Memories of a tragic loss and a bittersweet ace

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland speaks after winning the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course...

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland speaks after winning the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on August 12, 2012 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. (AFP)

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Everyone remembers their first.

Mine wasn't particularly pretty, but a notch in the belt all the same. And, I have to admit, my one and only.

Yes, four years ago Friday, at the age of 34, I scored a hole-in-one.

The ball still sits on a shelf in my living room, crudely marked with the date and hole in black Sharpie marker. It's there not as a reminder of the shot -- an ugly, slicing thing that hit the green, shot sideways and caught the hole somehow at an incredible pace. It's there to remind me of a personal moment that truly transcended sport.

The reason I remember the date is because it came exactly 13 days after the worst day of my life: Aug. 4, 2008.

My mother was killed in a horrible fall at the age of 57. Far too soon, far too quick, far too unfair. She was there one day, gone the next, no time to say goodbye.

Many people have gone through this but I hadn't yet faced the reality of losing someone that close. My mom was my confidante and my biggest supporter. My best friend, really.

During the days that followed, a numbness set in that I'm not sure has fully passed.

We gathered at the family home -- where the accident happened -- and we walked around in a state of confusion and shock as first we made arrangements, shook hands and hugged hundreds of people at the funeral and waited for the visits and food deliveries to slowly wane.

The events of Aug. 17 came after the din, when the house was filled with quiet and regret. There was a tension in the air and I had to get out.

It was late afternoon when I went down the street to Kincardine Golf Club, the nine-hole course where I had taken up the game as a bored 14-year-old using my dad's ancient clubs -- which felt like they were the wrong hand -- and his old leatherette golf bag.

There was no one on the course and Jimmy Bell -- who had grown up with both my parents, and I with his kids, in a town where everyone knows everyone -- greeted me in the pro shop and I headed out, alone.

It was an attempt to clear my head and golf clearly wasn't front of mind, but I started out with an uncharacteristic par-par.

I stood on the third tee -- the hole had been rerouted since my youth, now downhill instead of uphill after they basically switched the green and tee box, presumably to remove a blind tee shot, which, if it veered right, was putting people in danger as they walked up to the clubhouse.

On this day, Jimmy walked in to grab a bite to eat as I was standing on the third tee.

I hit my shot and watched in amazement as it curved in from the left (a slice, but we'll call it a fade), and disappeared into the hole. I looked around briefly before realizing there was no one else on the course.

I am not a spiritual person but I was overcome. I looked up and said, aloud, "Thanks, ma."

Just then, Jimmy came out and I asked him to stand there while I went to pick the ball out of the hole, just to verify it actually had happened.

Stupidly, I didn't think to save the ball. I even picked it out of the ditch along No. 6 where my childhood best friend Barrett Wright and I would collect balls, put them in egg cartons and sell them to golfers on their way into the course.

Somehow, I finished with a terrible score, and the same ball.

As I walked off, Jimmy met me with a small ball holder that says "Congratulations on your hole-in-one," and bears a Kincardine Golf Club logo. It sits on my shelf today, not as a trophy, but as a treasured memory.

STRICKER FITS

Davis Love III tipped his hand this week at what everyone surely will be salivating over come Ryder Cup singles matches on Sept. 30:

The dream match of the possibly fading all-American Tiger Woods against the young, mop-topped star from across the pond, Rory McIlroy.

But Love also tipped his hand about one of his captain's picks, making it sound like Steve Stricker, who has found success as Woods' partner in the past, is a definite for the American side.

Stricker finished two spots outside an automatic berth in 10th, but the veteran presence and fit with the squad is something Love seems to be looking for in his four captain's picks.

"I think ... we have a lot of guys who can play golf really, really well. That's easy. I could just throw a dart at it and pick four guys who are really good golfers. It's putting together a team and matching up who is going to play with Tiger, who is going to play with Bubba (Watson), who is  going to play with Jason (Dufner), who is going to play with Keegan (Bradley); we need to pick their perfect partner out of that list. So that will definitely be a factor.

"So you've got to look at those kind of things, and certainly Stricker and Woods is a great matchup. I would think we're going to have to look hard at that.

"I think if you look back over the last few Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, Tiger and Steve Stricker have been a really good pairing."

That bodes well for Rickie Fowler at No. 12 on the standings list, too, because of his close relationship with Watson, already on the team via his No. 2 spot in points.

"Obviously Bubba and Rickie go well together in everything they do, on and off the golf course," Love said. "Maybe not that well in those (Golf Boys) videos, but they go very well together."

tim.mckay@sunmedia.ca

 


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