Golf Dads: Fathers, Sons, and the Greatest Game
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Golf Dads: Fathers, Sons, and the Greatest Game

by Curt Sampson

The interplay between fathers and sons has long been one of golf’s most essential and enigmatic relationships. In Golf Dads, the best-selling writer and former touring professional Curt Sampson brings to life ten remarkable stories of golfers, their fathers, and the game that brings them together. The stories feature well-known subjects such as Michelle Wie,


The interplay between fathers and sons has long been one of golf’s most essential and enigmatic relationships. In Golf Dads, the best-selling writer and former touring professional Curt Sampson brings to life ten remarkable stories of golfers, their fathers, and the game that brings them together. The stories feature well-known subjects such as Michelle Wie, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino, and David Feherty, as well as some surprises, such as six-year-old phenom A.J. Beechler--not yet known to the world.
“This is a book about fathers,” Sampson writes, “using golf as a wedge to pry open a few insights.” We get up close with the embarrassing Byung Wook Wie and his talented daughter at a PGA Tour event in Pennsylvania; travel to the Mexican jungle for bogeys and butterflies with a club pro bearing his father’s ashes in a black Hogan shag bag; journey to San Francisco for transplant surgery for a golf pro father from his golf pro son; feel the wonder and weight of fathering a six-year-old golfing sensation whose future is too bright to see clearly.
For fans of James Dodson’s Final Rounds, Golf Dads is sure to resonate with anyone who has been handed a worn club by his father or who has watched his child swing a stick at a rock and marveled at the possibilities.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In his 11th golf book, Sampson (Hogan and the Masters) tells the story of golfing fathers and sons, although a daughter or two, most notably Michelle Wie, appear in the magazine profile-like chapters that make up the book. These stories, including an introduction where Sampson recounts his relationship with his father and the game, explore both the happiness and pain of familial bonds shared on and off the links. Sampson mixes family stories of seven accomplished professionals-Wie, Ben Hogan, David Feherty, Peter Jacobsen, Lee Trevino and Jack Burke Jr. and Sr.-with those of lesser known golfers. Touching stories include a family of three sons, one of whom is tapped to donate a kidney to his ailing father, and another about a son who spread his father's ashes on a Mexican golf course where his dad had taken him in his youthful summers. The stories of Wie and Trevino are incomplete because both Trevino and Wie's father, Byung Wook, refused interviews with Sampson, but the others are thoroughly researched and deftly told in compelling narratives. This book is sure to be a popular gift for golfing dads on Father's Day. (May)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


Rick, Curtis, Kevin, and Ryan Rhoads

A brown two-door 1970 Buick Le Sabre sped south on I-5, tracing the spine of California. Behind the wheel sat Rick, a slight man wearing contacts beneath his sunglasses. Beside him, Joan, his pretty, dark-haired wife, divided her attention between the road ahead and the hubbub in the back seat. Actually, the car had no back seat; it had been torn out in favor of a playpen, which Rick had bolted to the floor. Inside the padded enclosure, among blankets, teddy bears, an Etch-a-Sketch, a Slinky, and a handful of GI Joes, Curtis and Kevin Rhoads gibbered and played and drooled and slept. They were ages four and two, respectively. It was 1974.
“We had a two-bedroom apartment in Woodland [a Sacramento suburb] where you could always hear trains going by,” recalls Curtis. “We were there some and on the road a lot. I know it seems a quaint thing now, but the tour and the car were our life and our lifestyle.” When Curtis fell off a jungle gym and gashed open his forehead, Joan rushed him to a hospital. Somewhere. Neither of them remembers where between the Andy Williams San Diego Open in January and the San Antonio Texas Open in November this occurred. A quick trip to the ER and twelve stitches in your child’s cabeza was merely business as usual for what sportswriters used to call “golfing nomads.” Cars with clubs in the trunk virtually defined the tour for the first fifty years of its existence. Roads still ruled—not jets—when Rhoads played in the ’70s. Caravans formed on Sunday nights for the long haul from, for instance, the parking lot at Silly Willow Country Club in central Mississippi to hotels near the next event in Tallahassee. The following Sunday night the convoy snaked north to Philadelphia; then, a week later, west to Chicago, and on and on into the future like a runaway train. As ever, golf pros carried tools for minor repairs and learned to handle blowouts and highway hypnosis and bad food and all the other hazards of life on a concrete strip. The cars had to be big, so partly to fulfill the wheelbase requirement and partly to finance her husband’s rookie year, Joan sold her treasured white Pontiac Firebird. “That car had some guts,” Rick says with as mile and a touch of remembered regret. The newlyweds missed the way the ’Bird pinned your spine to the seat, but one bland Buick was all they needed or could afford.
“One time he left me in Tucson,” Joan says. Rick was feeling flush enough, or fatigued enough, to fly to Miami for the next tournament. “He said ‘just follow Ken Fulton.’ Well, Ken Fulton liked to go eighty-five, and he didn’t like to stop. I was like this the whole way.” Joan extends her arms and widens her eyes, the frozen pose she held for two solid days across seven states.
But on their usual, less frantic cross-country drives, when the kids were napping or playing with GI Joe, the couple had time to think and to talk. Joan looked at the farms and fields rushing past and wondered why fate had surrounded her with males all her life. She had five brothers, no sisters. Now two sons and a husband, with another baby boy in her future. A schoolteacher and a nongolfer, she often posed blunt questions. “Why did you miss that putt on eighteen?” she’d ask. “Why did you hit it in the water on twelve?” Admits Rick, “I never had an adequate answer.” As the odometer spun, Rick mused aloud, and in his head, about the future. As good as he was—and he knew he could really play this game— his position on the tour remained tenuous. Like his brother Ron before him, he’d attended USC on a golf scholarship, and twice was named All- American. He turned pro and succeeded immediately. In the late fall of 1967, in the eight-round qualifying tournament to get a PGA card—an event so stressful that vomiting at the first tee was almost commonplace—he sailed through on his first try. Rhoads and the other newly minted tour pros—Bob Murphy, Deane Beman, and Marty Fleckman among them—were summarily extended invitations to play in a series of tournaments around the rim of the Caribbean. The first one was in Caracas.
“It’s the only golf memory that gives me chills,” Rick recalls. He shot 65 his first round as a touring pro, then hung around well enough the next three days to have a final-hole fifteen-foot putt to tie Alvie Thompson for first. When he made it, it was asif he’d killed the bull: the throng of Venezuelans around the green punched the air and screamed in Spanish.
The outpouring of emotion—his own and that of los aficionados— left Rhoads drained. But then something else happened to make the moment even more vivid. Al Besselink, one of the tour’s legendary bon vivants—he once played the eighteennth hole at Colonial with a rose in his teeth—put his arm around Rhoads’s thin shoulders: “He said, ‘Calm down, slow down. Everything goeeeees at your pace now.’ It helped. I don’t think I would have made contact with the ball in the playoff if Bessie hadn’t talked with me.” Rhoads won with a birdie on the first hole. First prize was$3,000.
He never won again.
For most of the next decade he eked out a living in the middle of the pack, and strived and studied the unforgiving game, a quest that included a season toiling at Winged Foot, in suburban New York City, for Claude Harmon. Because of Harmon’s wonderful lreputation, a spot on his staff was considered the best club job in the country. Graduates of his program owned the credential to work almost anywhere and to teach almost anyone. Claude Jr., AKA Butch, taught at Winged Foot when Rhoads did, and later hit the big time as Tiger Woods’s swing coach. But Rhoads didn’t want to work at a club. He wanted to play.
Play. If ever a word was inadequate for its purpose, it’s “playing” professional golf. As if constant travel and backbreaking hours on a practice tee are play. After hitting a couple hundred balls himself, Rhoads often extended his workday by studying more successful practitioners. He’d walk down the practice tee and park a polite distance behind one superstar or another, often Gary Player or Lee Trevino—“because they were little guys, like me”—and just observe. Eventually, Gary and Lee would wave Rick in to discuss what they were working on and to have a look at his swing.
His biggest year was 1973, when he won $16,120, good for113th on the money list. The equivalent in today’s dollars is about $125,000—not poverty, but after expenses, not much. The magic phrase back then was “top sixty”: the sixty leading money winners could compete in any tournament they wished. But those ranked in the purgatory of 61st on up had to either make the cut in the previous event or play in one-round qualifiers on Mondays to earn a place in the main draw. It was a brutal way to live. When Rhoads didn’t shoot low enough on Monday to make the tournament field, he often participated in minor league “satellite” events, a concept the tour toyed with to give their unemployed pros a little something to play for. A little something: in one satellite, the Future Stars Classic in March 1972, he won eight bucks.
But still, Rhoads got rich. Travel with his wife and two young sons bound them to a degree they might not have achieved otherwise. And stories: memories of his life on the run are as good as gold. What Nicklaus said on the first tee at the L.A. Open (it was not endearing). How Sanders, the tour’s Romeo, handled his women (carefully, but honestly).How he himself endured the tortures of the damned when his dependable fade devolved into a hook so big he had to aim north to go west. The advice from Lee Trevino, when Rick got near the lead at the Hartford but then hurried his way into some late bogies: “You can’t watch yourself, but next time you feel the heat, just look at your shadow. You and your shadow were moving so fast you looked like Charlie Chaplin out there.” What a novice caddie said to Art Wall, when the soft-voiced pro squinted at a green and asked how far it was to get home: “Man, I don’t even know where you live.” One story, The Story, is painful. Driving cross-country on the southern route—alone this time, and now in a burgundy Impala—Rick pulled off I-10 in El Paso and parked on a side street. He got out of the Chevy and yawned and stretched, observing the orange mountains across the river in Mexico and smelling the dry air. He walked for a while, then jogged for a mile or two. Several happy dogs ran with him. Back in the car to resume the interminable journey to Florida, he discovered blood on his leg. One of the dogs had bitten him. Just to be safe, he stopped in the next town that looked big enough to have a hospital. Good thing you came in, the doctor told him. There’s a rabies epidemic in El Paso.
The rabies cure is a lot less stressful and intense now, but the state of the art in 1975 involved shots of vaccine and immunoglobulin once a day for two weeks. Faced with the knowledge that the virus, if he had it, would travel slowly from his peripheral nervous system to his central nervous system and then to his brain and kill him, Rhoads got back in the car to continue his worst trip ever, stopping in general hospitals along the way for his shots. “You should have heard the buzzing in those emergency rooms when I said the word rabies,” he says.
Despite the shots and the stress, Rhoads somehow qualified for the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic, and was even close to the lead after shooting 71-69. But he felt sick that Saturday night as he went to the by-now familiar hospital in Fort Lauderdale. The docs there made no specific diagnosis, so he played on, but not well, staggering to the finish in 73 and 77. He tied for fifty-third, winning $559. The weary pro packed the car for Jacksonville and the next tournament.
Feeling awful, he quit halfway through a practice round that week and drove to the local hospital for his fourteenth injection. There was blood in his urine. The doctors admitted him, and, suspecting that the rabies cure had caused the internal bleeding, decided to forego the final shot. But that wasn’t it; tests eventually revealed the presence of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. Rhoads had the most common inherited lifethreatening disease in the world. Common, yes; cure, no, the physician said in response to the obvious question. All we can do, he said, is treat symptoms, such as backache, headache, and high blood pressure. But it’s a long-term problem, nothing to worry about now. You’ve got to concentrate on getting your blood chemistry right, and the only way to do that is to eat right and rest.
Rhoads withdrew from the Jacksonville Open and headed home on I-10 with the setting sun in his eyes and three thousand miles to think. It didn’t occur to him that his career as a touring pro had ended, although it had. And he didn’t think his kidneys would fail. But they would.
One of his boys would have to save him.

That the sons of Rick and Joan Rhoads make a good impression is not a matter for debate. Their high profile jobs require amiability, intelligence, diplomacy—the entire catalog of virtues, in fact, asked of ambassadors to difficult countries. All three salute their father by working in his profession. Rick and his three sons all have a low-key, look-you-in-the-eye style and a gift for instruction. Seekers come to them to have their backswings unkinked and their minds untangled, a process similar to—and as painful as— psychotherapy.
Curtis, the oldest, is thirty-six. He’s an assistant professional at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. “Lush” is not lush enough to describe Olympic, where the trees are slumbering giants and the air from the cold Pacific is thick and salty. Several of golf ’s most memorable U.S. Opens have been held there, giving a hacker on the grounds the feeling of tiptoeing through history. Including its par-three course, called the Cliff, Olympic has fifty-four holes, and many, many members and guests, so it’s simultaneously exclusive and very busy. Curtis Rhoads helps keep order and ensures everyone enjoys it. He only wishes he gave more lessons.
He’s always liked team sports more than golf. Today he looks like what he was, a second baseman, a point guard, and a soccer halfback. He had a pretty good golf game—he played a bit for USC—but at dinner he’s more likely to talk about the Golden State Warriors of the NBA than to muse about the PGA Tour. His understatement and cooperativeness set the tone between and among the siblings. His father marveled at the harmony in his house; it hadn’t been that way when he was a kid. “I was the youngest of three brothers, all of us very competitive,” he recalls. “I tried to fight with ’em, but I lost every fight.” Curtis, the good teammate, deflects the credit. “It’s a loving family,” he says. “Top-notch on both sides. We don’t have that one strange uncle no one wants to talk to.” Kevin, the middle child, is thirty-four. He’s the teaching professional at The Country Club, in Brookline, Massachusetts. You remember The Country Club: it’s that gorgeous course where Ouimet won and Arnie lost and the 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team pulled a win out of its . . . hat. TCC is as upscale and private as its name implies. When Kevin is not instructing a Boston Brahmin or Brahminette, he’s coaching the Harvard women’s golf team. Like his older brother, he’s unfailingly upbeat and polite. He looks a little like Bobby Kennedy, but with shorter hair and better teeth. He’s the best golfer among the brothers, and the only one who thought about playing the Tour.
He’d been a so-so player in high school, but at UCLA he dedicated himself to the game. He won the golf team qualifying tournaments his freshman and sophomore years, but the coach couldn’t accept that he’d beaten his scholarship players and didn’t put him on the team—an injustice that still bothers Rick and Kevin doesn’t mention. Kevin finally got his spot on the squad for his last two years, and was Honorable Mention AllPac-10 as a senior.
“Give me a minute,” he says. “I want to say this right.” On the eighteenth tee at The Country Club, he’s been asked if, on the way to following in his father’s footsteps, he didn’t have some period of rebellion, some phase in which he put his hair in a ponytail and smoked Marlboros or cigarettes without a label. Kevin hits a solid drive, but a little left, into the succulent rough by a fairway bunker. From there he somehow gets a seven iron high enough to hold the scary final green. “I never felt any need to rebel, for one simple reason,” he says, walking in the sunshine toward the big yellow clubhouse. “My dad is my hero.” Why? “It’s hard to know that at any one time, because the criteria changes,” Kevin Rhoads says. “What he did and where he worked impressed me. Watching him in the Crosby every year, how he knew players I’d seen on TV and they knew him . . . And when I went away and saw how other men comported themselves—that certainly didn’t diminish him in my eyes.
“He taught all three of us to play golf, and he was always extremely encouraging. Father-son in golf instruction can be a rough dynamic. Even though both may be trying, very often it doesn’t work.
“Dad’s knowledge of the game was beyond question, but he never threw that in your face. At the same time, he didn’t sugarcoat things. ‘Here’s what I think we should work on,’ he’d say. ‘Here’s what I think might work.’” Kevin’s a strong player but he can’t get a driver within thirty yards of his long-hitting baby brother. Ryan Rhoads, twenty-four, is as John Daly compared to the smooth, classic swings of his brothers. He works in the golf shop and on the lesson tee at Catta Verdera at Twelve Bridges, a golf course/real estate development in suburban Sacramento. “Painted in the enduring strokes of nature, the panoramic canvas and unspoiled beauty of Twelve Bridges at Catta Verdera has earned a distinguished seat among the legends,” according to the website of one of its sales companies; a sentence of enduring, panoramic, unspoiled beauty.
Ryan’s a little bigger than his brothers and a lot more social. He dropped out of golf while a student at Cal-Davis in order to focus on the demands of pretty girls and life in the Tappa Kegga Bru fraternity. After graduating, he worked for a while as a sales rep for a golf equipment company, then he, too, became a club pro.
Which of these men would have the honor and the pain and the danger of donating a kidney to his father?

After the rabies and kidney disease scare, Rick Rhoads had limped back to the family home in Moraga, a small city about an hour’s drive northeast of San Francisco. He rested for three or four months until he felt strong enough to drive out to a local private course to ask if he might give lessons there. Sure, said the Yolo Fliers Club pro, Frank Elston. You can charge ten dollars, and four of them go to me. Although the terms seemed less than generous, Rick took the deal. He was too weak to fight, and he needed the money.
His luck turned early in ’76. His availability for higher employment coincided with an opening for one of the best positions in the country, the head professional job at San Francisco Golf Club. He had fans on the selection committee, including the impressive Sandy Tatum, a former Rhodes scholar and the future president of the USGA. “I’d gone down to play in the L.A. Open, but flew right back when they said they wanted to interview me,” Rick recalls. “I offered to withdraw from the tournament if they wanted me immediately. I think they liked that.” And they liked Rick. He’s been the pro at SFGC ever since, unusual longevity in a mercurial industry.
His health? Except for a little high blood pressure, no real problems. Most years he played the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am—later called the AT&T—and a few PGA Chapter and Section events. He won both the Northern California Open and the Northern California PGA Match Play. He got checkups. But he had two ticking time bombs in his back, and he knew it. The creatinine levels in his blood gradually increased, an indication of worsening renal function. Rick didn’t look well or feel well during a family gathering for Thanksgiving in 2004.“We knew the time had come,” Kevin recalls. “We didn’t talk about it very much. We just said, ‘Let’s see who’s the best match, and we’ll go.’” When her husband’s kidneys finally failed a few months later, “I was in shock,” says Joan Rhoads. “I’m still in shock.” There may not be an uglier thing on God’s green earth than a polycystic kidney. Healthy kidneys— the standard ration is two—are fist-sized, with a surface that is smooth and even and deep red. Blood flows ceaselessly through them via the creek of the renal artery, which is connected to the river of the abdominal aorta. Uriniferous tubes drain downhill. Dirty blood in through the artery, clean blood out through the veins. But polycystic kidney disease (PKD) makes it all go to hell. The blood is poorly washed and toxicity builds. Cysts form on the kidney surface and fill with fluid, turning the lovely hardworking kidney beans into discolored, misshapen football-shaped bladders—dense, very heavy football-shaped bladders. When surgeons removed Rick Rhoads’s worthless, ruined kidneys, each weighed about eleven pounds. Normal is less than one pound each.
Three times a week a machine circulated and filtered his blood. During dialysis at the California Pacific Medical Center, Rick and Joan met people who’d been waiting for a kidney for years. They met others with no plans for a transplant, people who had resigned themselves to the diminished existence, constant, low-level sickness, and shortened life span of the long- term hemodialysis patient. But a transplant was the way to go if you could find a match, because a real organ cleans the blood about five times better than a machine.
Meanwhile, a life and death family drama played out. Each of Rick’s blood relatives volunteered to donate: older brothers Ron and Roger, and younger sister Lorraine, the mother of touring professional Roger Tambellini. Because of their youth, the boys were always the best option, but a heart-wrenching variable hit the family between the eyes once again. Polycystic kidney disease is genetic; a fifty-fifty chance existed that Curtis, Kevin, and Ryan had inherited it. Most of the time, symptoms show up by about age thirty-five, as they had with Rick. This factor was almost enough to take Ryan, the youngest, out of the running immediately. But if his kidney matched the best with his dad, then what? All three sons of Rick and Joan took the tests.
“We all were ready to do it,” says Ryan.
“As the oldest, I thought it was my responsibility,” says Curtis.
Potential kidney donors take three tests: blood; human leukocyte antigens typing, more simply known as tissue matching; and crossmatch compatibility. Curtis and Ryan had blood drawn in San Francisco, as did Kevin in Boston. All three had the same or a similar type as their father. One test passed. Tissue matching broke the tie. This series of tests compared six antigens—markers—in the blood of the four Rhoads men. The more matches, the lower the likelihood the transplanted kidney would be rejected. Curtis matched three. Kevin and Ryan matched four.
Curtis was out.
And due to the nagging possibility that he was young enough to himself develop PKD, Ryan was out. The clock ticked. The longer the recipient is on dialysis, the worse the chances for a successful transplant. In the final test, the crossmatch, blood from the potential donor and recipient is mixed to determine if antibodies in the recipient would treat a donated organ as an invader and try to kill it. The test was negative; the blood was compatible.
The donor would be Kevin.
He traveled to New York to meet his transplant coordinator and for x-rays, more lab tests, a physical.
“There was never a question in his mind that he’d do it,” recalls Lisa Yuen, a Broadway actress and Kevin’s fiancée. “He was just committed from the very start, and very calm about the whole thing. He’s very humble, not someone who needs a lot of coddling. His parents phoned to ask how I felt about the operation, and then I heard the emotion in his mother’s voice. And I thought, ‘Oh wow, this really is a big deal.’” A psychiatric social worker spoke with Kevin for an hour. A lot of “how would it make you feel” questions: if your father passed away despite the transplant; if you were found to have PKD yourself, and had to face it with only one kidney; if the transplant failed because your father didn’t take care of himself.
“How would you feel if your father’s body rejects your kidney?” the shrink asked.
“Excuse my ignorance,” Kevin replied. “But if that happens, could I have my kidney back?” No, he couldn’t.
A thousand different elements came together, from insurance to surgeons. A date was set—July 23, 2005. About two weeks before the transplant, Kevin had wrapped up another day of teaching at The Country Club when a thunderstorm came up. Golfers and staff stood in the pro shop to watch the crazy black sky and the samba of giant oaks and elms in the driving wind and rain. The storm paused for a moment. Kevin put up an umbrella and hustled out onto the path skirting the first fairway that led to the employee parking lot. Tall trees on either side gave the trail the appearance of a dark green tunnel. Suddenly a close bolt of lightning illuminated the scene, and thunder concussed the air. And just as suddenly Kevin felt transformed.
“It wasn’t just the normal feeling of self-preservation,” he says. “It was ‘I can’t get hit by lightning, because it’s not just me anymore.’ A pretty strong sensation. I told a member about it. He said, ‘Now you know how it feels to be a parent.’” Back in California, Rick by this time knew the misery of dialysis. After seven weeks of it, he’d experienced most of the common side effects: insomnia, weakness, nausea, and infernally itchy skin. But he didn’t succumb to the worst symptom, depression. Trying to keep things light, he often asked Curtis and Ryan if they were ready to step in if Kevin’s plane was late. It wasn’t late.
Rick, Joan, and Kevin left for California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco in the chilly middle of the night, because the transplant team always starts early—two complex operations, after all, two surgical teams, two anesthesias, two recoveries. Kevin drove his father’s silver 2002 Nissan Maxima. Composure reigned in the car during the one-hour drive, until Kevin said, “Listen to this,” and stuck a U2 CD in the player. He found the song he wanted, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.” Bono had written it for his dying father.
A few minutes later, Kevin sat on a hard bed in a curtained cubicle. The room was cool and brightly lit. His hospital gown didn’t fit. He heard the sounds of nurses controlling a patient with a seizure on the right side of the curtains; on the other side of the thin fabric, a family conversed 1oudly and graphically about Uncle Frank’s tumor. His mind raced. He pretended that the coming ordeal was like a difficult golf shot, requiring a golfer’s cool—like a downhill putt to win a match. He remembered that the next day would be his birthday, and he played around with the idea that today would be “rebirth day” for his father.
“OK,” he said to his kidney. “You’ve been a good kidney and you’ve done a good job. But now you have a higher calling. Now you’re going on to something new.” That part of his monologue went on for long minutes, and then they started an IV, and then they wheeled him into surgery.
You hear a lot of happy talk about the high success rate of kidney transplants, but reality is a lot scarier. As in any major surgery, infection, bleeding, and accidental damage to an adjacent structure are significant dangers. The danger is higher for the donor than for the recipient at first. Despite the amazing advances in immunosuppressant drugs, rejection still occurs. Sometimes the antirejection drugs cause it—a heartbreaking outcome for all concerned. And people die unpredictably on operating tables every day, most often from heart attacks or blood clots.
Kevin lay on his back. Two docs in white stood above him. The anesthesiologist and surgical nurses did what they do. The transplant surgeon cut three 3-inch-long incisions in the front of Kevin’s torso beneath his chest and a little to the side. They inserted a laparoscope, a fiber-optic instrument with a tiny light and camera on a thin flexible tube. The surgeons maneuvered I with a joystick, watching its progress on a monitor. After about twenty minutes, the kidney and its attached ureter—looking like a big bean with a dangling root—were ready to come out. Through a five-inch-wide cut made four inches below the navel, the surgeon reached his hand inside Kevin’s body. He placed the kidney into a white plastic bowl filled with sterile ice. Surgeons from the other operating team came by to inspect the exact conformation of the organ they would be implanting. From opening to closing, the operation on Kevin had taken about three hours.
A nurse quickly but carefully carried Kevin’s kidney across the hall to where Rick lay unconscious. A ten-inch-long incision had been made in his lower abdomen. No need to put the kidney back in his back; they fit nicely in front, and connect fairly easily to the femoral artery and the bladder. His operation also took about three hours.
Kevin’s kidney functioned perfectly inside his father.
No one died.

Fourteen months later, friends dined with Rick, Joan, Curtis, and Ryan at Palomino, a busy, happy place on the Embarcadero with great food and wonderful service. Outside, the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge arced across the night as if lighting a party.
“A mojito,” Joan says to Kate, the waitress, and her sons literally gasp. They’ve almost never seen their mother drink, and really, they don’t see her drink now. She has a few experimental sips and then offers the rum and mint to anyone who wants to try it.
The topics discussed over pasta and fish are as distinct and wide- ranging as a game of Jeopardy!: golf, art, Barry Bonds, American cities and towns, and family. The diners lean in, the better to hear, because no one wants to miss a story or a laugh. A blush of good health and a grin paint Rick’s face.
The Rhoads family aren’t notable huggers or hand holders or “I love you” sayers. Their feeling for each other seems more profound than gesture and more durable than mere emotion. What they have is an attitude, a predisposition to think the best and to do the best for each other. They had that going in to the transplant, and they had it coming out.
“The experience didn’t really change things between me and my dad, and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all,” Kevin said later, between lessons at The Country Club. “I always knew where I stood with him. But I have gained a real appreciation for the doctors and medical staffs who make miracles happen, and for the people who have to endure serious illness. I don’t know how they do it. We were so lucky there was a way out.” As the two-year anniversary of the transplant approached, Rick found himself thinking about its meaning at odd times, such as on the drive to work or during a slow moment in his golf shop. “I think about where I’d be without my good fortune,” he said. “I have a greater appreciation for life. I have a greater appreciation for everything. My relationship with Kevin? About the same. We were close before.” Time and jobs and geography have prevented Rick and Joan and the boys from teeing it up together in recent years. Usually, it takes a family vacation to make it happen, such as their seven-years-apart trips to Scotland and to Bandon Dunes in Oregon. But when Kevin and Lisa get married in San Francisco in the summer of ’07, no one will be surprised if sometime between the rehearsal dinner and the church ceremony, the Rhoads family sneaks away to play.

Meet the Author

CURT SAMPSON was inspired to write this book by the death of his own golf dad in 2005. He is the author of eleven books, including the New York Times bestsellers Hogan and The Masters. He is also a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated.

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