Once upon a time there was a boy named David. His dad was a golf professional, and his family lived on the fifth hole of a modest golf course. Every day David spent hours hitting golf balls, tee to green, over and over again, until the hazy orange light of the setting sun could no longer be seen, and pine tree shadows overcame him in the darkness. When he was old enough he worked as a caddy, lugging golf bags almost twice his size. “Take the pin out,” the players would direct him. And David did. “Do you think I should use a 5 or 6 iron?” the men would ask one another, and David studied their answers and the results. He learned to read the grain of the grass and determine the direction of the wind. He watched as the better players sunk their putts, and he learned from them.
As a teenager, David began working in the rack room of the golf shop, washing clubs, organizing bags, politely asking the golfers about their rounds, and dreaming of the day he would make his own mark on the game. In his spare time he practiced.
David loved the smell of the freshly mown grass on the golf course, the sound of the sprinkler’s fssst, fssst, fssst on the lush green fairways, the gentle coo of the mourning dove, calling to its mate. In these surroundings, during his high school summers before and after work, he emptied his shag bag and began to hit balls at the yard markers on the driving range. His shots were solid, timed. Like a pendulum was his swing, back and forth, back and forth, creating a soothing, predictable motion, and lulling the golf ball to its intended spot.
Local tournaments, regional tournaments, state tournaments — he played and placed in almost every one. “What a smooth swing that boy’s got,” the older golfers would comment, “Textbook, pure textbook.” And again and again David would drive it high, hit it long, and make the target.
David was captain his senior year when his high school team won the state championship. Big Ten schools offered him full scholarships to play golf for their school. By age 20 he was on a plane to Scotland to play in the British Amateur.
When David graduated from college and law school, he married and tried to relegate his golfing to Saturday mornings and an occasional tournament. As often happens when conflicting goals take hold in one’s heart, David felt pulled between golf, his job and his family. The competitive life required hours away from home, practicing day after day. Competition was thrilling. Playing was fulfilling. Winning was deeply satisfying. Early one Saturday, at the perfect time to head to the course to play a round of golf, David looked at his squinty newborn crying in his crib and the father knew what came first in his heart. He once had thought that golf alone was his future. Now he knew better.
David reached down and scooped up his son. He rocked his little one back and forth and back and forth in a soothing motion, lulling him back to sleep. Outside he heard the fsst fsst fsst of the neighbor’s sprinkler, and from the kitchen his wife softly and gently called to him.
While he still manages a tournament now and then, most Saturdays are filled with mowing the lawn and paying bills and standing over his children, who now hold golf clubs. “Swing slow; it’s a backward and forward motion,” he tells them, “There you go. You have it.”
This is David’s story, but it is many men’s story too — men who lose themselves to find their purpose. Who allow their hobbies and talents to serve them, not reign over them. They may give up a chance of worldly fame but they have won. Their personal fulfillment is offered for the benefit of others. They show us strength in their choices and chivalry in the ordinary. Like a gentleman in line who steps aside to give a lady the last seat on the bus, they give us their best and they don’t look back. The details of each man’s story differ, but each champion’s sacrifice is the same.
Once upon a time there were men who released their dreams and what they thought were fairy tale endings so they and their brides and children could live happily ever after. And they live among us. They are our heroes.
“Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.” Gaudium et Spes (24), Vatican II Document.
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