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Honoring my favorite golf companion

Joe Avento • Jun 17, 2018 at 12:15 AM

Even the nicest days on the golf course won’t be as nice this summer. The grass won’t be as green. The good shots will never feel as good.

Lord knows, the company won’t be as fun.

Sunday is my first Father’s Day without a father, and while Dad is often in my thoughts, I really can’t stop thinking about him when I step foot on the golf course.

He introduced me to the game, taught me to respect it and made me realize there are more important things than the number you write down in that little square on the scorecard.

Golf is a social game and Dad might have been the most social golfer who ever played. Anybody who teed it up with him knew he was a character, and he had a funny story or quote for just about every occasion.

His greatest golf line of all time — and he had plenty of them — was “I didn’t get this good laying up.” He was reminded of that quote often because of the one moment in his golfing career that made him the maddest.

When he was playing at Pebble Beach on one of his business excursions, he faced a long shot over a ravine. He asked his caddie for a 3-wood, but the caddie encouraged him to lay up, knowing he probably wouldn’t have pulled off the shot.

He took the caddie’s advice, and to the day he died, he was ticked off about it. The way Dad figured, the caddie deprived him of the chance to pull off a memorable shot. What was the worst thing that could happen? He was going to lose a ball? He’d lost plenty before that and even more after.

No, on that day, he did get that good laying up. And he never quite got over it.

If a match among friends was ever getting out of hand and Dad was obviously going to lose, he would invoke a little-known rule he invented, singing the letters of it like a radio call-sign commercial. “W-A-F-P.”

It stood for “We ain’t freakin’ payin’.”

When he made a birdie on a par-3, he would saunter to the next tee saying “Anybody beat a two?”

He knew who had the honor.

Getting the honor and being able to hit first was always good for Dad. He was the fastest golfer around and hated to wait for anybody or anything on the course. He played golf for more than 50 years and he took exactly four meaningful practice swings in his life. He simply didn’t have time to waste.

On one memorable occasion, he was able to say “Anybody beat a one?” He had a hole-in-one years ago at the Country Club of Bristol, where he loved to play with his friends in the “Herd” and was a member for years. We were reminded of his ace often, every time we played the 15th hole.

If you were over a big putt, he would announce “This is critical.” If your ball stopped next to his in the fairway, they were “side by each.”

He had a million of them.

I can still hear them today, mostly because my son and golfing buddies say them, honoring his memory. They don’t know how good that makes me feel.

Dad took me to St. Andrews in 2005 for my first visit to what has become my favorite place in the world.

During our Scotland adventure, I saw the kind of negotiating skills he wielded as a major international player in the world of stainless steel pipe.

We walked up to the clubhouse at Carnoustie unannounced and without a tee time. It was 9 in the morning. After we were told we couldn’t get on until 3 o’clock, Dad noticed a twosome walking down the first fairway and asked if we could join them. The woman in the clubhouse told us we’d have to talk to the starter.

As I stood there a little embarrassed, I witnessed a negotiation that made me realize what made Dad tick. I think he could have talked milk out of a cow that day. My embarrassment quickly turned to awe.

Moments later, we were waiting on the second tee for that twosome. Dad had talked the starter into allowing us to start on No. 2 and finish our round on No. 1 when we were through.

This wasn’t some muni. It was a hallowed ground that will be the site of the British Open for the eighth time this summer.

And if that wasn’t enough, the two players we joined were from the Netherlands and by the fourth hole, Dad was talking about Holland politics — in Dutch.

Carnoustie is the hardest course in the world, especially for someone who doesn’t hit the ball very far. That day, Dad did something very memorable. He didn’t break 100, but he didn’t lose a ball. He hit that same Callaway ball with his company logo on it 106 times.

It wasn’t something he was very proud of because he was an 80s shooter. I reminded him of it a lot, though, because I thought it was remarkable given the fact that every shot at Carnoustie offers a golfer several chances to lose a ball.

A month after his death, we finally got around to going through his golf things. Finding a half-empty bottle of Gatorade in his bag made me sad because I knew he had planned to finish it someday.

Finding a flask full of Gentleman Jack was golden. We put that to good use.

Among the things we found in his bag was a ball-mark repair tool he and I received 16 years ago when we played in the Tennessee PGA Father-Son tournament. We won our division after combining for eight birdies on the final day. Dad made so many putts we were laughing.

We never did play in that tournament again, maybe because we had so much fun we’d never be able to top it.

Going through his bag, we realized we wanted to honor his golfing legacy by putting to use as much of his equipment as we could. I have tried using his putter in hopes it will continue to perform as it did in his hands. His 22-year-old grandson, Dominic, used his irons for the first time last week and lipped out a hole-in-one with his grandpa’s 6-iron.

Had that ball fallen — it stopped four feet past and directly behind the hole — Dad would have looked down proudly and said “Nobody can beat a one.”

People who met the “real” Joe Avento — on the golf course and off — always remembered him. The funny comments and stories were non-stop.

Until May 4.

Now golf will never be the same for me, but as long as I find myself telling Dad’s stories and using his silly one-liners on the course, part of him will live forever.

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