A Golf Date for the New Year

Friday January 2nd, 2009

I just returned home, to Philadelphia, from a visit to my in-laws in Los Angeles and went to pick up the dog from our friends the Winders. The dog is an ancient mutt, deaf, with bad legs. My wife and I got Slippers from a pound about 17 years ago, when she was a puppy named Cathy about a week shy of extermination, and we were newlyweds without kids. We renamed her Slippers, and she's here at my feet as I write this. A friend at The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I worked then, said it sounded like a 4-year-old had named her, but Christine and I came up with it all by ourselves.

The Winders were our neighbors for years, and in 2004 I wrote a piece about taking our daughter, Alina, and Joe and Leslie's daughter, Lisa, to the LPGA Championship. They were my little helpers. Joe and I were both hopeful the day on the links might plant the golf seed in them. (It didn't.) I like golf, a lot, and so does Joe. Joe has a sister, Nancy Carpenter, in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, and Nancy has a daughter named Jane, and Jane is married to Tommy Lamb, the longtime caddie for Jay Haas. Before that, he caddied for Brad Faxon.

Whenever I see Joe, we talk about Tommy and Faxon and Haas and the Tour and what events I've been to and which ones he's been following. Joe has played with Tommy Lamb in various places in Cleveland and all through Pinehurst, too. Joe says of Tommy, "He's got game." It comes out with a certain awe. Joe's a 98-shooter. I'm maybe 10 shots better, on a good day. We've been talking about getting a game together for years, but we've never done it. He's often on the road as a traveling cigar salesman, and my typing life has me on the road often, too. To be really frank about it, I've also been somewhat worried that Joe might be a little too intense for me on the course. I think he sleeps in Callaway pajamas.

Anyway, he's a really fine person and he loves Slippers. One morning at around four or five, Slippers needed to go out, and Joe popped open the door. He then spied on her as the old pooch walked back to our old house and positioned herself on the driveway, standing guard. She's a beagle-lab mix, scary smart and loaded with heart. But how about Joe, spying on Slippers on a cold December morning, pre-dawn, so the pup could check out her old crib? A mensch.

When I went to pick up Slippers a little while ago, I asked Joe, "Where are you keeping David's dog tags?" Now, you would not understand that question, so let me explain it. There was a story in The Inquirer in December about Joe's older brother, David. He was drafted by the Army and went to Vietnam as a conscientious objector and served as a paramedic. On May 13, 1970, he went to tend to a fallen soldier and was killed by enemy gunfire. (You can find the details of his actions, which earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor, here.) I knew nothing about Joe's brother until I read the story in The Inquirer, which described Joe recently being presented with David's dog tags, which had been missing since his death. They were returned by an organization called Tours of Peace.

There were four Winder kids, the children of the Rev. and Mrs. J. Calvin Winder. There's Nancy, now Tommy Lamb's mother-in-law. There's John, who lives in Hudson, Ohio. There's Joe, in Philadelphia. And there was David. The Rev. Winder, a Presbyterian minister, started David and Joe in golf together, in the early Palmer days, on a nine-hole course in Mansfield, Ohio, called Cool Ridge. David gave Joe his junior 3-wood and played himself with a Sam Snead Blue Ridge set. When they graduated to an 18-hole course, they could shoot 102, maybe 100. They played two or three times a month in summer. Vietnam and all that was a blip in the news then. JFK was president.

I had asked, "Where are you keeping David's dog tags?"

Joe pounded his heart through his mock turtleneck golf shirt and said, "Right here."

My father-in-law is in the hospital. He was a good athlete who played football at Columbia in the '50s, dipped a toe in golf and once had lunch at Augusta National. He'll take that story to his grave, and I'm praying for him now. The point is, how much time do any of us have? One day less than we had this morning.

Joe Winder is no snob. He'll play anywhere, Cobbs Creek, the historic public course in West Philadelphia, or wherever his cigar sales take him. Once he played at Philadelphia Cricket, where I'm lucky enough to be a member.

I'm going to call Joe right now and make a date for an April game, right after the Masters.

Happy new year.

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