Whether you play golf, work in the business or just enjoy being around the game, you know the types it can attract. Normally associated with upper echelon participants, golf in fact is played by CEO’s and hobos on exclusive country clubs or hardpan munies. Either way the game is the same – get the ball in the hole, spend time with your buddies and enjoy the outdoors.
Several years ago when I was working in Chicago I came across an interesting character. “Hippie”, with a pedigree straight out of a Stephen King novel, came to golf probably out of the need for some solitude while roaming the green grass. A Vietnam veteran, “Hip” caddied at several north shore clubs making a few dollars where he could. It was apparent the war had taken something out of him but once on a golf course with a bag across his back Hip felt as if he were the richest man in the world. In many ways, he was.
This is not to say he was a model citizen. He often found problems in a bottle that would derail him for a few days but eventually he’d re-surface and get a loop. Burning a few bridges at a couple of caddie houses, Hip finally fell under the wing of Terry Russell, then the Head Professional at River Forest Country Club. Russell, a solid player and a wonderful club pro, gave Hip a little tough love and made him toe the line in order to continue working as caddie. They developed one of those unique relationships you often find in golf.
One year Russell qualified to play in the Western Open at Butler National Golf Club. When a club pro could tee it in a tour event it highlighted his career. There was no doubt who would caddy for Russell. Hippie, with his shoulder length sandy blond locks, followed his boss around the Butler layout offering encouragement and support. It was hard to tell who enjoyed it more. With his gapped-toothed smile, Hippie later told me it was his finest moment as a looper.
I was fortunate to have Hip caddie for me in a couple of Illinois PGA section events. He’d hop on a bus and I’d pick him up at a predetermined location on the way to the course. While caddies are told to show up, keep up and shut up, such a curriculum would have stifled his enthusiastic personality. The course was truly his “turf”, the place where the challenges of everyday life took a brief sabbatical. I never had a bad round with Hip. The number may not have been where I would have liked but the camaraderie of a day on the links with him, a guy on opposite ends of life’s spectrum, was a day well spent. It was impossible to have a bad round with the guy.
As Hip’s health deteriorated he was unable to continue caddying. The time in ‘Nam plus some hard living and neglect for his health took its toll. Not a big man (Hip was a skinny as a six iron), he slowly lost his battle in life with Russell and his wife Nancy by his side. Hip’s passing was akin to losing a brother who had at times taken the wrong road but somehow found his way back. He had a good heart for those who took the time to connect with him.
There are many occasions when I look back at the people I’ve met through golf. Many of them have become life-long friends. From all walks of life, folks gravitating towards the task of knocking a ball in a small hole. Players, caddies, professionals, instructors and sales reps, you name it, all of those people have added to my love of the game. It’s not just the swinging of the club, rather it is the collection of diverse personalities that define the sport. The memories, stories and moments spent with someone who truly loves the game are everlasting. Regardless of a person’s background, golf brings out the best in people. It brought out the best in Hip.
As long as I am around golf I’m sure I’ll run into a few more “Hippies”. I look forward to those encounters. Like Billy Joel sang, “I’d rather run with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun……”