Coming from my car I could see him at the practice green chipping the ball from the rough. I’d never seen my brother golf before and it was obvious he had some skills. This wasn’t a complete surprise. Craig was passionate about golf but after having recently spent ten days in the ICU I thought he might struggle a little.
He wasn’t in the best of health. Diabetes and a long struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle had taken its toll on his body but not hurt his game. One of the things I’d said to him in the hospital to try and get him to wake up was that golf season was almost over and he was going to miss the chance to show me how it’s done. From childhood on his goal was proving he could beat me at anything so this seemed like a good incentive.
As soon as he felt ready I got him out on the course as promised. It was a gorgeous fall day with a cotton candy blue sky. From the first tee he hit a great shot right down the center of the green on a par 5. Luckily I landed mine not an embarrassing distance behind his. Game on Craig! I could see he was equal parts pleased and concerned so I assured him it would all fall apart soon. My short game needs a lot of work.
When we got to the green and our balls were lined up I reached in my pocket to get my ball mark and pulled out a coin. When I set it down he laughed at my choice saying, “Of course it’d be a penny.”
“Well I always have one on me,” I said.
He sunk his first putt and I ruined my chance at getting a par with a three-putt. He was visibly relieved. I was too. I wanted him to win not me. His confidence needed the boost far more than mine.
On the next hole which was shorter he put his drive right on the green. On a good day I can do the same but I started to over think it and didn’t even land on the fairway. My bright yellow ball went sailing into the rough amongst a row of trees. We both saw it and went to find it but a blanket of leaves had fallen and we couldn’t spot it. We searched for almost ten minutes finding lots of other people’s balls but not mine.
The rest of our round had a several more ball searches. It became a needle in a haystack experience with both of us discovering what fall golf in Colorado is like—more leaves than trees. It made for a hilarious outing and we had fun with it.
At the end of our round it was safe to say our first experience golfing together was a good one. Just what I’d hoped it would be. When we left I told him we’d make a plan to play again in the spring when the course re-opened.
The next week a blanket of snow fell on the course and golf season came to an end. Two months later standing by his lifeless body I could feel that snow sinking into my sneakers while I kept telling him, “I thought we had more golf to play.”
The tracks I’d made running into our Mom’s house to get to his side stayed around for weeks. My heart hurt every time I saw them but I didn’t want them to melt. They were like the flowers people sent. I would cry when a wilted bouquet was ready for the trash.
This is what I’ve struggled with the most since he died. It’s so “final” that it feels surreal. I keep looking for him in the all the places I think I’m supposed to run into him but he’s not there. Or is he? I’m not sure.
The day of his memorial service I’d heard the driving range was open and decided there was no time like the present to face it. I had some time before our family reconvened at dinner so I grabbed my clubs and went.
I’d been hitting for about ten minutes when I noticed one of the range balls appeared to have a pink mark on it. I dismissed it at first but when it was one of only a handful remaining I finally stooped down to take a look. I followed the pink around the circumference of the ball to discover it was not a line but a letter—a roughly drawn “K” for Kären. It was my writing and my ball from the day Craig and I had played.
I sat down on a nearby bench and wiped the tears away trying to figure out how it found its way back to me. There were many possibilities but none of them made sense so I gave myself permission to believe something bigger. Perhaps God had spared my brother’s life long enough for us to create one more great memory together? While my brother loved many sports none were quite like golf and our “leaf golf” as we coined it was pretty epic. It has to rank as one of our funniest.
Ball in hand I had to praise God for what I saw as His hand at work. Footprints in the snow melt and flowers wilt but every golfer knows nothing can bury the memory of a great round of golf.
I’ll miss running into my brother around town but by God’s grace if I look—I’ll always be able to picture him just outside the fairway on number two. “No day is over if it leaves a memory.” (George Handel) Thanks be to God!