We’re All Just Kids Around the Cup

It’s Father’s Day!  Impressed upon all our minds and hearts is the now iconic image of Payne Stewart hugging the neck of Phil Michelson upon his 1999 Open win and exclaiming “You’re going to be a father!” Golf and fatherhood.  Those two words best describe some of the fondest memories many of us claim to have with our dad.  I know they do mine.

My first memory of life was watching  our little black and white television with my dad on a Saturday afternoon when I was three years old.  I will never forget the image of Arnold Palmer walking up the 18th green, sinking one of his famous putts, and thrusting his arm up in the air in a show of ultimate victory.  Dad and I were there in 1973 at Oakmont walking the fairways watching Johnny Miller shoot 63 to make his historic win. I remember my first golf lesson with Alfie Jackson, at Churchill Country Club.  Dad was so proud to be there, watching me learn the game for the first time at 14, after 9 years of putting.

The most vivid memory I have of Dad is the first time we played golf together.  It was a cold December Saturday in 1973.  The snow just began to melt in Pittsburgh and unlike most girls my age who would be running to get their sled, I ran to my dad shouting, “Daddy, Daddy, the snow’s melting. Let’s go play golf!”  My dad looked at me like I was nuts, but saw the passion in my eyes and my deep desire to be with him on the course.

He granted me my wish and off we went to Latrobe Elks Country Club, a forty-five minute drive from our home in Pittsburgh.  I was so thrilled to pull out my new Lady Hogan Producer irons and woods to play my first round of golf with my dad.

It wasn’t the first time I touched a golf club.  Dad started me out in pee wee putting when I was five.  For the next nine years I would play in putting competitions through the Greek Catholic Union, a fraternal organization we belonged to.  While putting was my summer time passion, it was now time to tee up the whole game.  I was so thrilled to head to the first tee with my dad, despite the patches of snow that still covered most of the golf course.

It was one of those days that you didn’t shoot well, but shooting well was not the point of the day.  Dad could not believe that I parred the first hole of our nine hole adventure.  The rest of the time, we hacked it around, hitting it off the icy ground like a slow game of pool where you kept missing the hole, but you didn’t care because it was hitting the ball again and again with your favorite person in the world.

I am not sure why it was so important to me to beg Daddy to play golf at the time, but I now know why.  The first time I played golf with my dad would be my last.  Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with cancer and died nine months later.  Some tears well up as I write this, as nothing will replace those few rare moments of pleasure, beauty, fun, and connection I had with my dad.

I don’t think it is by mistake by the Grand Designer that the U.S. Open and Father Day’s culminate on the same day.  There is no better way to create a memory than to have a shared experience over a common interest. There is no greater common interest than golf, if you indeed like the game, because it is one that knows no generation gap.  A six year old can share the same love and understanding of the game as an eighty year old.  We are all just kids around the cup when it comes to the game.

Later on, I did share that same bond with my mother on the course who thought the game was stupid until she hit an eight iron almost a hundred yards on her first try when she was 85 years old.  Gratefully, Mom and I filled our cup of memories before she passed on.

Most recently, when I attempted to qualify for the Women’s Open, the greatest memory I will take from my quest was the practice round I enjoyed with Mary-Katelyn Holenak and her family.   For one day out of the last forty years, I experienced family on the course.  Her dad, mom, and brother came out to cheer her on.  They cheered me on, too. When I hit a good shot, her mom and dad clapped.  Her brother, Nik, I called the Ultimate Caddy because he held the pins and gave me my clubs.  It was the most pleasant day I had on the course since I played with Daddy.

So on this Father’s Day, make sure to take a few moments to create a father-son or father-daughter memory because walking down the fairway together may mean more than you ever know.  I love you Daddy, and I miss you.

Veronica Karaman is the daughter of John Karaman, a lover of the game, and greatly missed dad.

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