Facing the challenge of two kids and their "Gramps" was the best match of our lives.
As we wait for our waitress, we add up the scores and pay off the bets.
Like many 19th hole celebrations, the drinks arrive and the trash talk begins. When drinks turn into lunch at Oh’ Brian’s On The Green at the nine-hole Hyatt Hills Golf Complex in Clark, one member of our foursome is recounting many bone-headed things I’ve done in my life, on and off the golf course. The other two guys are enthralled, definitely laughing at me.
I couldn’t be happier to be getting killed, because my 82-year-old father is telling these tales to my two sons. And Zach and Luke are getting a perfect end to a perfect golf day.
Three generations on the golf course brings out the full family dynamic: golf DNA, learned behavior, unbridled competitiveness, constant support, and relentless teasing.
It’s Gramps, 14-year-old Zach, and 11-year-old Luke, against me. George, as grown-ups know him, has never hit it far. But he’s consistently down the middle, is the best chipper and putter I’ve ever played with. He’s a Zen assassin, telling you how great your drive is, how close your birdie putt is, how he should just go back to the cart and watch.
Then he drains his one-putt for par, with a stroke, and chuckles quietly on his way to the tee.
Luke, our little guy, is just like him (and my wife, Paula). Dead straight, strategic, focused. Zach, on the other hand, loves to hit it far, find it, then trying something creative, leading to birdies or double-bogeys.
“I want to him ‘em like that when I grow up,” Gramps says. Zach is having fun, until he gets frustrated with his game (he gets that from his old man) — or with his little brother for being consistent. So he goes for less Mickelson and more Nicklaus. Gramps gives him a “smart decision” nod of approval. Out of Zach’s earshot, he says to Luke, “You’ve got him thinking. Keep doing what you are doing…”
Luke and Gramps play from the forward tees, while Zach and I play from the tips. All the way around, we praise the good shots, laugh at the bad and the lucky, like when a skulled wedge by Luke runs through the bunker to within 10 feet on the tree-lined fifth hole. Then it gets really fun, when Zach drains a 40-footer on the fifth to put pressure on Luke, who misses the putt as Zach does his best Tiger fist bump.
Dad talks about playing at Hyatt Hills with my Aunt Mary and Uncle Bart, who lived 10 minutes away. That leads him to thinking about “Gram,” who passed away three years earlier.
“She’d love to be here with you guys,” he says.
“She is, Gramps,” I say. “Now quit stalling and hit your tee shot.” Luke, Zach, and I had all hit the green on the par-3 seventh that is fronted by a pond.
“That is a lot of carry,” Gramps says. Then he hits the green too, points at us with a grin and does his best Tiger fist pump.
We play the long par-4 eighth, each avoiding the water that runs up the right side. Zach’s been chopping it up along the way, when he chili-dips a pitch shot from just off the green. Exasperated, he flips the club upside down and plays it left-handed. We watch in stunned disbelief as it rolls into the cup.
Gramps misses his putt, grinning but pissed that he lost the hole. “Guess I should have putted it lefty,” he says.
The match comes down to the last hole. It doesn’t matter who won, because it’s family… Yeah, sure it doesn’t. This is family bragging rights, and I got them this time.
When I put the flag in the cup, it’s handshakes and hugs all around. Then I try to gloat.
Then Gramps says, “Did your dad ever tell you I made a hole-in-one? You and your Uncle Mark were making sand castles in the bunker…”
They boys laugh, my dad says, “I have more stories,” and it hits me that three generations, free from the rest of the world for a few hours, is family bragging rights of its own.