This was before Facebook and Twitter, so we hadn’t yet transformed into a society of impersonal slugs and one wasn’t restricted to 140 characters to express his or her thoughts. So what arrived in the mail one day was something Mary Bea Porter-King cherished, for it involved real words and real emotions.
“He wrote me a letter, when he was 17 or 18. He told me how he had come to really realize the impact of it all, that he would not be here if it hadn’t happened.”
“He” was Jonathan Smucker.
“It” was Porter-King’s heroic efforts that saved his life.
Think of how silly we are when we write or talk or use the word “hero” so cavalierly; someone is a “hero” for making a putt in a competition, or Player X hit a “heroic” shot because he aimed for a harmless flagstick. Then think how out of touch we are when we go on with our lives each and every day, paying so very little attention to those who truly are heroes or have done heroic things.
Fortunately, cognizant people sometimes rise to the occasion and take stock of the landscape to pay homage to real heroes. Thus did Porter-King make her way to the annual PGA Merchandise Show last week in Orlando, Fla., to celebrate a special night with her family, friends, and the young man whose life she saved 24 years ago.
Smucker, a 3-year-old who had traveled with his family from Amish country in Pennsylvania to visit relatives in Phoenix, was new to his surroundings and in his first day at the new house when he fell into a backyard pool. At the same time, Porter-King – trying to revive her LPGA tour career at a Monday qualifier for that week’s tournament – was wide left, so to speak.
“On the 13th hole I hit a shot hard left, as was known to happen,” she said, laughing.
But when she looked for her ball, what she saw was no laughing matter. Through the fence, Porter-King saw that a young boy “had come up floating” in the pool.
Ask yourself what you would have done, or consider the situation and try to put yourself in her place. Only Porter-King did not have the luxury of time. She only had instinct and that’s why she scaled the fence, rushed to the pool, and administered CPR until the paramedics arrived.
In other words, what she did was save a young boy’s life, and that’s been an easy thing to live with all these years.
“It must be fate,” she said. “There was a reason why I was there.”
The reason she went to Orlando was to be honored as the PGA of America’s First Lady of Golf and cheers to those who saw fit to put her in the spotlight. She may not be comfortable there, but it’s where she belongs. For saving a young boy’s life? Well, sure, but here is the glory of Porter-King – it’s a huge part of her story, yet there is so much more.
“I guess it will always be the defining moment of her life,” Mark Rolfing said, “but the incredible thing is, she’s done so much more than that.”
Rolfing, the NBC and Golf Channel reporter, has known Porter-King for 15 years or so, meaning post life-saving measures. Their friendship is tied to the love of an adopted home, Hawaii, and it’s what Porter-King has accomplished in our 50th state that makes her a hero in Rolfing’s eyes.
“I think the world of her. Her whole life is about doing things for other people and helping others.”
It was in 1998 that Porter-King got a movement going to form the Hawaii Junior Golf Association and if you don’t think that provided obstacles, think again. Sure, other states have junior golf associations, but only in Hawaii are kids precluded from driving to in-state tournaments. And, no, swimming from Oahu to Maui or the Big Island to Kauai aren’t options.
Yet despite the handcuffs, Porter-King has driven this program to extraordinary heights. Michelle Wie and Kimberly Kim are Hawaii-born teens who have won national championships and the list of their contemporaries who have done well in junior, collegiate, or professional tournaments is lengthy. In the meantime, Porter-King has remained faithful to a nature that frames her life – she has served on virtually every imaginable committee with the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA of America.
“She rarely uses the word ‘me’ or ‘I,’ “ Rolfing said. “They’re not in her vocabulary. It’s always about others.”
Honorably, a roomful of those “others” applauded last Thursday night when Porter-King accepted the First Lady of Golf honor. If her 92-year-old father was the proudest member of the audience, it can be argued that 27-year-old Smucker was the most appreciative.
“We had kept in touch over the years, though he had done a better job than me in communicating,” she said. “That letter he wrote was very special to me, but then we lost contact.”
They re-connected at the 60th Anniversary of the Metropolitan Golf Writers’ dinner last year but in Orlando last week they shared the most time together. “It was a real gift to be with him,” she said.
Funny, but we’d suggest Smucker, like hundreds of junior golfers from our 50th state, would consider Porter-King to be the real gift.