Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Unresolved Ace in the Hole

If there is one thing all golfers crave, it’s the elusive hole-in-one. I finally got mine a few days ago. It should have been one of the greatest days of my life. And it was. But to tell you the truth, I feel the tiniest bit slighted.

I aced the 176-yard, par-3 seventh hole at
Memorial Park Golf Course with a 6-iron.
If I’m honest about it, I feel cheated two ways.

Even though I hit a solid shot, I didn’t get to see my ball go in the hole (cheated!). Worse still, I didn’t get to buy drinks for my playing partners after the round ended (double cheated!).

Where’s my closure? Where’s my resolution?

The hole-in-one is Bucket List kind of stuff. You don’t get to cross off those things often. So I do feel truly blessed, and I’ll never forget June 7, 2012. It was one of the greatest days of my life … but it also feels unfinished.

Maybe it is.

I started playing golf when I was 14. My mom didn’t want me playing junior high football, so she dug holes in our backyard, stuck coffee cans in the ground and marked them with little red flags. She bought me a starter set of clubs and turned me loose. A few broken windows later, I fell in love with the game. And even though I still played football, that year marked the start of my quest for a hole-in-one. 

Twenty-six years later, I finally got one. It came on one of my favorite courses in the world – Memorial Park Golf Course in Houston. I live just a few minutes from the classic John Bredemus-designed parkland course that opened in 1936. Memorial Park played host to the Houston Open from 1951-63 and challenged some of golf’s greatest legends. Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino played there. Arnold Palmer won the 1957 Houston Open at Memorial Park, and Jackie Burke Jr. won there in 1959.

The course drips with history.

There’s something uniquely special about walking down the same fairways in which Hogan and those others showcased their mastery. Talk about following in the footsteps of greatness. Can you imagine what it would feel like to play football with your friends on Lambeau Field? Or pick-up basketball in Madison Square Garden?

That’s what playing golf at Memorial Park feels like to me.

So there were we on the seventh tee. Like so many times, I was playing with Vince, a friend who is more like a big brother. He got his first hole-in-one six years ago at Royal Oaks Country Club, and I was honored to be there. I know he feels the same about seeing mine.

Our threesome also included John O’Reilly, the longtime Houston TV and radio sports broadcaster. Among other posts, he was the voice of the Houston Oilers in the mid-1980s. It was by chance that Vince and I were paired with John, who couldn’t have been more enjoyable. He encouraged and complimented us throughout the day and hit several great shots of his own.

That’s part of the magic of Memorial Park. It’s the best place to play as a single or twosome because you almost always get paired up with great people who often become your friends. As the day progressed, I learned that John and I have friends in common, including my Texas Links colleagues Kenny Hand and Charlie Epps. John and Charlie hosted a nightly golf radio program together in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

I’ve been writing Texas Links columns with Charlie going on four years. He’s known as “The Golf Doctor” to most, but he’s really the godfather of Houston golf. He’s been a professional for more than 30 years and has won every award there is to win from the Southern Texas PGA section. Spending time with him and soaking up his knowledge is one of the great perks of my job.

In fact, I spent the afternoon with Charlie the day before my hole-in-one. While in Argentina a couple weeks prior, Charlie had an epiphany about Ben Hogan and the “secret” to the golf swing. Charlie figured it out, he told me. Then he showed it to me during a 90-minute lesson. 

We’re planning to write a book about it together, so I can’t tell you the secret here. But I can tell you it works. I played a quarter-century without knowing this move. Then one day after learning it, I made my first hole-in-one and shot 74.  

So you tell me if it’s legit.

By the time we reached the seventh hole, I was in a rhythm at 1-over par. I three-putted the second hole for bogey and made pars everywhere else. I had grooved Charlie’s secret move and was hitting the ball pure and straight. To be fair, the five years I spent working with Neil Wilkins, another of Houston’s decorated golf pros, put me in the position to implement Charlie’s move. Starting back in 2006, Neil straightened out my nasty slice and took 10 shots off my handicap. If I lived closer to his academy at Sienna Plantation, I would be able to see him more often. Neil is the one who fixed my golf swing.

Charlie is helping me fine tune it.

As Vince and I often do, we had a short discussion about the seventh hole before hitting our shots. The hole played 176 yards and into a slight breeze. The pin was cut in the back-right part of the green, tucked behind a sand trap. I debated whether to hit an easy 5-iron or a hard 6-iron.

Neil taught me to never go long on a back pin (or be short on a front pin). If you’re stuck between two clubs with a back pin, he taught me it’s better to hit the shorter club hard. That way, even if you end up short, you’re probably still on the green. In course management terms, it’s called playing aggressively to conservative targets. 

I decided to hit the hard 6-iron.

“This hole begs for a cut shot,” I said to Vince. “I’m going to aim at the middle of the green, and my ball should cut toward the pin.”

I swung with confidence and hit the ball crisply. It started at the center of the green and began cutting to the pin. I’m pretty sure I held my follow-through pose until the ball landed. Golfers do that when they hit good shots. My ball bounced once and disappeared.

This is where I first felt cheated. We didn’t see it go in the hole because the bottom of the pin was hidden behind the lip of the sand trap.

“That might be inside the leather,” Vince said, meaning he thought it could have been within three feet of the hole. I wasn’t sure. It could’ve bounced over the green for all I knew.

When we got up there and didn’t see my ball, something in my stomach dropped. Time sped up and stood still at the same time. I nervously walked to the flagstick and looked down.

My ball was in the hole.

You’d think after 26 years of chasing golf’s Holy Grail, I’d scream and jump and do 15 cartwheels across the green. You’d think I would have Tebowed or kissed the ground.

I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t do anything at all. Vince and John gave me high-fives and I think one of them bellowed a celebratory shout. I don’t remember.

“I think you were in shock,” Vince said later.

He might be right. I remember not knowing what to do, so I smiled and asked Vince to take a picture. Then we moved on to the next hole. When the round ended—I bogeyed the 18th hole and shot one stroke off my career low—I offered to buy drinks for Vince and John.

But Vince was running late. And John already had a soda in his hand. So John and I went inside, sat down and talked for a bit. He told me about his career and we traded stories about Charlie and Kenny. We also promised to play golf again together soon.

It was a great day, an unforgettable one. But if I’m honest, it felt a little hollow. I should have insisted on buying drinks (as I did later that night with Vince and Tony Belzer, my other brother). As it happened, one of the best moments of my life felt incomplete.

Can you imagine turning off The Shawshank Redemption while Andy Dufresne crawls through the sewer? You wouldn’t get to see how one of the all-time greatest movies ends.

What’s the point of achieving a lifelong pursuit without complete closure? Why can’t I let it go and focus on the glorious achievement?

Maybe it’s not for me ponder. Maybe my closure is writing this story.

Or maybe it means I’ll get another hole-in-one someday so I can get it right. I promise you this much: If it ever happens again, whoever plays with me that day is getting a drink bought for them whether they like it or not.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Stroke of Perspective

NOTE: This is exclusive content from the June issues of Texas Links magazines. 

In this most serious of endeavors called golf, every once in a while we’re offered proof that life is more important than sport.

After suffering a stroke on March 31, The Woodlands'
Steve Gilley is 36 holes awy from playing in the U.S. Open.
Steve Gilley provides the most recent example. 

In his 16 years as a professional mini-tour player, the 40 year old from The Woodlands has an impressive list of accomplishments. He once shot a record-setting 55 in a practice round prior to a U.S. Open qualifier.

Only two other pros have shot 55s, and one of them is Texas Golf Hall of Famer Homero Blancas. Gilley’s came in 2004 on a par-71 course in Virginia. He eagled the 10th hole and birdied in from there to shoot 25 on the back nine. He once shot a 60 on the same course as a teenager.

You get the point: the man can play. He’s won 25 mini-tour events and owns no less than 20 course records.

But none of it quite compares to what Gilley did earlier this year.

Just 45 days after suffering a stroke, he advanced through local qualifying for the U.S. Open with a 3-under 69 at Miramont Country Club in Bryan. Catch that? He had a stroke and a month and a half later made it through a U.S. Open qualifier. He shunned the doctors who said he’d never play again at a high level and was one of eight out of 132 professional golfers to advance to sectionals June 4 at Lakeside Country Club in Houston.

He’s 36 holes away from playing in the U.S. Open. The man who crumbled to the grass as a stroke seized him in March could be playing in June for a national championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

“I signed up for the local qualifier on a whim. It was the last day of registration,” the soft-spoken Gilley said. “I basically had no preparation, but it gave me something to look forward to. I got pretty depressed after the stroke.”

At the Lakeside sectional qualifier, about 40 golfers—including PGA Tour players like Tom Kite and Bob Estes who haven’t otherwise qualifiedwill compete for two or three spots in the U.S. Open. Gilley is one of them. Whether or not he realizes the dream and qualifies, Gilley already is a major champion.

He is a champion in life because he now realizes that golf isn’t life or death. Things like family and health are more important. 

It wasn’t an easy lesson.

Gilley and his wife Kelly, a Class-A PGA Member and the marketing manager with Sequoia Golf, which owns and operates Canongate Texas and The Woodlands Country Clubs, along with daughters Cameron (10) and Liza (8), moved from Atlanta to The Woodlands in 2010. Gilley gave up the mini-tours for a bit and helped support the family with a gig as the assistant superintendent at The Woodlands Country Club’s Palmer Course.

Even though he worked 50-plus hours a week and stayed engaged in the lives of his family, Gilley sneaked in time to practice his golf game, too. He never quit on his dream.

He’d practice and play in the late afternoon, often teeing it up alone. In the early evening hours of March 31, Gilley hit about 30 balls at The Woodlands’ Player Course and noticed the first tee was open. He decided to get in a quick nine.

“I hit my tee shot,” he said, “and as I drove the cart to my ball, I started to get dizzy. I was spinning. I figured, ‘What in the world is this?’ I pulled over to collect my thoughts. When I got to my ball, I felt a little better.”

Not for long. Still steadying himself against the dizzy spell, Gilley striped an iron shot that finished in the middle of the first green. The next thing he knew: panic. His body seemed to shut down.

“I couldn’t walk back to the cart,” he said. “I had to crawl. It was awful. My first thought was that I was going to pass out and no one would find me till the next morning. There was no one out there.”

He inched his way back to the cart on his hands and knees. It took a few minutes, but felt like hours. That’s when the nausea kicked in.

“My only goal was to get back to the clubhouse,” he said. “I couldn’t see. I felt sick to my stomach. I had to stop every few minutes. As soon as I got back to the clubhouse, I started vomiting everywhere. I thought it was heatstroke or something. I thought it would pass.”

It didn’t. The next thing Gilley remembers is losing the feeling in his right arm and leg. He called Kelly and she rushed to him. They went to the emergency room, where Gilley was diagnosed with vertigo. They gave him some anti-nausea medicine and sent him home.

The following day was Saturday, and Gilley slept the whole day away. He went back to work on Sunday and Monday, but still had trouble feeling his right hand. His motor skills weren’t normal, and he started to worry.

On Tuesday he got in with his family doctor, who insisted on a CAT scan. Three hours later, the results were in.

“He called and said I had a stroke and had to get to the ER right away,” Gilley said.

Gilley spent the next four days in the hospital hooked up to IV and oxygen machines. The doctors and nurses poked him, prodded him, injected him and ran every test possible to try and determine what caused the loss of blood flow to his brain. Everything came back inconclusive.

“They still don’t know what caused it,” Gilley said.

He asked about regaining full feeling of his right hand and arm. He asked about playing golf. One of the doctors asked, “You don’t play golf for a living, do you?” Gilley told him playing golf was all he had done for almost 20 years. The doctor frowned and told him he probably wouldn’t play at a high level again.

A highly competitive golfer who lived and died with every shot, Gilley dismissed that prognosis out of hand without a second thought.

“That doctor didn’t know me,” he said. “He didn’t know what kind of player I am or what kind of drive I have.”

Gilley spent the next several weeks in rehab. The therapy was grueling. It took two weeks for him to build enough strength in his right hand to grip a golf club. It was a week later that he could actually start to feel the club in his hand.

“At first I had trouble writing and couldn’t shave,” he said. “But every trip to therapy I started feeling better.”

In spite of the progress, Gilley’s spirits were down. The stroke not only atrophied the strength of his right side, it robbed him of his natural, God-given talent to hit a golf ball and make it go where he wanted. But rather than stay in bed and wallow, he pressed on. He worked harder at his rehab. After a few weeks, he started hitting wedge shots.

“Once I got to where I could hit full shots, three or four days later I was fine,” he said. “The doctors told me I needed to play golf. I needed to train my body to play again. I had to wear a heart monitor for a month, but everything seemed normal there, too.”

All along, Gilley knew about the U.S. Open local qualifier at Miramont. He needed a carrot to dangle. Even though he knew he wasn’t ready, he signed up. That wasn’t like him.

In preparation, he played four rounds of golf. One was a charity scramble event. He didn’t even keep score in the other rounds. That wasn’t like him, either.

“Once I sent a text to Kelly that said, ‘I made it to the third hole, so things are looking up,’” Gilley joked.

Having a sense of humor was just one sign of personal growth. Another was a fresh perspective on golf and life. Previously, Gilley obsessed in his preparation for competitive tournaments. His wife saw it more than anyone.

“In the past, he seemed to base his whole self-worth on how he played,” said Kelly, who was a high-level junior golfer back in Georgia. “I think the stroke helped him realize how precious life is and how little a bad shot or a bad round means in the overall scheme of things. I think he also feels God has given him a second chance, and he relishes the challenge of showcasing what he believes is certainly a God-given ability to play.”

Gilley entered the Miramont qualifier with a different mindset.

“For the first time in my life, I was going in with low expectations,” he said. “My plan was just to have fun. Whatever happens, happens. There are more important things.”

He had to remind himself of that after making bogey on the first hole. A birdie on his third got him back to even-par. Another one on hardest hole—a 450-yard, uphill par 4—got Gilley to the turn at 1-under par.

“I thought, ‘I can do this,’” he said.

With Kelly on the bag providing moral support, Gilley colored his scorecard on the back nine with three birdies and two bogeys. When they reached his drive on the 17th hole, Gilley felt the blood start to rush out of his system. He was grinding hard. He was gassed.

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” he told his wife.

“Yes, you can,” she said. “Come on, you just need one more birdie.”

“No,” he said, “I don’t think I can make it through the round. I’m exhausted.”

That’s when Kelly challenged her husband.

“She told me, ‘If I can make it, you can make it. Let’s go,’” Gilley said. “That motivated me.”

Gilley smoked a 7-iron to a foot and kicked in the birdie. He was 3-under. He made par on the final hole and recorded his 69. He was in fifth place, but the afternoon wave had yet to tee off. With only eight spots available for the sectional qualifier, Gilley waited around for his fate.

He figured they would be a playoff, but he was wrong. No one in the afternoon broke par on Miramont’s challenging 7,174-yard course.

“When they told me I was in, I was shocked,” he said. “It was pure joy. I can’t even describe it. With all that I’ve been through, it’s pretty cool.”

It’s more than that. The ordeal changed him. He’s still working full-time at the Palmer Course but hopes to get into a financial position that will allow him to chase the tours again. The burning desire to play professional golf hasn’t waned. He still pours himself into every shot and practice session.

But there is change.

It’s the results—and how he responds to them—that are different now.

“It’s not the end-all, be-all like it used to be,” Gilley said. “Golf is a very selfish sport. You devote a lot of time and effort into it. My wife knows that and has known it for years. It was neat for her to see me just go out and play. I’ll come home and have a job and my kids will love me. It’s not the end of the world to play bad.”

Kelly sees it. She said he appreciates quiet times with Cameron and Liza more. She sees a renewed passion in his eyes for her as well.

“He has always been a great husband and father, but I’ve noticed extra attention to spend time as a family and make memories together,” she said. “Golf is and will always be a driving passion for him, but he structures his practice so that he doesn’t miss those events the kids have at school or something fun we can do as a family.”

They’ll be a family at Lakeside Country Club on June 4. Kelly is back on the bag when her husband attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open. With all he’s accomplished, he’s never played in a USGA championship. He recognizes it will be an amazing story if he earns one of the coveted spots.

He also knows if he doesn’t, he still has his health and his family’s love.

“It would be one of the biggest thrills in my life,” he said. “But I’m not expecting too much. If it happens, it happens.”

Maybe this is just the beginning of the story.


Monday, April 2, 2012

The Hunter Games: Mahan Last Man Standing at SHO

NOTE: This is exclusive content from 

HUMBLE, Texas—Golf’s champions are so often made on the back nine. No one played the inward loop at the Shell Houston Open better than Hunter Mahan, and because of it the 30-year-old from Colleyville held off Sweden’s Carl Pettersson to become the PGA Tour’s first two-time winner this season.

Mahan overcame a two-shot deficit with a final round 71 to finish at 16-under-par 272 for the championship. He beat Pettersson, a four-time winner on tour, by a single shot. Mahan, who two years ago broke down and cried after losing the final U.S. point at the 2010 Ryder Cup, is now the best American golfer in the game. He moved up to No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings—the highest spot held by a U.S. player—and leads the FedExCup points race, too.

For the week, Mahan, who also won the Wolf Golf Championships Accenture Match Play in February, tore through the final nine holes on The Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club at 11-under par. He suffered only one bogey on the back nine all week and had just two for the tournament.

So once the former Oklahoma State All-American seized his first lead with a five-foot birdie on the ninth hole Sunday—after hitting 3-iron in tight on the 238-yard par 3—he had to feel good about his chances to notch his fifth career tour victory.

For the rest of the story, please click here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SHO and Tell: Meet the Mustache Guy

NOTE: This is exclusive content from

HUMBLE, Texas—When the Shell Houston Open begins Thursday with the opening round, golf fans will roam The Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club and watch their favorite PGA Tour stars. They’ll get up-close and personal looks at household names like Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Rickie Fowler.

One player who fans might not know by name—but will by sight—is Johnson Wagner.

People call him the “Mustache Guy.”

Since last fall, the 2008 SHO champion has sported a bushy mustache that would make Burt Reynolds and Magnum P.I. proud.

On lark last November, Wagner, who grew up in Amarillo and lives in Charlotte, N.C., stopped shaving. Despite his wife Katie’s complaints, Wagner kept the ’stache heading into the season-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, a trip he earned by winning the Mayakoba Classic last February.

Players such as Harrison Frazar hazed Wagner, 32, about the facial hair, but when Wagner scored a top 10 in Maui, the mustache earned credibility. Even so, the heckling intensified days later at the Sony Open in Hawaii. One fan on the first tee box proclaimed, “The 1960s called. They want their mustache back!”

Well, they can’t have it.

For the rest of the story, please click here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

SHO and Tell: Mickelson's Putting Prowess

NOTE: This is exclusive content from

HUMBLE, Texas—Headed into his Shell Houston Open title defense – and the Masters next week – Phil Mickelson feels confident about his game and optimistic about his chances for winning.

And why not?

Already this year the big left-hander has a win (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) and a runner-up (Northern Trust Open at Riviera). A February fly-in visit from coach Butch Harmon at the Waste Management Phoenix Open helped Mickelson’s swing find a groove, and he won a week later. His short game looks as strong as it did a decade ago.

Mickelson spoke with the media Tuesday morning at Redstone Golf Club and told us that he feels his ball-striking is “starting to get as good as it’s been in a long time.”

But there’s another reason why Mickelson is a favorite not only to repeat here on Redstone’s Tournament Course, but to win his fourth career Masters title and third in the past three years.

It’s the flat stick.

So far this season, Mickelson has rolled the rock better than he has in at least eight years. He ranks third in the PGA Tour’s official putting statistic, called “Strokes Gained – Putting.”

For the rest of the story, kindly click here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Playing Golf to Fight Cancer

This column appears in the March issues of Texas Links Magazines.

Take a look to your right. Now look left. Chances are you just saw someone who has been affected by cancer. One in three Americans will contract some form of the disease. Maybe that one in three is you. Maybe it’s someone you love.

The Walden 100 raised $55,000 last year.
My grandma turned 96 in January, and she’s a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and has been living cancer-free for five years. She’s my hero.

I lost an aunt and uncle to cancer when I was younger. My dad’s brother Melvin died from lung cancer in 1981. That same year, his sister Doris fell to pancreatic cancer.

My buddy Vince’s mom, Carol Sue, is a cancer survivor, too. But the deadly disease took down both of Vince’s grandparents on his father’s side. Dan McIntyre, the owner of Walden on Lake Conroe and a good friend of mine, is a survivor.

Just last year, another good friend (and a hell of a golfer) named Jeff Lam was diagnosed with colon cancer. He’s just 33 years old. As of mid-February, Jeff had endured eight of his necessary 12 chemotherapy treatments. He lost his hair, but not his will to fight or his optimistic attitude.

Since he was diagnosed, Jeff has only had the energy to play five holes of golf. The treatments are torturous, he said, and they leave him drained beyond belief. But he’s hanging tough. I believe him when he tells me he’s going to beat this disease and get back to living a healthy, active life.

You probably know someone with a similar story. We all know someone who has battled cancer. It accounts for one in every four U.S. deaths, second only to heart disease. This year alone, the National Cancer Institute estimates that there will be about 1.6 million new cancer victims. About 577,000 of them will die.

That’s more than 1,500 deaths a day.

But there is good news, too. Approximately 12 million Americans with a history of cancer are still alive today. Survivors like my grandma, Vince’s mom Carol Sue and Walden’s Dan McIntyre. These people stared down pure evil and endured treatments that take pain to levels we’ll never know.

And they beat cancer. They won.

Others like Jeff Lam are still fighting. All of these people are my heroes.

But they need our help.

On June 18, I’ll do my small part to help the cause. For the second straight year, I’ll take part in the “Walden 100,” an all-day charity event in conjunction with Golfers Against Cancer to raise money for cancer research. Along with about 50 other inspired golfers, we’ll tee off at the crack of dawn and play 100 holes before we stop.

Last year, we raised $55,000 in one day. We’re aiming to double that amount this year.

Golfers Against Cancer exists because there still isn’t a cure for the disease. GAC is about getting involved and helping however possible. Since its inception in 1997, GAC has raised more than $2.2 million for cancer research. The annual two-day tournament in November at the Clubs of Kingwood and Deerwood Golf Club brings in a lion’s share of the donations, but Walden on Lake Conroe has donated $625,000 from a decade of satellite events.    

Playing 100 holes in one day is grueling. It’s a grind. You get sunburned and blisters on your hands and feet. By the end of the day, you’re definitely worn out.
But however taxing it is to play in the Walden 100, it’s absolutely nothing compared to what cancer patients endure. It’s literally a walk in the park relative to what Jeff Lam, Dan McIntyre and millions of others have gone through.

I hope you’ll do your part to help find us a cure for cancer. More information on this worthy event is available on If someone you know is playing, please sponsor them and donate as much as you can.
Soon, I’ll start making calls to find sponsors and raise money. This year, I’ll play for everyone I know who has been affected, but I want to dedicate my efforts to Jeff Lam’s fight. He’s the type of guy who would be out there playing with us to raise money if he had the strength to do it.
I know all of my friends, family members and business contacts are going to pitch in and support me. Consider this a “thanks in advance” for your help. But this isn’t about me or you. It’s about those 12 million Americans still fighting against cancer. We owe it to them to help doctors and researchers find a cure.
I hope you’ll help.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Are You a Dishonest Golfer?

Why are people dishonest on the golf course? Because they’re that way in life, I suppose.

Hermann Park Golf Course near downtown Houston.
It stinks.

My friend and I recently teed it up at Hermann Park Golf Course near downtown Houston. For a municipal track next to a zoo, it’s a nifty layout with tight fairways and decent conditions for the price ($16.50 weekdays, $26.50 weekends). The greens are smallish and in better shape than you’d expect. They rolled just fine when we were there.

Hermann Park is basically what you make it. If you want to bang driver and play bomb & gouge all day, you can do that. But you don’t have to. You can also work on course management with 3-woods, hybrids and long irons off the tees. It’s not a championship course by any means, but it is plenty fun.

It’s a perfect setting for casual golf and casual golfers.

Land is especially precious in urban settings, and Hermann Park does suffer a bit from adjacent fairways and the occasional golf ball whizzing by from other holes. We’ve all played on these kinds of courses. You keep your head on a swivel, but otherwise have a great time playing a game you love in a unique setting for a good price.

One thing inevitably happens in these situations, however. The idiot golfer who picks up someone else’s ball.

Why do people do that?   

This happened to my friend at Hermann Park. We were humming along, playing our match with the two other fellows we were paired up with on the first tee. They were plenty nice. Not the greatest golfers, but that was never an issue. They were encouraging to us, as we were to them. We played the first seven holes at a good pace, everyone having a great time.

Then, on the eighth hole, my friend’s approach shot came in hot and bounced over the green. I saw it hit the back fringe and carom to the rough behind the green. When we got up the green and looked behind it, her golf ball was nowhere to be found. Along with one of the other guys in our group, we spent a full five minutes looking for it.

Meanwhile, the fourth member of our group was on the green, lining up his putt. I hadn’t noticed him behind the green before we got there.

Finally, my friend takes a drop (and two-stroke penalty) and we finish the hole. On the way to the next hole, she says to me, “That guy picked up my golf ball.”

“What? You saw him?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

On the next tee, I ask him: “Hey, did you happen to pick up a Precept back there behind the green?”

He looks at us sheepishly, points at his buddy and says, “Yeah, I did. He told me not to say anything.”

While blushing, he reaches in his pocket, pulls out her golf ball and tosses it to us.

We said, “Thanks.”

What the heck? I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. First, why would anyone pick up someone else’s ball at a claustrophobic course where so many stray shots are being hit? If it wasn’t our ball, it surely belonged to someone else on a nearby hole.

Second, he “wasn’t going to say anything” because his buddy said not to? Were they embarrassed? Why, then, did he admit it when I asked him directly?

We finished the rest of the round in relative silence. Not a lot of chatter between carts. My friend and I weren’t exactly mad at them; we were mostly confused. Why did he pick up the ball? Then for five minutes, he hung out on the green while watching us search for it. And then he cops to the theft on the next tee box.


What’s equally mystifying is why anyone would pick up someone else’s ball near a green at a public course. I understand finding the Pro V1 in a hazard or deep in the trees. When it’s fairly obvious that you’ve found a ball that someone else lost – and isn’t currently searching for – there’s no harm in claiming a diamond in the rough.

But when you see others looking for a ball, and you find one … the proper thing to do is say, “Here’s one! What kind of ball are you playing?”

Our playing partners that day needed a lesson on honesty. They could benefit from reading a copy of my book, “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods.” In the story, the golf gods Ti Ming and Tem Po not only come alive  in the dreams of children to teach them how to play golf, they also teach them how to live with the values we learn from the game, such as honesty, respect and sound decision-making.

The kids in the story learn to play golf at the highest levels, and along the way they learn how to live honest, honorable lives. Our playing partners from Hermann Park could use the lessons found in my book. So could all junior golfers.

Golf is a game of a lifetime. Its lessons and values are equally enduring. Next time you see a ball in the rough that isn’t yours, please ask everyone within sight if it’s their ball.