Sunday, September 25, 2016

What Our Favorite Athletes Can Teach Us in Life and in Death....Remembering Arnold Palmer

My paternal grandfather, Ed Stricherz, died when I was just 8 years old. A teacher, football coach and referee, he died too young—at the age of 72. I hold and cherish but a few memories of this great man. I remember him sitting in a certain chair reading the newspaper from start to finish. From this vantage, I could see that he wore colorful socks long before they were hip. He was religiously devoted to his Catholic faith and to the game of golf (in his retirement). Apparently "Easy Ed" didn't have a graceful swing, but he kept his index respectable by nailing 5, 10 and 20 footers on the greens. I also know that my grandpa's favorite player was "The King," Arnold Palmer, who died today at the age of 87. 
Every visit to my grandparents' home in the summer months was characterized by a backdrop of some golf tournament on television. Though I did not understand at the time how one could love this slow and quiet game, I was aware that he did. And anyone who knew my grandpa knew he was a member of "Arnie's Army"—a legion of Palmer fans.

As I have grown to love the game of golf, I feel as though I have actually gotten to know my own grandfather better. When I play with my Uncle Jay on a course where my grandpa once did, I think about what it must have been like for him (or my dad) to play with their dad, my grandpa. Was he fun to play with? What were his struggles? Was he honest to a fault? gracious in conversation? How was his pace of play? I wonder how he would have handled given holes—or rather, greens. And, as I have come to know and adopt my own favorite players, I have wanted to know why Arnie was his guy.
I have asked my dad and a few of my uncles why my grandpa loved Arnold Palmer. Their answers are not surprising. Arnie was a great athlete; his swing isn't that fluid or pretty either. He was exciting to watch and he wowed the crowd....which he loved to do.

As much as I have enjoyed learning more about my grandfather through his passion, I feel as though the legacy that Palmer left, lets me understand my grandpa as he would want me to. It's nothing that my dad or mom has to tell me is true; it's not characterized by their memories of him. Because I believe in the Communion of Saints, I understand that my relationship with my grandpa is on-going, though different. Through Christ, we remain connected in God's love. 

So, as I learned that Palmer gave up golf his senior year to serve in the Coast Guard, I realized my grandfather would have respected him for that choice. I know that his fairly humble roots—growing up in Latrobe, PA—were probably appealing to a man who grew up very poor on a farm in So. Dakota. I can see that his arm pump and interaction with the crowd would appeal to my grandpa, who loved sports and much as I do.
Our favorite teams, and in particular our favorite athletes reveal much more about who we are than one might expect. And the beauty of the relationship of athlete to fan is that it is one that need not end in death. We still celebrate the great ones...we love them...we miss them....much in the same way we do for those in our own families.

I'm grateful that on this sad but important day, I had a chance to play on one of the most beautiful golf courses in the United States, the Lakeside course at Olympic Club. It rivals the one that Arnie and my grandpa are teeing up for right heaven. My hat off to you both...thanks for sharing and leaving your mark on this great game, and more importantly the lives of so many others. 

I would also like to add, what my friend Dennis shared with me today, Monday September 26, 2016 the day after Arnie's passing to eternal life. I'm grateful that he took the time extend this beautiful insight: 
Anne, we shared a very significant memory on Sunday.  The question that golf lovers will be asking many years from now will be: "Where were you the day Arnold Palmer passed away." 
Well....we get to say that we were out working on our golf game and playing the Lake Course....a course that was not kind to Arnie in 1966....but to literally walk in his footsteps yesterday....a great memory.
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