In celebration of American Father’s Day, Global Golf Post Plus has shared a collection of stories on how the bond between fathers and their children is strengthened through the game. Today, Peter Jacobsen writes of the love of golf instilled by his father, Erling.
For as long as I can remember, golf was all about family and I suspect it always will be. Growing up, I spent weekends playing with my family in Portland, Oregon, or on the coast in Astoria, competing for sibling bragging rights. The six of us Jacobsens at one point had a combined handicap of 26. We were all pretty good for a long time and that was driven entirely by our dad, Erling, and his meticulous attention to instruction.
My father was an avid golfer, college football player for the University of Oregon and a Naval aviator who flew off the USS Enterprise and Intrepid in World War II. Erling Eugene Jacobsen was awarded the Navy Cross, which recognizes those who exhibit extraordinary heroism in combat, of which we all remain extremely proud.
He was tough but fair and there was no BS around my father. He had a dry sense of humor but also a strong sense of fair play. He loved to joke around and have fun, but he was adamant about doing things the right way. He taught us manners, honesty and sportsmanship, all things that are golf. That is probably what drew him to the game.
As a caddy, we learned how to show up, keep up and shut up, as the old adage goes.
As kids of Norwegian-immigrant parents, Erling and his brother Leif started as caddies, like so many did back in the day, long before golf-cart revenue became a serious line item in most golf budgets. It only made sense that along with my brothers David and Paul and sister Susie, we started to caddie for our dad and his friends. Dad felt that it was important to learn the game from the hole backwards: how to repair a ballmark on the green, how to replace a divot, rake a bunker, etc. It was important to leave the course better than we found it.
As a caddy, we learned how to show up, keep up and shut up, as the old adage goes. Repairing those divots and ball marks, tending the pin and giving yardage and occasional advice was the theme for the day. Sometimes we went out on a double, with two players and two bags on our shoulders. It was hard work but great fun. And the Jacobsen kids learned how to play through the knowledge we gained caddying.
Proper etiquette and decorum was absolute for my father. I had quite a temper in my youth and possessed an annoying habit of slamming my club into the ground after a poor tee shot.
After one particularly bad shot and the expected outburst, my father took my clubs from me and said, ‘If you can’t control yourself and act like a gentleman out here, you don’t deserve to play. Go wait by the car until we finish.’ That was on the third tee. After a long walk back to the parking lot where I sat next to the car, not in the car, we headed home after the rest of the family finished their round. He continued to talk about respecting the game, honoring tradition and acting like a gentleman. It was a difficult and embarrassing lesson, but it had a big impact on me.
My Dad was never in favor of competition. In fact, when my brothers and sister and I played in junior, amateur, high school or college events, our dad was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t that he didn’t care how we did. He later admitted that he didn’t want to distract us from the job at hand. He was as far from a helicopter parent as you could imagine. He never hung around a scoreboard after one of our matches or called the pro shop to see how we finished. That just wasn’t him.
He wanted us to love the game for the personal challenge. He enjoyed the social aspect of golf and saw it was a way to meet people of all ages and from all walks of life. And he used that as a way for his kids to grow.
I distinctly remember coming home after finishing second in the Pacific Northwest Open as an amateur, proud of my finish and of being low amateur. When I told him of my finish, he said, ‘If you aren’t going to win, maybe you should get back to college and study harder.’ It wasn’t meant to be a disparaging comment. He challenged me and I took it that way, as motivation to work hard and finish first.
My father died in 1992 after an eight-year battle with cancer. He had part of his tongue removed which made communication difficult. But that didn’t stop him from his enthusiastic instruction on the range and the course. Through the game he met and hung out with some of his heroes – Palmer, Trevino, Watson – and some of my contemporaries like Lietzke, Crenshaw, O’Meara, Bean, Couples, Stewart and Rolfing. He may have been somewhat averse to viewing the game through competitive eyes. But in the end, he came to appreciate what it meant to shoot the lowest score.
My dad’s voice still echoes in my head whenever I’m on the golf course with all of his instruction, life lessons and enthusiasm. He loved golf and we loved him.
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