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Remembering the greatest golfer I ever knew



Column_headshot_JOHN_HA
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June 18, 2013 | 01:20 PM
The golfers are out there now. I see them as I drive by. It doesn't matter what course it is, every time I look I see a ghost of a friend of mine who died two years ago.

Near the end he'd ask me to drive him past the golf course.

Four years earlier, when he had been told he only had six months to live, he said his wish was to golf one more time.

He golfed that entire summer, and the one after that.

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Nothing changed in his demeanor, even when he was forced to move to the "ladies" tee. He was always complaining about his game, but happy to be playing it.

Frank was the most irritating man in the world, and the most loveable.

How the words "insufferable" and "wonderful" could apply to one person is beyond me.

But they did with Frank.

He couldn't remember names. He couldn't pronounce Mukwonago.

He never knew when to shut up. We worked together and he'd sometimes follow me to my car after I'd told him over and over again that I had to leave. More than once, I think I left him behind babbling by himself in the parking lot.

Frank remembered baseball statistics from the 1950s and didn't have to be asked to share them. Of course, the old timers were always better no matter what you said to the contrary.

We went to UW basketball games for years. Having coached grade school basketball, Frank was so sure of his abilities that he seriously considered applying for the UW coaching job. Once, he sat next to the coach of the UW girls team and started telling her a thing or two.

Frank was died-in-the-wool liberal and never adopted the credo of avoiding conversations about politics or religion. Even when his days were numbered, I had to break up a verbal fight between him and a conservative friend.

"Let's not talk politics for five minutes," I said.

Everyone agreed.

Thirty seconds later, Frank was at it again.

But as irritating as he could be, Frank was also a sentimental man.

He showed that side of himself most when we talked about his hero, golfer Ben Hogan.

"Have you seen 'The Ben Hogan' story?'" he'd ask again and again.

"No," I'd respond.

"Well, let me tell you about it," and he would, over and over again.

Hogan, played by Glenn Ford in the movie, had a serious car accident at the height of his golfing career.

As a blurb for the movie tells it, "Doctors hold out little hope for him walking, let alone golfing again.

During his convalescence, Hogan is amazed by the outpouring of regard from his fans. Through sheer determination, he recovers and goes on to become one of the great golfers of his time."

Each time he told it, Frank would have to stop to collect himself.

After a fall kept Frank off the links one summer, he started planning for the next. He bought a new car — a station wagon that could hold his golf bag.

But the next summer never came.

That fall we went to a Brewer's game together. He lasted until the seventh inning and said he was exhausted and wanted to go home. He always preached that leaving a sporting event before it was over was a sin. I knew then that his days were numbered.

For months, when we talked on the phone, Frank mentioned getting together again in Lake Geneva.

Then one day he said something different:

"I don't think I'll ever make it over there again."

He was sobbing, and it had nothing to do with Ben Hogan.

When he died, they put golf balls and a club in his casket.

He never took his golf bag from the station wagon.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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