Golf is the sport most analogous to life.
It rewards patience, discipline and honesty. Cheaters get shamed. Itâ€™s incredibly difficult to master, and inherently unfair.
You often find yourself making a lot of requests, jokes and prayers.
The parallels between golf and life truly are endless. Iâ€™ve had the privilege of growing up in a family that treats golf as a way of life.
If you canâ€™t take golf, you canâ€™t take life. And likewise, you canâ€™t retire from life, and you donâ€™t retire from golf.
Which is why on this past gloomy Saturday afternoon, as my family and I returned to the course – played for a lifetime by my father, my fatherâ€™s father, my motherâ€™s father and myself – to pay tribute to my grandfatherâ€™s remarkable 87 years of life, I couldnâ€™t help but say a few prayers myself.
A few prayers for one of the gameâ€™s greats – and one of my fatherâ€™s and grandfatherâ€™s favorite players – Seve Ballesteros, who passed away Saturday, May 7, due to brain cancer.
Seveâ€™s quirky upbringing has been well documented, only bolstering his following. The youngest of four brothers, Seve was given the rusty head of an old three-iron and searched for sticks that he made into shafts.
However, whatâ€™s a club worth without anything to hit? From there, the pebbles on Spainâ€™s north coast in Pedrena became his golf balls.
The rest is history.
Ballesteros became more than one of golfâ€™s legends; he transcended the game.
Besides the five major championships – three British Opens and two Masters â€“ sandwiched among his astonishing 91 professional victories, the great Spaniard won an unprecedented eight Ryder Cups as a player and coach, helping to integrate the sport of golf into Europe.
He was tall, tan and handsome, a peculiar look for a golfer in the 1980s. But most of all, he brought out the emotion in golf like none other.
While it was his greatness and influence as a golfer that established Seve in the pantheon of prominent sports figures, it was the manner in which he went about his madness that captivated the world.
On the course, Ballesteros was known for his mystic abilities.
For his wayward drives and his miraculous up-and-downs.
For the shots he would chase down and the fists he would punch through the air.
Seveâ€™s unorthodox approach to the game was a spectacle, not an accident.
“The style he played with was just classic,” golf legend and Ballesteros rival Nick Faldo told ESPN.com. “Tee it up, hit it, chase after it and hit it again. The energy of his shots was just fantastic. It was Cirque du Soleil on golf.”
Off the course Ballesteros was known for being an ambassador for the game, popularizing the sport for the entire continent of Europe. For this reason, Seve often drew comparisons to the American great Arnold Palmer.
Palmer, who helped popularize golf in the United States, became as beloved a figure the sport has ever seen.
Like Palmer, Ballesteros played with a flair that made him beloved beyond golf. He was able to connect with the people – who were mesmerized by his talents and charisma – on a more personal level than anybody before him.
Like Ballesteros on a granular level, my grandfather popularized the game for my family, making a sport so frustrating and so maddening appear so enjoyable and relaxed.
When somebody would ask his handicap, heâ€™d say â€œwoods and irons.â€
Ask him how his game is and youâ€™d get something like, â€œIâ€™m hitting the woods just great . . . but Iâ€™m having a terrible time getting out of them.â€
As I would constantly pray for my game, he filled in the gaps between curse words and mulligans with his patented corny jokes, always with a smirk and a smile, to relieve the tension I created.
Which is why, as we walked up the 12th fairway – a dangerously beautiful hole surrounded by woods, broken up by water – I could only laugh at my grandfatherâ€™s last request.
This particular hole can be treacherous for the young and old â€“ a 375-yard par 4 â€“ demanding a near perfect drive over a lake resting 175 yards off the tee. With cavernous woods on both sides and a creek dissecting the fairway, the conservative play is to lay up and often sacrifice par for the greater good of your scorecard and wallet.
He was under par as a businessman, husband, friend and grandfather. But as a golfer â€“ a man that had all the good karma in the world on his side – could never manage to hit the ball over that damn creek and make his par.
Which is why he requested to be placed directly in the middle of his nemesis hole.
But this time – and forever more – he will be on the other side of the creek, with a smirk and a smile.
Only because of the parallels between golf and life can I compare my own grandfather to a legend of a professional sport.
Unfortunately, despite the many connections between them â€“ on and off the course – there remains one sad similarity: the reality that both men were forced to stop playing all too soon.
They were forced to retire from golf, and eventually, from life.
But, despite Seveâ€™s illustrious career rapidly deteriorating, his adored and renowned character lived on. Nobody cared what he shot; they only wanted to see him play.
Just as I began to stop caring about the score when I played my last few rounds with my grandfather, becoming a little more carefree each time, thankful for the time I had with him.
Golf just got a little more frustrating.
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