I lost a pair of golfing pals last week. It’s always tough to lose friends or loved ones, but this was tougher than most.
Daisy came to our lives about 16 years ago. My wife, Linda, rescued her from a home in Massillon that she shared with about 10 other dogs. She was jet black in color, but a rainbow coalition of a dog, a mixed breed that no one was able to completely identify. She was about 2-years-old when she arrived. She quickly became the family favorite and a favorite of just about everyone who came to our door.
I met Mike Roman in August of 2013 during my first week on the job as a starter at Tam O’Shanter Golf Course. Eventually, Mike and I spent a lot of summer mornings, afternoons and evenings together, either working or playing golf. He was the starter on the front nine of the Dales. I was on the back. We shared many issues and swapped stories. We worked together in the heat of July and August and the rain and cold of April and October and met on the first tee several mornings, 30 minutes before the first customers arrived. Mike didn’t like crowds.
Mike came across as grumpy and gruff. It was an act. Those who knew him saw through the façade. We all realized he was as genuine as a Rolex. He had a heart as big as a Muirfield bunker and was always willing to help out, always willing to go the extra yard.
Half-way through our second season of working together and laughing over our golf games, I tried busting his chops about smoking. Good-naturedly I urged him to quit. Just as good naturedly he would tell me to shut up.
“You don’t smoke so you don’t know how it is to quit,” he would protest.
After I told him I quit a pack-and-a-half-a-day habit through hypnosis 20 years ago, he said, “Yeah? Good for you. Shut up anyhow.”
It was so Roman.
They buried Mike on Monday, the day after the Masters. We sat in the church and listened to the pastor talk about Mike and his penchant for Coca-Cola. Laid out in the casket he was dressed in a Tam O’Shanter wind shirt and hat. At the end of the service they played Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page.” It all seemed appropriate.
I am guessing that anyone in that church will think of Mike every time they hear that song. I know I will.
I also know I will probably forget my first name before I forget Daisy.
Daisy was everyone’s friend. It did not take long for her to warm up to strangers after she made sure there was no threat to the family. A few sniffs here, a gentle pat on the head there and Daisy was your friend forever.
No one in our house ever taught her to play fetch and early on I failed to realize how athletic she was. I can’t remember how we discovered her zeal to chase down tennis balls, softballs, superballs and anything else that bounced. It just kind of happened. But, she was discriminatory. You could throw a Frisbee and she would watch it sail to the earth unimpressed. Fetching a stick had no appeal. Too easy. Daisy needed the challenge of the bounce. Tennis balls were her favorite.
It never dawned on me that she would chase down golf balls until one summer day when I was hitting balls from our back yard to the yard next door, which just happens to belong to Lin’s mom.
Combined, the two lots span about 70 yards with a pair of tall maple trees and a pine serving as a property line. For me, it was a perfect place to practice trouble shots, which unfortunately, seem to be a constant part of my game. I tried hitting balls from one yard to the other, avoiding the lower branches or going through them, trusting the golfer’s observation that trees are 90 percent air.
For Daisy, the yards were her personal playground with no boundaries, a spot where she could run and chase the ball dejour. She never strayed from our properties. We never had to worry about chasing her through the neighborhood.
She proved to be the perfect shag gal, sitting patiently and never taking her eyes off the ball as it sat on the ground. Once I hit it, she would break into a dead sprint in pursuit. Sometimes she would get fooled and lose track of the ball. But, she never stopped searching.
One day I had hit about six balls when she came bounding off the porch and into the yard, eager to join the game. I punched a white Titleist through the trees deep into the next yard. Daisy was off in an instant and the game was on. After a few seconds she returned with a yellow Srixon, which she dropped at my feet before sitting down to wait for another opportunity.
So, I hit the Srixon and she eventually returned with a pink Pinnacle. I hit the Pinnacle and she came back with the Titleist. Then, a silly idea hit me. I would take Daisy to Tam O’Shanter and purposely hit a beat-up Top-Flite into the field adjacent to the second hole on the Dales Course, a prime location for wayward drives. Maybe she’d return with a new Callaway or Titleist that some poor sole had lost. Finder’s keepers, you know?
As the years went by the games dwindled in both frequency and duration and one day it dawned on me that little Daisy was about 14-years-old. When she had enough she simply headed for the garage and the door to the basement. Her health deteriorated greatly over the last year and we noticed she lost her hearing last winter. Age was catching up and there was nothing we could do. Several months ago she had two epileptic-type seizures within two days. Lin frequently held her on her lap for long periods of time, gently stroking her head and back. A trip to the vet and a prescription stopped the seizures until early last week. Despite the medicine she had two more. I am convinced she was in pain. We made the call all pet owners dread.
Hours before the end I took her for one last walk in the yard, back to the spot where she gleefully chased tennis balls and Titleists over green grass for hours on end. The image of her proudly prancing between the trees with a ball in her mouth will probably stay with me forever. But now the grass was covered in snow and Daisy, robbed of her sight, her hearing and the strength in her hind legs that once enabled her to jump effortlessly to catch a tennis ball on the fly, wandered aimlessly. Any reservations I might have had about it being time disappeared. I could no longer stand to watch her suffer.
We slowly made our way back to the house and I carried her up the steps and set her gently on the floor. Within minutes she curled up at Lin’s feet.
She died on the Friday of the Masters. I plan on marking her memory by heading to the backyard and hitting some balls. I will think back to other summers and my two pals. I will long to hear just one more smart-ass remark from Roman. I will long even more for one last glimpse of Daisy flying across the lawn.