93: Walter Won the Honors

93: Walter Won the Honors

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

Walter Won the Honors

The guardian angels of life fly so high as to be beyond our sight, but they are always looking down upon us.

~Jean Paul Richter

If you ever felt that there is a wee touch of the spiritual in golf, like the famous book Golf in the Kingdom says, let me tell you a true story that may further the notion.

Last autumn, Walter Donoughe, one of my closest friends, was told by his doctors they couldn’t cure his pancreatic cancer, but they thought treatments could extend his life and, yes, he could play a lot more golf. He and I were talking all about it a couple of days after he got his prognosis while we were playing the front nine as a twosome. As we sat in the cart waiting for the eighth green to clear, I asked Walter which he would prefer, three more years of golf, or a guarantee of eternity in heaven. He answered immediately that he would take the guarantee of heaven, but he smiled and said he hoped he could play golf there instead of harps. From other things Walter told me over the winter and last spring I knew he had a lock on membership in heaven’s best golf club.

We also talked a lot about golf, and how a really sweet swing starts effortlessly, like somebody else takes it back, then brings it down on plane and you hear more than feel the click as the ball jumps off the club. We spent some great hours hitting 5-irons into the net in the bag room as we forgot the winter cold outside and tried for the sweet swing feeling.

Walter kept hanging in there fighting the cancer and was still swinging pretty well early in the spring when the golf committee decided to initiate for July a two-day tournament that each year would honor some member who has meant a lot to the club. They selected Walter as the first honoree. A great choice. He had worked many, many years as a board member and on every committee the club ever had. He won the handicap championship twice, numerous flight and senior championships, and he even won the annual gin tournament twice. A fine man, a good competitor and a great friend.

In the July 5-6 tournament honoring him, Walter and I would have been partners, as we usually were in team events, but he died on June 5. I was invited by, and played with, our club champion, Scott Arthur, who played well enough for us to win it all. But I made sure we didn’t as I rolled the ball off the tee, heeled and toed fairway woods, scraped irons right and left, bladed and chili-dipped chips and pitches, and three- and four-putted my way to an agony of double and triple bogeys.

With only two holes left to play, as we headed to the par-3 thirteenth, I told Scott there had to be some lesson for me to learn from these humiliating two rounds, but I didn’t think the lesson could be worth it. When we got on the thirteenth tee a hawk was circling high above the green. Scott said it was our last chance for a hole-in-one and he would like one because it was his fortieth birthday. For all the years he had been playing golf he said he had seen only one ace—hit by Walter Donoughe years ago when Scott caddied for him.

With zero enthusiasm I teed up the ball to hit and get it over with, then something strange happened. My 5-iron started back effortlessly like somebody else was swinging it back then bringing it down on plane, and I heard the click more than I felt it as the ball jumped off the club. My myopic eyes couldn’t follow the ball but I knew it was hit by that sweet swing Walter always talked about, a swing that I felt only a few times before, at the practice net when he coached me.

Bill Kelley, Chris Vasiliades and Scott started to holler things like “Great swing... Great shot... Go in the hole!” There was a sudden hush, then, “It did! It did! It went in the hole!” Chris grabbed my hat, threw it towards the green, then picked me up and swung me around like a rag. I was thinking, “Please Chris, don’t throw me after my hat.”

The screams kept up and were truly sky-splitting, but that hawk was undisturbed. Like the steady pilot Walter was when he earned his wings with the Air Force years ago, that hawk just kept calmly circling the green and was not surprised at all by the miracle that happened down below him.

Now, I don’t know how Walter petitioned the Almighty for me, but I know he did. Perhaps he said his buddy down there was getting close to giving up the game, breaking the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Quit. So he took over during his tournament, and before it was too late he arranged to send his pal Frank a message about hanging in there—a hole-in-one. Thanks, Walter, for swinging it for me. Go in peace.

~Frank J. Haller
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul

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