Extra Points: Helping A Golfer Cope With A Loss
Saturday's round at Cape May National was one of the most memorable of my 20-plus years of playing golf.
No, I didn't get a hole-in-one, didn't break 70, didn't even play especially well.
It was because of Bob.
As I walked past the clubhouse and headed toward the 10th tee, the starter asked if he could pair me up with someone who had never played the course before and just wanted to play nine holes.
"Of course," I said. "I hate playing alone."
Bob drove up in a cart wearing a black mask, a Hawaiian shirt, and tan khaki shorts. He had a water bottle inside the cup holder, along with a pack of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets that prompted me to wonder if he was from Philadelphia.
After we introduced ourselves, he revealed that he was 80 years old and was going to play from the senior tees.
He didn't say another word for four holes, other than to ask a few questions about where to aim his tee shots, even though most of them took sharp turns into the woods or water.
I began to question my decision to play 18 instead of nine. It was going to take at least two and a half hours and the lack of conversation was going to make it seem twice as long.
We arrived at the 14th tee box. I looked over at Bob and saw he was in tears.
"I'm having a very tough time," he said. "My wife just died. We were married for 54 years."
Bob was from Philadelphia - the Tastykakes were a giveaway - and Angela was from New York. A few years after they married, they moved to Bucks County, Pa., where they raised two children before moving to The Villages in central Florida 13 years ago.
Bob took her to the doctor on her birthday, May 3, which also happens to be my mother's and grandson Graham's birthday. He didn't get into details, other than to say she developed some sort of infection that eventually spread to her brain.
"She was in a nursing home for about a month," he said. "But I wasn't allowed to see her because of Covid-19. She died on July 23. I never got a chance to say goodbye."
We headed up the 14th fairway. I stood about 10 yards away, almost perpendicular, to watch the flight of his next shot. The ball squirted off his 3-wood and spun sideways, hitting me in the chest.
I moved a few yards further away in search of safety, but to no avail. His third of nine shots on the 15th skidded off the grass and smacked me in the ankle.
I've played hundreds of rounds with players of various abilities. It marked the first and second times I've ever been hit.
"My brother hit me in the back of the head once," Bob said after profusely apologizing. "I had a big welt."
As we moved to the 16th, he started to get choked up again.
"My sister died two weeks before my wife," he said. "It's been a terrible summer for me."
Since his wife's passing, he's spent time with his children and other relatives in the Philadelphia area. He joined his daughter, her husband and her in-laws for a weekend getaway in Cape May at a place on Washington Street.
Bob said he's going back to Florida on September 23 and is dreading it.
"I enjoy living there," he said, "but I'm afraid of going back to an empty house. I haven't been alone in over 50 years. I don't know what I'm going to do without her."
While he talked, I mostly listened.
I said very little, other than to offer my condolences. I reminded myself to kiss my wife when I got home and see if we could join our kids and grandkids at the beach on Sunday.
On the 18th green, after we made our final putts, I reached out to give Bob a fist bump. He moved in close and hugged me.
"Thank you so much for putting up with me," he said. "I really needed this. I'm getting better, but I still break down a lot. Thanks for being so understanding."
"It was my pleasure, Bob," I said. "I had a great time. Again, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I can only pray things get better over time. And if you're ever in town again and want to play, just let me know."
I watched him drive off to the clubhouse, walked to my car and grabbed a tissue.
Bob wasn't the only one to shed a tear.