Goodbye To A Friend

Golf is a very social sport and has a way of putting strangers together then, forging their friendships.  If you are in a weekly golf league, you’ll understand what I mean.

Accomplishments on the links can be the ties that bind people who otherwise might never associate with each other.  Besides, what’s the point in doing something great on a golf course if no one is there to share it with you?

In 1997 I had one of those moments that forever secured a link with the three people I was playing alongside.

It was the fifth hole of a forgettable round of golf in the company league.  The hole was a short uphill par 3 and we had a brief wait on the tee while the group ahead of us finished on the green.  That time was spent jokingly digging at each others’ abilities, physical appearances, and personalities.  It was a typical day in the league.

Anyone that plays in a company golf league knows that as a round progresses, you become more familiar and comfortable with your opponents (unless they are complete assholes).

My playing partner, Harold, and I were competing against two of the more senior golfers in the league – Paul Vibbert and Jim Sperino.

Jim was the more experienced golfer between the two, and an affable man that I’d get along with no matter the setting.

Paul exuded personality.  His little comments and digs were always in good fun and he kept me laughing.  Throughout the round he’d continually chat and “prod” – smiling as he did so.

vibbert

Paul was “colorful” on and off the course. He often played Santa during the Christmas season.

Golfers are a peculiar bunch.  Some can be very social as they play (like Paul) and aren’t easily distracted by outside “noise”.  Others require silence and peace as they take each stroke.  Without it, their game is readily shattered.

The members of the league that fell into the latter category didn’t appreciate Paul’s “chattiness” on the course.  Often his socializing caused him to lose track of where he hit his tee shot, and on more than one occasion over the years I watched as he’d get ready to swing at the wrong ball.  I’d laugh knowing full well the reasons for his mistake and that his opponents were probably getting pissed.

Anyway, on that day in July of 1997 I somehow managed to knock my tee shot into the cup for a hole-in-one.

I’m a decent golfer, but never for a second thought I’d ever get an ace.  To say I was excited at that moment would not fairly express my feelings.

The other three golfers all gave me their congratulations as well as some good-natured razzing, and each then signed the card as witnesses to that snapshot in time.

I still have the card.

That one day 16 years ago, and that one hole in the middle of a mediocre round of golf, forever linked the four of us.  Whenever I recall that day, I remember who I was playing with.  It’s impossible not to because they were witnesses to the peak moment in the sport for me.

In the years since, I changed golf partners and there would be other matches with Jim and Paul.  Whenever they’d drive by in a golf cart Paul made it a point at shouting “Hey Fore….Skin!”  (my last name is Skinner) with a beaming smile, then turn to Jim and keep chatting away.

At work I never really knew Jim or Paul.  Jim had retired before I even began working there, and Paul was somewhere else in the plant.  Our paths never crossed other than on the golf course.

Yet, through golf, I consider them friends – lifelong friends.  Without the sport, I probably wouldn’t have had the privilege to know them.

Today I found out that Paul died over the weekend.

This year he had gotten a job driving a bus for the city and did not play in the league.  Jim remained a regular on Wednesdays and played with a different partner.  When I ran into Jim last week, he ironically said to me “Don’t you miss Vibbert jabbing at you?”.  I said yes I certainly did, and meant it.

Paul added character to the league.  Hell, Paul added character to the sport.

In reading his obituary one can see that Paul wasn’t much different off the course.  He was a former police officer known to many as “Officer Friendly” (he probably talked people’s ears off), and played Santa Claus during the Christmas season (his hair was white and he had a Santa-like white beard).

Tomorrow I’ll hit the links but it won’t be the same.  With each swing I’ll hear his playful “Hey Fore!!” in my mind and smile.  It won’t matter that he hasn’t played this season; July of 1997 will forever keep him in my memory and my heart.

I’ll play at least one shot with a three wood that I bought from Paul several years ago.  I have rarely used it recently and considered taking it from my bag.  I’ll delay that one more week.

It will be my way of saying good-bye to a friend.

Rest in Peace Paul.  You’ll be missed.

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