I don’t spend much time contemplating my own retirement, but when my thoughts drift toward a life fueled by Social Security checks and discount buffet dinners, I think of my dad, Keith, a scratch handicap at the corporate game. Dad hung up his clipboard five years ago at age 58, capping a 34-year career at a large pharmaceutical plant, the final 24 years as a supervisor. The pressures of that daily grind have dissolved, and as far as I can tell he now spends most of his time playing golf, spoiling grandkids, tending a garden and watching reruns of CSI. He’s living life on his terms. I have to admit, retirement looks like a sweet gig.
Dad’s ample free time has also sparked a renewed interest in my work-related travels. Whenever I jet off for sunny locales, he’ll often ask hopefully, “Need someone to go with you to write the senior’s perspective?” Sadly, we never do.
The Masters always has dad seeing green, and so last year I prodded him to enter Augusta’s lottery for single-day tickets. I’d guess about 5 percent of all entries are successful, and — would you believe it — Dad won four Monday tickets on his first try, proving that good luck knows no retirement.
Anticipation began building in autumn when he rounded out his foursome with three of his retiree buddies and made hotel reservations in Augusta. When I asked about flights and rental cars, he huffed, “We’re driving.” (Who the hell road-trips from southwest Michigan to northeast Georgia? My dad.)
The AARPers’ two-day journey south included stops off the highway for rounds of golf. Dad is not a particularly strong golfer. His best club doesn’t have a number — it’s a retractable ball-retriever he uses to extract stray Titleists from streams and ponds. His golf bag is packed with more cigars than hybrids, more miniature liquor bottles than wedges. I love playing golf with my dad. Everyone does.
Dad is tough and old-school. He still wears a heavy wristwatch. Many of the lessons he instilled in me involve the theme of hard work. Whenever I sought his career advice, he would inevitably declare, “Work isn’t supposed to be fun. That’s why it’s called Work, and not Fun.”
But this week my work is a blast. Dad has always been the boss, but Monday was a rare moment in our lives when I was in charge; this is my fifth Masters, and I know all the tricks. I showed him the perfect vantage point to see a lot of action (the left grandstands at 15), the most underrated spot for a great photo (the flagpole in front of the clubhouse) and the best place to store his cell phone (the parking lot).
I also have some friends who happen to be Augusta marshals, and when our group strolled into Amen Corner, we were immediately ushered to the front row at the par-3 12th hole. The sun was up. A gentle breeze blew. Players came and went, teeing off a few feet from our noses. The flowers were in bloom. Our family has had a tough year. Dad lost his mom, my grandmother, last year to pancreatic cancer. Grandpa is still with us, but his health is declining. We sat there with an unobstructed view of the scenery, and Dad didn’t say much. He didn’t have to.
I thought we might hang at No. 12 until closing time, but when word trickled in that Tiger Woods had teed off in a surprise, late-afternoon practice round, our group decided to make a move. Dad had never seen Tiger in person. We caught up with Woods, who was playing with his friend Mark O’Meara, and the pair was followed by a sea of patrons — in other words, it was a standard Tiger scene. Dad squeezed off a few photos. On the par-3 4th we leaned in and watched O’Meara stick his tee shot to about 10 feet. As Woods jammed a peg in the ground someone hollered, “Don’t let the old man beat you!” Woods stuffed it to two feet, then yanked off his hat and took a theatrical bow in the direction of his heckler. Tiger never does that.
I knew Dad would inevitably discover things about Augusta that I didn’t know, and near the 4th tee I asked him what he thought of everything.
“I’m amazed by all the lightning rods in the trees,” he said.
I’ve spent dozens of hours walking the course, and have read several books and heaps of magazine articles on Augusta National. I told Dad that I couldn’t recall one word on lightning rods. He motioned to a towering loblolly pine near the tee box.
“See that wire running up the trunk of that tree? That grounds it.”
Sure enough, there was a thin, brown steel cable stuck into the earth that ran a straight line up the trunk, as far as you could see before high branches obscured it. Because it was an exposed cable, Dad said it couldn’t be wiring for a television camera. There is no need to fact-check him. Dad just knows these things.
I’ve continued walking Augusta, and can report that there are many lightning-rod cables attached to pine trees. I’ve already spotted more than a dozen. I can’t stop searching for them.
After Dad’s visit, the place is never going to look quite the same.
It’s even better.