier when I was matched up against one of the “seasoned citizens” in our league – Jack L., then a 76-year-old whom I’d grown to love as a holy man, a lover of the Eucharistic Lord, and a sort of father-figure in my life.
Jack’s game had begun to show its age, I told Greg. Arthritic joints meant his shots rarely traveled more than 150 yards. Even so, Jack very much enjoyed winning…and golf’s handicap system made it possible from time to time. Indeed: I was required to concede a stroke to Jack on virtually every hole, but in my youthful hubris I still believed I ought to beat him handily that day.
Alas, it played out a bit differently: Jack had taken the honor on the 8th, leveling our 9-hole match at four holes apiece. He knew – and I knew – that the final hole mattered. Jack proceeded to the next tee box in his motorized cart, while I lagged behind…using the short walk to collect my thoughts.
When I arrived at the final tee box, I found Jack standing there leaning on his driver, his head bowed. Perhaps with good reason: the finishing hole required a 150-yard carry over water. It was an intimidating sight for any golfer of our skill level – but I suspected that waiting wouldn’t make the shot easier, so (with a touch of irritation in my voice) I said, “Jack, you’ve got the box.” And Jack replied, “Don’t bother me, John. I’m praying.”
We shared a laugh and then Jack hit his drive. What happened next still boggles my mind: Jack’s ball flew 149 yards, danced once off the pond and onto the fairway. He went on to win the hole (and the match) by the narrowest of margins – the single stroke saved when his ball took a hop and a skip across restful waters, and settled on green pastures.
Our league plays on a different course these days, and the age-tables have turned a bit as well: I’m now the Old Dude in many of the matches I play – so even though that particular pond is no longer in play, maybe I figured it couldn’t hurt to use my “senior citizen” story on Greg to gin up a little scoring sympathy during the round.
I had no such motivation at the charity event I played the next day: I was the youngest of the “seasoned citizens” on our scramble team (although truth-be-told I play kinda “old” compared to Vic, Tom and Ed). But what I lack in swing speed, sometimes I can make up for in story-telling skill – and that might be why, out of the blue, Vic asked me to share the Jack L. tale with our buddies.
What Vic couldn’t have known is how things would then play out about a half-hour later – as we teed up on our penultimate hole, a par 3 requiring a 130-yard carry over water. I struck first, launching my ball about 137 yards in the air: landing dry…but still a considerable distance from the green.
Not to worry, right? Surely “goodness and kindness will follow me” since I’m playing with guys far more skilled than myself.
Only watch what happens next: Vic plunks his drive in the water; Tom follows with a splash; and Ed stands as our Last Best Hope. He strikes the orb bravely, but thinly…and it scorches toward the flag only a foot or two above the water – before touching down a full 10 yards before dry land. Then, incredibly, it hops…skips…and jumps forward onto the turf, before ultimately coming to rest on the green.
Granted, there’s almost no reason to take note of such a turn. It mattered little to the four of us, ensuring only that we could keep our “bogey-free” round intact. And no one else in the world would care a whit, would they?
Still, on Good Shepherd Sunday, I find myself being deeply blessed by my memory of Jack. Blessed, too, by the present-day camaraderie of Greg, and Vic, and Tom, and Ed – all men, like Jack, who recognize the voice of the Shepherd…and who’ve learned to trust the Risen Lord to lead them out each day and find green pastures.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
What a great story!