When I first started to take up golf – it was all about the challenge for me. The hope that the next shot would be a great one; the possibility of a best score. In time, when I realized that the riches of the PGA Tour were much further away than I ever thought, I truly found out what golf is all about.
I was ignorant to it at first, but by the time I was 20 and had played golf for a decade, I began to comprehend that it was the people I met through golf that was the biggest gift the game had provided me.
It was just a couple years prior that I first crossed paths with one of the people who made me realize that – little did I know our lives would stay intertwhined for 20 years to follow.
I joined up with Rick one day at a municipal golf course near my home. I was about 18 at the time and he would have been about 28. He was friendly, willing to gab about any subject, talked about golf with a genuine joy, and basically made for a great golf partner. His ability to play the game was more than passable and each time he struck a shot you could sense that he got the most out of the moment – be it a good result or otherwise.
We played a few times that summer. Our age difference put us in different social circles away from the course but when we spotted each other near the first tee or putting green, there was never any hesitation about setting up a game. We had complete faith that each round would leave us smiling and content, no matter the score -simply for the company.
After that summer we went our different ways. I knew litttle of Rick outside of the golf course. What he did for work; where he lived. It didn’t matter. Everytime we ran into each other in the small city we both lived (it was never more than 2 or 3 times a year) there was always a quick chat about our shared passion – golf.
A few years later I got involved in a retail golf operation and to no surprise Rick would often stop by to talk about the latest equipment, what was happening on the PGA Tour, or just to say hello.
Eventually there was a gap of many years when I did not see him. I had assumed that he had moved on to another town, maybe even given up golf.
Then one day, after I too had moved on – for me to the world of the golf media, my wife came home from her job as a grade school teacher and said that her school custodian knew me. He told her that he would read my articles whenever he could. 2+2 told me it was Rick. My wife remarked about how nice he was; how thoughtful he was in doing job – but I was not surprised. That was the way I remembered him.
Volunteering as a volleyball coach put me in a lot of school gyms and along the way I would run into Rick, doing his work. He always seemed content. I can’t imagine everybody would be when cleaning up after somebody else but he was – genuinely. A smile was ready at a moments notice and kind words were always part of our exchanges. Even when he had a strong opinion on a subject he could get that across without offending anyone. Little did he know how much I admired that ability he possessed.
Rick had stopped playing golf for a while he had told me. I never knew the circumstances and he would never take pity for the situation. It was what it was – he said he would get back to it someday. He seemed to know that there were worse fates in this word than just not being able to golf every day.
It was a happy day just a few years ago when I saw him wandering the fairways at the golf club where I was a member and where he had joined as well. After a very errant drive into my fairway he came over for an unexpected visit. Despite the poor situation (from a golfer’s perspective) there was no hint of anger. He still took a quick minute to chat and share his positive perspective on the situation. “It’s a better angle from here,” he told me with a smile as I eyed his journey to the green that would require some heroic shotmaking. Somehow, I believed him – just because it was Rick.
In the ensuing years we would golf a few times – rekindling memories of our games traversing that ratty muni where we played for pure joy.
When we saw each other we would talk about the latest in golf as we always had. He wanted to know about the latest gear and details of any golf trips I might have been on. No matter the subject we both always left the conversation with a smile.
He liked to play in the early mornings of the weekend. I would often be on the putting green preparing for a mid-morning tee time as he finished his first round of the day. You could never tell what score he had posted – every day on the golf course seemed like a good day to him. I marvelled at his ability to measure his game but other things besides the strokes he took.
And then the news came just over a month ago.
Through mutual friends my wife and I were learned that Rick had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. We were stunned. We were saddened to hear that he was not given a very good progonosis.
Even so, when we were told of his passing this past Saturday it still came as a surprise. Within two months an unassuming man who asked very little of the world had lost his place in it. Death is never fair but for Rick to have such a cruel fate seemed unspeakable.
Over the last couple days I thought about Rick a lot. I even dropped by our golf club to hit a few putts as I did so. By this time of year most Canadian golf courses are under snow but surprisingly on Sunday the weather was warm and golfers filled the course. As I stood on the putting green I kept expecting Rick to go past, to say hello, to share a laugh. Of course, it was not to be and never will be again.
Still though, I will always cherish the memories Rick and I shared and the gift he gave to me, even if he did not realize it, the valuable lesson about why we play golf. Not for the score or the glory, but simply for the chance to be with friends, to make new friends, and to share their lives – even for a few passing moments.
He was a humble man, who asked only the best of himself but nothing from others
I haven’t been able to verify it yet but I did hear the other day that their was a possibility that Rick had donated his organs so others could have chance at leading a normal life. That would not suprise me.
As generous as he was in life, even in his death he just keeps on giving…
Richard “Rick” Thompson, 1960-2009