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.
[to top of second column in this article]
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
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!