The inevitable finally arrived on Monday; the great golf coach, Jim Flick, finally lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 82.
I worked with Jim for the last year and a half of my nine-year effort to qualify to play on the Champions Tour. He was the Director of Golf at Desert Mountain Club here in Scottsdale, Arizona.
One day I showed up at our Renegade course, the busiest course at Desert Mountain, and there Jim stood on one of the practice putting greens all by himself with not a soul in sight. I was convinced that it was Providential…and asked him if he had some time to take a look at my swing.
He didn’t that day, but the next day he took me up to the Cochise course (where the Charles Schwab Cup was just held) because he wanted to see me play. “You can hit balls all day for me, Bill. But I can tell so much more if I can just see you play.”
I was seasoned enough as a tournament player by that time, that I hit the best tee shot I ever hit on the first hole: I had a mere lob wedge left to the green. When we got to the par-5 4th, he had me hit two drives and I nutted them both. We got out there, he looked at one…and then the other…and said, “These are two pretty good drives, Mister Bill.” And I was accepted into the fold and was “Mr. Bill” ever after.
And thus began our relationship together, the hallmark of which was serious work and hearty banter back and forth.
The following Monday, after we’d worked for the better part of our hour together, Jim had me hitting my driver. I really clocked one with the embellished swing and he said, “Great shot, Mr. Bill. Perfect ball flight. Are you really that good?”
“Yes I am, damn it! I’ve been telling you that all I needed was a golf swing I could trust and I’d be a super star!”
“Atta boy. I love that attitude!” he grinned at me.
A couple of weeks later, I was headed out to Q-School but he was tied up down at the TPC of Scottsdale with one of his ESPN golf schools. But he made time for me by inviting me down after his day’s session ended.
I had been warming up with my 9-iron while he was wrapping up the school. When he came over, I had carved a rectangle of perfect, shallow divots in the tightly mown grass of the practice tee. He looked down at them and said, “Now that’s a player!”
I looked back at him, pointed emphatically at him with my finger and said, “I told you!” He gave me a big smile in return. We took a look at the swing on video and, while it still had a little inefficiency in it, it was very close to where we were trying to get it.
But it was the big smile I remembered as I left that night.
The last time I spoke to him, I called him last year to tell him how happy I was that he had been inducted into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame. We had the briefest of chats and he was typically modest: he jocularly said that he couldn’t understand why they would want a “cranky old German” in their Hall of Fame. It must have been a mistake of some sort.
I didn’t find out how seriously ill he was until Tom Lehman was asked a question about his condition in a media center session at the Schwab Cup. Nicklaus and Lehman were probably Jim’s best-known students and I had met Lehman when he was nice enough to help me on a project I was working on.
After the session was over and most of the media had left, I asked Tom if Jim could take calls. He said, yes, that he had just spoken to him that morning (it turned out that he was calling him every day). I already had Jim’s cell and he gave me Jim’s wife, Geri’s cell in case I couldn’t reach him.
A day or two later, Tom said that Jim was very ill. I told him that I had left a voice mail on his cell and with everything going on in the tournament, could I wait until next week to call again? “No. Call Geri and if he’s awake, she’ll put him on the phone.”
I found a quiet enough spot in the bustling clubhouse and called her. I told her who I was and that Tom suggested I call her. “He used to call me, Mr. Bill.”
“Oh, yes, I remember you. Unfortunately, he’s not taking any calls now. Would you please send me an e-mail for him? We read them to him every morning and he really loves getting them.”
And this is the email that I sent to Jim last Friday…and I am so glad that I managed to get it to him before he passed away.
Just a note from one of your biggest fans to help you get through all of this. I ran into Tom Lehman in the Media Center at the Charles Schwab Cup and he gave me the details.
I guess the first thing you should know is that the love and respect for you is all over the internet. I spend quite a bit of time on Twitter in trying to keep up with professional golf and “follow” a number of professional golfers and the tributes to you continue to mount. Tom had very heartfelt comments in the Media Center earlier in the week and then again today. Although he didn’t quite come out and use these words, he loves you like a son and is honored to be your friend.
As for me, I’ve told you before and I will tell you again, you are the finest thing I ever did for my golf game. To surrender myself to your years of wisdom was such a great honor for me. To know that someone of your stature believed in me and what I was trying to do in qualifying for the Champions Tour was an anchor for me throughout the entirety of the time we spent together. When things weren’t going well on the golf course, I always knew I could come back home to you and we could work it out together. You have no idea how much that meant to me.
Anyway, I’ll never forget that lucky day when I found you all by yourself on the Renegade putting green and asked you if you had some time to look at my swing. It felt like you were going to jump into my arms with your enthusiasm. You said you couldn’t do it that day, but you could do it the next. I thought you were going to look at my swing, you took me up to Cochise to play. I thought you were going to give me an hour, you gave me five and we had lunch together at the Hideout.
God speed, Jim Flick. You are a great teacher and a wonderful man and to your great and enduring credit, everyone knows it.
All the best,