The People's Golf Writer: Breaking camp, and thinking of fathers and sons

The People’s Golf Writer: Breaking camp, and thinking of fathers and sons

The People's Wife was only in the RV for a few minutes when she subtly suggested a few organizational changes, got this pesky shade to open in the front living area and made a bed that had gone unmade for five days. No need for major renovations, though: We have to depart early tomorrow morning, even if the tournament goes on. "I see the beer came in handy," she remarked, noting the empties. "Simon drank most of it," I said, referring to SI photographer Simon Bruty. Which is sort of true. He's British.Sunday at the U.S. Open traditionally falls on Father's Day and has given us many memorable moments. The best-known of them, of course, was the late Payne Stewart's dramatic 1999 win at Pinehurst when he sank a winning 15-foot putt, then grabbed runner-up Phil Mickelson's face in both hands and reminded him that the impending birth of his child was far more important than a golf tournament. Amy Mickelson gavebirth to their first child the next day; Stewart died four months later when his chartered Learjet lost cabin pressure almost immediately after takeoff and crashed onto a field in South Dakota.Countless pros have looked to the sky to salute dead fathers who were instrumental to their careers, Stewart, Davis Love III and Eldrick Woods prominently among them. While I'm leery of sports that claim any special bond between parent and child–mother and son can bond over a love of baking, and father and daughter can bond over a love of plumbing, after all—I concede that golf has a point. My father taught me how to pick up a grounder and shoot a basketball, but we weren't still doing those things when he was 80. That's the difference between golf and most other father-son (or father-daughter, mother-daughter, mother-father, etc. for that matter) activities: You can keep hacking it around together until one or the other drops over, which is how it was for Jack McCallums Sr. and Jr.Every time I play golf with an old friend, Bob Fink, he brings up a round we played with my dad in scorching South Jersey heat about 20 years ago. "He took us all to school," Bob says, "and I don't think he took anything out of the bag except a driver, a putter and that damn seven-iron." My father could irritate the hell out of you with that seven-iron, bending it around trees, bouncing it through traps, feathering it toward the hole from the fringe. A year before he died in 1994, we played a round together at Sawgrass. The course was wet and it was cart-path-only and too difficult for us to begin with, and I can still see my 79-year-old father, cancer already racking his body, trudging across the fairway holding six clubs. We joked about it all the time, and a few day before he died he said to me, "You know, I think I'd still be healthy if it wasn't for that damn round at Sawgrass."My own sons never played the game much, although the older one showed up last September on a lark to play with me in my annual charity tournament. He takes a baseball swing and hits it a mile, then chili-dips, worm-burns and three-putts his way to a 7 and laughs about it all the way around. I shot about 90 and didn't have a more enjoyable round the whole year.With climactic conditions a bit iffy and a dog loose in an RV, I'm not sure that my wife and I will make it over from Battle Row to Bethpage Black today. The Suttons–two brothers and their wives, one couple from Easton, Pa., the other from Norfolk, Va.–are also leaning toward drying out, watching the broadcast on TV and catching the final round live tomorrow. They are in a 40-foot Newmar motorhome near my own 32-foot Flair, rented from El Monte RV."Think you'll get the ‘Happy Father's Day' call?" I ask Mike Sutton. He has two kids, Becky and Christopher."Well, we'll see," he says."Oh, they'll call you," his wife, Cathy, hollers from inside."Becky anyway," says Mike.Mike Branner, who's in an RV behind me, wasn't expecting a call, "because I don't think Sanjay's going to make it and she's my only child." He points to his yellow Lab.Scott Dennison, my neighbor and the People's Security Dude I wrote about a couple posts ago, had already gotten his call from stepdaughter Tina. "She checked in last night late because she knew I'd be busy today," Scott said. "That's how girls are." Scott was over at Bethpage Black at 4:30 for his morning meetings and said there were a lot of "Happy Father's Day" exchanges.That's how it will be out on the course today, too. Many in the crowd will be pulling for Mickelson, a doting father and now a worried husband, what with Amy's cancer diagnosis. There are other fathers and sons and grandsons out there, too, with memories, joys, heartaches and worries of their own.Same for us non-golfers at Battle Row. My youngest son will soon be making me a grandfather, and I'll be thinking about that today, as I have every day since he made the information public. I'll also be thinking about my oldest son, who, the day before I came to Bethpage, delivered the news via email that he had been robbed at gunpoint as he sat in his car trying to interpret a road map. He escaped with a black eye from a gun barrel, a couple sore ribs (they kicked him), a lighter wallet, a new awareness of the well-celebrated dangers of Johannesburg, and, most importantly, his life.The call from the reliable younger one is due soon, and, a few minutes ago, an email from the older one so far away in South Africa arrived. He made a joke about me in a campground ("sounds like your worst nightmare") and ended with this: "thanks for teaching me to read and write, among so many other things."So you know what I feel like? Like I just won the Open.(Photo: Simon Bruty/SI)Read the rest of the series