2001: Take a respite if you must, but let’s stay the course

By Brian Hewitt

Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter so much whether Tom Lehman’s unhappiness over Curtis Strange’s selection of Scott Verplank to the Ryder Cup team was the right decision or the wrong one. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter so much that the PGA Tour was facing a tough decision over whether to play a WGC championship for $5 million in St. Louis. Suddenly even the Ryder Cup, golf’s best televised theater, didn’t seem to matter so much.

Neither did the endless debate over slow play; or the controversy over illegal drivers; or the economic slump in the golf industry; or the issue of Tiger-proofing courses.

A cataclysm had occurred. And there was no place to hide from it. Not even on a course. And for reasons I can’t fully explain, it made me think about the old Jerry Pate pro-am story. It goes something like this:

A bigshot member at a private club knew Pate, the former U.S. Open champion, was going to be his partner in the pro-am when the Tour got to his course one summer. He wanted to play his best and impress Pate. He practiced, took lessons and practiced some more. On the appointed day, he played the worst golf of his life. He was beside himself.

“What should I do?” the exasperated bigshot asked Pate afterward. “I was pointing for this round all summer.”

Pate grew quiet. After a pause, he looked at the member and said this: “Take two weeks off . . . and quit.”

The Pate story may be apocryphal and it may provide a small amount of comic relief at a time when smiles are hard to find. But the operative word here is “quit.”

Only you can decide for yourself how soon to start taking your own golf game seriously again. Lee Trevino used to say hitting practice balls was a kind of therapy for him. The day the terrorists attacked our country I stopped and hit balls for a half-hour at a nearby range on the way home from work. The first six wedges didn’t even get airborne. It bothered me not a whit. This was brief therapy.

On Sept. 16 the announcement came down that the Ryder Cup matches had been postponed until next year. I agree with U.S. captain Curtis Strange who said the decision was “the right thing.”

But golf is much bigger and broader than the Ryder Cup. And to the readers of this publication who take their golf seriously I am suggesting two things: First, don’t start playing or practicing again until you are comfortable with the idea of engaging in a game in the wake of so much horror and suffering. Second, consider the possibility that golf, as a diversion, can begin to help healing, in some small way, the scars that the unspeakable acts of Sept. 11 have left on our souls.

None of us will ever forget the horrific nature of what happened. Nor will we forget the power of the remarkable unifying process that began almost immediately.

For me, the enormity of the emotional impact hit home two nights after the attack when I watched the broadcast of a color band, comprising British Royal Guards, play our National Anthem at Buckingham Palace in London. Only a godless person could have seen and heard that and not been moved deeply.

All of us have our stories and remembrances. Many of us have lost loved ones or have friends who have lost friends. To be sure, golf is a long way down the list of priorities right now.

But I know how much most of the people who read this publication love the game. And I just want to assure you there is nothing wrong with keeping that love of the game, in perspective, in an important place in your lives.

I am not a shrink or a minister or a grief counselor. I am just suggesting what I feel inside my gut: Take two weeks off from golf. Take a month off. Take a year off from the game, if you think it is necessary.

But don’t quit.

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