Back in my Monday qualifying days on the Champions Tour, I met Arron Oberholser through our mutual coach, Dave Collins. Dave had been Jim McLean’s right hand man at Doral and was running his San Francisco golf school. Arron and I both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time and we crossed paths at the range one day.
Arron hadn’t made it to the Tour at that point, but he made an impression and it was obvious that he would for no other reason than Dave said so. His breakthrough year was in 2002 on the Nationwide Tour and that finally won him a card on the big tour in 2003. It took him until 2006 to figure out how to win at that level, but he picked a good one, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. That was when I became aware of him again.
And then again as he began to have back and hand injuries that ultimately led to his Major Medical Extension.
I ran into him again in the media center for the 2011 Phoenix Open, my first year covering that event. We had an easy, brief conversation about our first meeting, Dave and how his hand injury was progressing; we were both working. I was deep into building this blog at that point and he was working as an on-course spotter that week. My takeaway was that he was cheerily optimistic about his prognosis, but he wasn’t going to risk trying to win his card back on the Major Medical until he felt that his hand was fully healed.
But that never happened for him. He tried Phoenix in 2012 and missed the cut and Pebble Beach and had to withdraw. In 2013 he tried LA and Houston and missed both cuts. As the year was drawing to a close, he was feeling better and suddenly had a bolt of inspiration. If his Extension made him eligible for The Finals on Web.com Tour, he could earn his card back that way and be tuned up competitively for the beginning of the 2013-2014 Season.
He shot 66, 68, 68 until he hurt himself in the fourth round and shot 73 in the first tournament. It salvaged a T18 but he knew he had to rest the wrist. He skipped the second tournament, entered the third but ended up with a DNS when he was unable to go. And he came away from the effort fairly certain his career is now over.
A friend of mine here at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale is a golf nut, both in his interest in the Tour and his avid play which he approaches heartily. At least he used to.
I just saw him in our fitness center for the first time all summer — he’d been up with the grand kids. And he’d had neck and back surgery to try to arrest increasingly debilitating pain. And it wasn’t the first time. Hard to play the game in pain.
While it was good to see him back in the gym, he looked stiff and careful. But between the rehab manipulations he was enduring with his trainer, he said that he was going to move beyond the unfulfilling chipping and putting and start to make some careful swings. He had a big hopeful smile on his face. “I just love the game,” he explained.
I have another friend who has been in declining but manageable health for a few years now. He’s a man in his 70s who can shoot his age and get it around with the best of them. From the white tees mostly now, but you can plainly see that back in his robust life, he was a player. And he too loves everything about the game to this day.
Recently, he’s started having having episodes that are causing him to see the possible end of his playing days. “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to play,” he said wistfully.
I started thinking about all of this because of the quality of the smile on my back-and-neck friend’s face. The love he felt for the game was plainly evident. And that made me think of Arron. And that made me think of my end-of-times friend.
And what they all contributed to me was getting in touch with the sense of gratitude I feel when I think of them and know that I can still play the game pretty much unfettered by health or physical problems.
And so it is an easy step from there to be able to quarantine anger and upset from the inevitable disappointments and frustrations of golf…and to be reminded that there might come a day when I may never be able to play the game again.