For as long as I can remember -- with the exception of last year, when COVID delayed all of the majors and cancelled the British Open -- the U.S. Open championship has always been held on Father's Day weekend. I think that's part of what's always made the tournament so special to me -- the fact that on the same day we crown a national champion in golf, we also celebrate the fathers with whom so many of us have shared such great memories of the game.
Now, I didn't learn to golf from my father. My brothers and I didn't grow up in a family that golfed. We grew up with the idea that golf was basically a rich man's sport ... and we were far from rich.
I was introduced to golf by my older brother, who came to the game by way of a friend, and together -- when I was a teenager -- they took me along occassionally to play inexpnsive little nine-hole and par-3 courses. And I fell in love with the sport.
By the time I was in college, I played as regularly as I could. I'd go out for nine holes at whatever rinky dink course I could afford before my classes began in the morning. Between classes, I'd walk across Frew Street to Flagstaff Hill in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park, and I'd hit quarter-wedges and flop shots. Having inherited an old -- very old -- set of clubs from an uncle, and unable to afford to buy a set of decent new clubs, I taught myself to build clubs from components I could buy out of catalogs. And I watched every round of golf I could find on television. I was obsessed.
My father, George, wasn't a golfer, but he knew how to encourage my passions. He invested himself in watching alongside me on Sunday afternoons. He'd listen as I called him after every round I played and recounted every shot I'd hit. God ... as a father myself today, listening to my son tell me some of his stories, I look back on these conversations and realize my dad had the patience of a saint!
He bought a cheap set of clubs and a pull cart, and he began joining me for some of those nine-hole rounds. The guy would work overnight managing security for a local hospital, and dead-tired, he'd meet me first thing in the morning to play a little golf with me before I had to go to school. One or both of my brothers would join us from time to time, but my dad and I played a lot of rounds together, just the two of us, and it was a very special time for both of us.
As we played, we'd talk golf. But we'd also talk a lot about life. And it was such a blessing to hear him share stories from his youth, to hear about how he thougth about life and parenting ... about relationships, dreams, work and a million other things. He told me about my grandfather, who died when I was young, and the life lessons he'd passed on to my dad. Grandpap never played golf, but like every Western Pennsylvania sports fan with access to a television in the 1960s, he loved Arnold Palmer. And my dad used to tell me all the time how happy he thought it would make Grandpap to see us playing golf.
Unfortunately, my dad's ability to golf was diminished by some serious injuries to his back and his knee. But those times we spent together on the course are memories I still treasure.
We've shared some other special memories related to the game, too, though.
In 2007, when the US Open came to Oakmont Country Club, I took my dad out for one of the practice rounds.
We made our way around the course and watched the Tour players play real golf.
When the US Open came back to Oakmont in 2016, we did it again.
And this time we even spent some time hanging out with 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel!
These were really special days for us, and I'm so thankful for those experiences and the memories.
Truth is, my Dad has always been there for the special days in my life. My parents divorced when I was young, but he was so present in our lives as my brothers and I grew up. The guy worked two and sometimes three jobs, and I don't think he ever missed a baseball game or a school event. In fact, I tease him to this day about the fact that he missed me hitting a grand slam in my final pony leauge game because he got sick during the game and had to leave in one of the early innings ... and that he missed my other grand slam in my final high school baseball game. And those are funny only because it was so incredibly rare that he wasn't there in the stands, cheering me on ... even at every game the year I just rode the bench.
In 2013, we shared one more golf-related memory that I love to share. In May of that year, I had an incredible opportunity to meet Arnold Palmer. A man I worked for was good friends with Arnold, and he introduced my wife and I to the King. We got to spend some time with he and his wife, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Coolest experience ever, right? That's what I thought.
But later that year, my boss was chairing an event at which Arnold was to be honored, but due to some business obligations, my boss couldn't actually attend. He put me in charge of working with Arnold's folks to make sure it all went well, and he gave me the tickets to the event so I could attend in his place and invite clients and others to fill out our table. As it happened, we couldn't find enough clients to fill out our table. So, at the last minute, I invited my dad and my stepmother to join my wife and I.
When we got there, it turned out our table was right next to the head table with Arnold and his family. And my seat was basically back-to-back with AP.
Representing my boss, I approached Arnold to re-introduce myself and explain that Jim wished he could be there. And as soon as I began to remind him who I am, he said, "Of course, Shawn. I remember -- Jim introduced us at Laurel Valley a few months ago. How have you been?"
So ... my dad is sitting maybe 10 feet away ... and he just saw that his dad's sports hero, Arnold Palmer, hasn't just met his son but actually knows who his son is. Arnold Palmer knew my name, and my dad saw that.
Then, I got to introduce my dad and my stepmother to Arnold, and he greeted them as warmly as you could possibly imagine Arnold Palmer greeting two great friends. He even said something to the effects of, "You raised a good one here." I probably should have slipped him a twenty for that.
And I have to say ... as cool as it was to meet Arnold Palmer myself ... having my dad see that Arnold knew me and then getting to introduce my dad to him blew that first experience out of the water.
My dad didn't teach me the game of golf. I didn't come to the game the way so many others have -- the way Arnold did, as a matter of fact. But he taught me all the important things in life. About being a good man. About being a good dad. He prepared me to be a father who loves unconditionally, who teaches right from wrong, who knows how to work hard for his family and who knows how to laugh hard with his family. He taught me to chase what's important to me and to do what I love. And on this Father's Day -- and every Father's Day -- I thank God that of all the fathers in the world, he's mine.
He's also a pretty incredible grandfather to my son, Clark, and to all of his other grandchildren.
So ... good luck to whoever's competing for the trophy today at the U.S. Open. And much, much more importantly ... happy Father's Day to my dad ... and to all the dads out there who know that being a dad is the most important job any of us will ever have.
By the way ... my dad has become a published author in his retirement. If you're looking for a great late Father's Day gift for your dad or your next great read, check out author George Bannon at www.georgebannon.com, and pick up one of his books!