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Arnie says goodbye to the Masters

By Jeff Mayfield          Send a link to a friend

[APRIL 12, 2004]  I have had the pleasure of going to Augusta National twice in the last few years, and it is one of the most gorgeous spots on earth. If there is one thing I could have done for my dad before he passed on to his reward other than introduce him to his grandson, it would have been to take him with me to the Masters golf tournament. It was something on his list of things he wanted to do in his life and he never made it there. I did it very vicariously for him on both of my trips. Going there was one of the true awesome experiences of my life.

But as much as I'd like to thank my dad for giving me a love for golf, the real person I should thank would be the guy who gave my dad his love for golf. And that person is one Arnold Palmer. My dad was probably not the classic candidate to become a golf aficionado. His parents were not golfers or even golf fans. They did not come from the social strata that usually breed a golf family. However, his athletic background may have led him to golf just as it leads many of us in that direction.

My dad was probably the best athlete that you've never heard of. After being born and spending his toddler years in Hutchinson, Kan., as one of five children in Carl and Blanche Mayfield's family, they picked up and moved to Denver, Colo. My grandpa Carl, who was an ice man, felt that because Denver was exploding with growth there would be plenty of work for him. And at least for a while he was right.

My dad was the baby of the family and therefore had older brothers and sisters to show him the ropes. That proved to give him an edge when it came to athletics. Little Don Mayfield was a natural athlete. He only had to be shown one time how to do something and he had it down. But that was not enough for him. He wanted to master the fundamentals of any sport he took up.

As a freshman and sophomore in high school he excelled in both football and basketball. He was a quick, hard-to-bring-down running back and a fierce, punishing defensive back, according to my uncles. On the court he could shoot with either hand, was an outstanding ballhandler and a deft passer. My uncles say that others loved having him on their team because he was a prototypical point guard before most people even knew what that meant. He was a stellar baseball player as well, hitting for a high average while being a slick-fielding middle infielder.

While he did well in the team sports, he was off the charts in two individual sports. He won dozens of bouts as a Golden Gloves boxer. He was a little disappointed in me while I was growing up that boxing wasn't one of my favorite sports. I tried it for a while, and I remember him saying to me once that I really knew how to take a punch but I had no ability to punish an opponent. Today I don't even like to do that verbally.

But the sport my dad really dominated in was swimming. My aunt and uncles tell me that he was the cat's meow in that sport. Winning several area swimming titles, he was an outstanding swimmer even up to the last years of his life. My uncles say that if he'd have had an Olympic-style coach that he might have become a household name. But the times that he grew up in were not favorable nor were they conducive to making a career in sports.

In fact, patriotism was one of the most important things in young people's lives in his day and age. The Korean War was on, and posters and radio commercials called for volunteers. My dad felt that it was every American's duty to answer that call. His problem… he was underage. His parents wouldn't sign for him and he became disinterested in school. His dad finally convinced his mom to sign for him, although I can't even imagine doing that for my own son no matter what he would do in return.

 

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At any rate, he served two tours of duty as a Marine in Korea, and his sports career was over. Or, was it? Sure he played some ball in the Corps, but his chance to do anything significant in the sports world had come and gone. Enter a wife and three kids. And at some point in the upbringing of our family, a golfing Superstar was emerging on the scene.

Some friends got my dad involved in golf, and my guess is that the course was his refuge from three zany kids. He also took a second job moonlighting at a beautiful resort course in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. (His day job was working defense contracts for McDonnell-Douglas, Lockheed, Rockwell or wherever the work took us).

This golfing star resonated with my dad and encouraged literally thousands of people to take up golf. I think part of the attraction was that it could be played no matter the age of the participant or what kind of shape they were in.

My guess is that my dad had missed sports and competition so much that golf at least gave him some contact back into that world. He tried to get us kids to like it, but at first we really didn't enjoy it as much as he did.

For some crazy reason my dad and I began to drift away from each other during my high school years. At first it was just that I was really busy and I assumed that he was too. Then we started struggling with our communication and issues like haircuts, attitudes, music choices and the regular stuff most parents deal with among their children. I got tired of his yelling and just tuned him out.

Sometime in college he reached out through some golf outings. We took each other back in and I'm so glad we did. I think he was glad too.

From that time up until today I have loved golf. It probably sounds crazy to you loyal LDN readers, but playing golf gives me a connection to my dad. I am one of the craziest golfers out there because I like playing as a single more than any other golfer I have ever met. That is because I always have a playing partner.

So, I am indebted to Arnold Palmer for lots of reasons. Yesterday, while spending time with my wife's family, everyone crashed for a midafternoon nap. I'm not a nap person, so I surfed the TV channels. I caught the Masters coverage of Arnie's last two holes in his 50th and final trip around Augusta National.

It was an emotional day for Mr. Palmer. As you might imagine, it was an emotional experience for me. I'm glad everyone was asleep. But I bet my dad was enjoying it as much as I was. Farewell, Mr. Palmer. The LDN and the Mayfields salute you!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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