Just as a head cover and cap can stir memories of golf at a great club, so, too, will the program remind me of a man who personified the joy that the game brings.
Jun 5, 2024

Failing to act upon an opportunity leaves a painful regret for this golfer

Your passion for golf runs deep, pretty much consumes you 24/7, and you feel blessed to have played as much as you have in so many wonderful settings.

No regrets, you tell yourself.

And then you hear shocking news. A man you knew through golf and admired for years because you both shared a kinship for this greatest of all games and the warmest of all golf clubs, was dead at 62. No words offered comfort. No search for answers was met successfully.

Then on the day that hundreds gathered at the Boston Golf Club in Hingham, Mass., after the Funeral Mass to celebrate Rick Miller’s wonderful life, his golf bag stopped me in my tracks. It had been placed on a large rock just off the putting green outside the pro shop and every muscle within me froze.

Wasn’t this the spot where we had crossed paths dozens of times across too many years to count? It was.

And didn’t nearly every conversation include Rick saying that “we have to get out and play.” It surely was.

And wasn’t it me who for one innocuous reason or another never followed through to make it happen? Crushing confession, but yes, that is true.

Which is why the need to reassess my sentiment cuts deep. No regrets? That’s nonsense. There are plenty of regrets because to fully embrace and experience the game, and to savor it for all its layers of charm, well, you must understand that you owe it to yourself to follow through when opportunities knock.

There are great people to meet, wonderful places to play, cherished memories to create, acquaintances to renew. You need to say yes, to embrace opportunities – especially when you are extended the invite by the likes of Rick Miller. With an indelible imprint of his death deep within my soul, the pain is real because never was there a substantive reason not to seize the opportunity to share with him a round of golf. Always, the thought was, we will, someday, because what many of us golfers do best is put things off.

Crap, to that, because next thing you know, “we’ve got to get out and play” morphs into “you’ll never get to play that round” with such unfathomable speed that you are speechless. Numb, too.

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“We walked down the darkened fairway side by side. For a change, I wasn’t really thinking about all the greats who had walked this way to immortality: Old Tom and Young. Taylor and Braid. Jones and Snead. Nicklaus and Lema. Ballesteros and Faldo. Watson, who had crossed this spot with a record-tying sixth Open within his grasp – to just miss.

“I was thinking, instead, how simply fine and proper it was that my old man and I were finally playing the Road Hole together.”  – From James Dodson’s brilliant book, “Final Rounds.”

^ ^ ^

What was special about Dodson’s book is that he was determined to play a round of golf with his father that he had been putting off for too many years. In that respect, Dodson was like so many of us. Great intentions, poor follow through.

Where you often saw Rick Miller's clubs, ready for a game, prepared for an experience.

Dodson had a uniquely special reason, of course. His father, Braxton Dodson, had cancer and so one last golf trip – culminating with 18 at the Old Course – was the quintessential wish. Dodson pulled it off beautifully and wrote about it exquisitely.

For as long as my world has revolved around golf, the passion to play has been complemented significantly by a desire to read those wordsmiths who treat golf respectfully and charmingly. George Plimpton’s assertion that “the smaller the ball the more formidable the literature” has forever been spot on and there is a long line of those who have a true feel for what makes golf so compelling and so addictive.

It was Henry Longhurst who wrote “golf is a game that teaches us to focus on the present moment,” and while that is so true should you be involved in a round that is going swimmingly, methinks we should look at the flip side. So, too, should golf be a game that demands we concern ourselves with the future; we need to commit ourselves to finally play with those who emobdy priceless camaraderie and perhaps venture out to new courses that enrich our deep love of the sport.

In other words, stop putting off to a line of tomorrows what can be played today.

Such a thought often shines through whenever the words being read belong to the wondrous talents of Michael Bamberger. It stymies me to think this way, but the guess is, had Michael crossed paths with Rick Miller and heard a suggestion “that we have to get out and play,” the offer would have been acted upon in due haste and, my Lord, the enjoyment they would have had.

After all, as Sean McDonough eloquently remarked in that Boston Golf Club celebration of Rick’s life, a round of golf with him “was an experience.” In fact, some members have hats with RME imprinted – signifying a Rick Miller Experience.

Were you to be curious as to who has savored the most golf experiences, everything in my soul would suggest the answer is Michael Bamberger. So it makes me smile to imagine Rick hearing about John Stark and Auchnafree in Scotland, of caddying in Europe for a true golf original named Peter Teravainen, of the esteemed Sam Reeves, of the day he was granted an audience with Plimpton (at Myopia, no less!), or of the joy of the St. Martins Spring Match Play Championship, a nine-holer that is part of the Philadelphia Cricket Club.

All rich in detail, these are just some of what is in Bamberger’s treasure chest of golf experiences that he has shared with readers through the years. To marvel at Michael’s talents is to suspect that his strength has been to say yes to opportunities to experience a round of golf; the guess is, he never has allowed “we’ve got to get out and play” morph into “you’ll never get to play that round.

Sadly, yours truly cannot say the same. The guess is, Rick Miller would forgive me. Forgiving myself is another story.