Walking with Jack: A Father's Journey to Become His Son's Caddieby Don J. Snyder
A long-standing promise from a father to his five-year-old son . . .
A poignant diary that chronicles the journey
When Don Snyder was teaching the game of golf to his young son, Jack, they made a pact: if one day Jack became good enough to play on a pro golf tour, Don would walk beside him as his caddie. Years later, Jack had developed/b>
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A long-standing promise from a father to his five-year-old son . . .
A poignant diary that chronicles the journey
When Don Snyder was teaching the game of golf to his young son, Jack, they made a pact: if one day Jack became good enough to play on a pro golf tour, Don would walk beside him as his caddie. Years later, Jack had developed into a standout college golfer, and Don, at the age of fifty-eight, left the comfort of his Maine home and moved to St. Andrews, Scotland, to learn from the best caddies in the world. He worked loops on famed courses like the Old Course and Kingsbarns, fought his way onto the rotation as a full-time caddie, and recorded the fascinating stories of golfers from every station in life. All the while, he lived like a monk and sent his earnings back home.
A world away, Jack endured his own arduous trials, rising through the ranks and battling within the college golf system. At times, the question for the teenage athlete wasn’t how to continue . . . but whether to continue at all. Finally, Don and Jack approached the moment when they would reunite—and not only tackle an extraordinarily high level of golf competition but also confront the challenges of a father-son relationship that had inevitably changed since the days when their journey began.
Walking with Jack is a truly compelling golf story and a one-of-a-kind narrative that makes you appreciate the lengths to which a father will go to support his son.
“Go walking with Jack and his old man and you’ll find your own life, and love of the game, immeasurably enriched. . . . There is something sacred and magical that passes between father and son on the golf course, especially if that transmission takes place over time and distance, on good days and those best forgotten. Bringing a son to the poetry of the game—with its growing pains and stubborn values—is a tricky enterprise few fathers manage to accomplish without lasting wounds, but veteran golf writer Don Snyder and his son Jack make this intimate coming-of-age journey to for both father and son one to cherish.”
—James Dodson, author of Final Rounds
“More than just a golf story, Walking With Jack is a thought-provoking read for any parent. . . . Although the effort Snyder expends to fulfill a dream with his son might seem extreme, it is by no means futile; through his journey, he discovers serenity in accepting Jack’s life choices gracefully, even though they will take the son down a different path than his father envisioned.”
—Global Golf Post
“This is a terrific book, destined for that small shelf of great golf writing. . . . I don’t know if you’re going to play better golf after reading Walking with Jack—and there’s a good chance you will—but I do know that you’re going to want to call your son at the end, wherever he may be, just to say hello. Just because you can. You’re also going to see more things, think more thoughts, and have a richer experience when you walk those next 18 holes.”
—Leigh Montville, author of Ted Williams
“It’s a grand claim to make, but let’s risk it: The literature of golf is unrivaled in American sports. The fine-grained prose in the golf essays of John Updike, the polished golf reporting of Herbert Warren Wind at the New Yorker in the 1950s and ‘60s and the current lucid work by Michael Bamberger in Sports Illustrated are unmatched. . . . The excellence continues. If [Walking With Jack] . . . were evaluated solely on the basis of effort expended—never mind the fascination of the stories told—[it] would still be impressive.”
—The Washington Post
“[Snyder] recounts some memorable tales.”
“Unusual but affecting. . . . Full of vivid detail.”
“Walking With Jack is all about the magic that many times takes hold in the interaction between father and son on the golf course. . . . Bonding is just one of the terrific themes of this terrific tome. Outstanding.”
“Every father hopes he will someday find a way to truly bond with a son. Many of us do it through sports—whether it is playing catch in the backyard, glorying in the successes and wallowing in the failures of a favorite team together or finding a way to compete with one another at some level of a chosen game. Don Snyder found his bond with his son through golf, and he lovingly describes that bond and their relationship and shared love of a sport through Walking with Jack.”
—John Feinstein, author of A Good Walk Spoiled
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Read an Excerpt
December 3, 2006
All last night a nor’easter battered the coast here in Maine with high winds and heavy snow. This morning I was outside shoveling our driveway two hours ahead of dawn, putting my back into the work, feeling strong and fit. In the harbor behind me a shabby parade of lobster boats motored through the cove for the open water while I worked in the half-light of this new day, breathing the salted air beneath a bright sickle of moon. I was trying to clear my head of yesterday. Jack’s eighteenth birthday. Two daughters had come home from college to join the third daughter to celebrate the occasion. I went into town for candles and ice cream in advance of the storm and when I returned, I found two of the girls plugged into their iPods, another at the computer, and Jack on the couch in the family room, staring at a poker tournament on TV. It was one of those unremarkable moments in the life of an American family that in itself has no meaning or consequence until you imagine it replicated in ten thousand other moments that somehow add up to hours, days, and even years of your life together as a family that you will never get back, and you’re left wondering how it could be possible that after having four babies in six years and falling blissfully in love with each of them at the moment you first beheld them, and spending every waking and sleeping hour building your new world around them and holding that world together with a love so profound that the joy or sorrow of one of them was registered deeply in all the others—you wonder if all of that is gone forever, and if there’s nothing you can do to get it back.
I found Colleen in the kitchen, where Jack’s birthday cake sat on the counter. She asked me if I had remembered the candles. What I wanted to do was climb up on the dining room table and shout: Okay, everyone pack your bags. In one hour we’re moving to Africa!
Soon the storm was upon us. We gathered for cake and ice cream, and the day passed away.
Shoveling snow this morning made me feel real again. And I wasn’t worried about the girls; they had a strong sense of themselves. It was Jack who concerned me. He had been one of the most talented golfers in Maine from the time he began his freshman high school season, and he believed that by his senior year golf coaches at the Division I colleges and universities would be interested in him. When no one was, he began losing faith in himself. And I couldn’t look at him without thinking that my life as a father had really been a long run of fixing things. First it was the little things that break—gluing wheels back on, and dolls’ heads. Then bigger things, bicycles, skateboards, cars. Now I wondered if it would be stuff inside them, stuff that I couldn’t fix. I knew that I wanted to do something to reassure Jack that a light still shone on him. I had no idea what I might do, but this morning at sunrise while he slept in his room just above me, I got the idea of clearing the snow off a patch of grass in the front yard and setting up the big net I had bought him one Christmas.
The whole time I shoveled snow I was thinking of all the miles we had walked together, side by side, on golf courses from Canada to North Carolina. Then I went up to his bedroom and woke him.
“What time is it?” he asked, squinting at me.
“Almost six,” I said.
“What are you waking me now for?”
“Golf,” I said.
I had everything set up by the time he came outside. I hit a few balls into the net while he tried to figure out what planet he was on. “I still don’t feel like I’m getting my shoulders turned through the ball,” I said.
“You’re not,” he said miserably. “You’re swinging like Nanny. What the hell are you using for a tee?”
I told him proudly of my invention. The ground was frozen too hard to get a wooden tee in it, so I’d cut off the tip of a rubber nipple from one of his cousin’s baby bottles, and it worked perfectly. “Pretty good, huh?” I asked.
“Jesus, Daddy,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re crazy and I’m going back to bed.”
He began walking toward the front door.
“Wait,” I called to him. “Just try a few, Jack.”
He thought for a moment, then came slouching down the steps across the driveway. I watched him hit a couple of drives—crushing, fluid blows that far exceeded my ability—before he handed the club back to me. “This is stupid, man, I’m freezing,” he said. When he got to the door, he called back to me, “Go to bed, Daddy.”
He was gone before I could say anything. I stayed out for a while longer hitting balls into the net while the sky over the cove filled with pink light, but my heart wasn’t in it after that.
December 27, 2006
Somehow in my sleep last night I was given nine years back. It was 1997 again, and I was flying across the Atlantic with Colleen and our children to take them to Ireland so they could walk through the village their great-grandmother left at the turn of the twentieth century to make her way to America.
Jack sat beside me on that flight. He was still wetting his bed then, and sometime during the night he’d awakened to discover that he had soaked his seat on the 747. He woke me, crying softly. I told him it was nothing to worry about. I opened the half-empty bottle of Chardonnay from dinner and poured a healthy splash onto the seat while his eyes widened. “The pilots will think somebody spilled their wine, that’s all,” I told him. He smiled at me, crawled into my lap, and fell peacefully back to sleep in my arms.
We are going to be crossing the ocean again together in a few weeks to play golf in Scotland at a place called Carnoustie, on the Championship Course, because to play that track in the dead of winter is the toughest challenge in all of golf. It is the Mount Everest of the game, and I want us to do something hard together—to try to give Jack something to believe in again now that he no longer believes in himself. Something that will mark the long arc of our lives in such a way that as I grow into an old man, whenever he comes to see me from wherever he has ventured in this world, I will ask him as he steps through the door, “Well, Jack, have you met anyone yet who ever played the Championship Course at Carnoustie in the dead of winter?” And he will always say, “Nobody but us, Daddy.”
As I write this, it is seven below zero here in Maine. A balmy twenty-nine in Carnoustie, according to the Internet. Ever since I bought the plane tickets, I’ve been afraid Jack was going to tell me that he was too busy to make the trip.
January 14, 2007
KLM flight 1279 out of Boston’s Logan Airport. Five hours ago we took off from a sleeted runway for Amsterdam, where we will catch a flight to Edinburgh tomorrow morning. Everyone is asleep around me, including Jack, and I am thinking about history. I consider reading, but I’d rather think. When was the last time I’d read to Jack? It must have been Curious George. How many years ago? Twelve, fourteen? In a small room with a painted red floor, under the eaves in a beach house we were renting, I read to him in the room where I put him to bed with his Batman figures. I always stopped in the threshold each morning to watch him sleep, on my way back from the kitchen with my first cup of coffee at 4:00. On one of those mornings while he was sleeping, I strung fishing line across the ceiling from the corners of the room, then glued a paper clip to Batman’s arm so he was hanging in the air above Jack when he awoke.
His eyes are closed now as the plane sails toward the morning light of a new day. He has the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up and his iPod plugged into his ears. I can’t see even a trace of the little boy I recall, and in his absence I wonder why I stopped reading to him at night, sending him off into his sleep with a story. I had once known his bedtime patterns so well. The way he rubbed his eyes to try to stay awake. Then the last deep breath he took just before he conked out, as if he were going underwater until morning. I had delighted in learning his routines. There was a stretch of time when he would awaken in the night and come looking for me, wobbling like a little drunk as he weaved his way down the hallway to my room, dragging his blue blanket behind him. There were nights when I let him climb into bed and sleep between Colleen and me. I guess those nights ended after his younger sister, Cara, arrived. He must have known then that his time had passed and that he was on his own. I never thought of this before, but now as I close my eyes, I can picture him at the side of my bed, his eyes pleading for the chance to climb in beside me. How could I have ever disappointed him when all he wanted was to be closer? How do we do this as parents, how do we pull away? I’d probably been standing on some principle that seemed important then: How can my son go on to conquer the world if he can’t learn to sleep through a night in his own bed? Now that seems ridiculous. It is all just guesswork anyway, isn’t it, being a parent? And why wasn’t I prescient enough to realize then that a time was coming when I would have given away all my earthly possessions to open my eyes in the night and find my son standing there beside me, wanting to be close?
And let me write this here so I can read it again someday to remind myself: if you get to live in this world and have the privilege of a little boy wanting nothing more than to be close to you, you have no right to ask for anything more ever again. Or, to put it a different way: if you have been loved by a girl who pours her desire upon you and then places one stunning baby after another in your arms, then you have shared the sacred time and been granted immortality.
January 15, 2007
The Edinburgh Airport . . . By the time I discovered that I was in the wrong line for the car I’d rented on the Internet, I had forgotten what I was waiting in line for.
The man behind the counter seemed to sympathize with Jack when he said he couldn’t believe I’d neglected to write down the name of the rental company.
“Well, it says Auto Europe right here,” I said, showing the man the printout.
“That’s not the name of the rental agency,” he remarked.
“Yeah,” Jack chimed in, “that’s just the company that booked it.”
How does he know these things? I wondered miserably as we went from desk to desk inquiring if anyone had a car reserved under our last name, Snyder. Sometime during that aimless walk, I sent Jack to buy us something to drink so I could take the morning stomach pill I’d been taking for seven years that never failed to dilute the heartburn that was presently spreading through my chest. By the time he returned, I had found our place, and the woman working on my forms was asking me for the second time if I was sure I didn’t want the additional insurance at £20 a day. I’d booked the car from America in U.S. dollars, $220 for the week. Twenty pounds insurance a day, with the pound equaling $2.22, would mean that the insurance would end up costing more than the car. It seemed like a racket to me.
“No insurance,” I said again. Then, with what I intended to be humor, “The insurance companies in this world are making fools of all of us.”
She raised her eyebrows at Jack with an expression that said, Not the wisest father for a lad to be stuck with, as she said, “Okay, then. If you have an accident, you’ll be required to pay the full value of the automobile.”
“I understand,” I said. “We’re just going to Carnoustie. It’s not too far from here, is it?”
“Where’s that?” she asked. And her colleague beside her had never heard of the place either.
Jack gave me an exasperated look.
“There’s a famous golf course there,” I said, “and you must have someone here who can tell us how to get there. And where’s the rental car from here?”
“You’ll have to take a bus,” she said.
“A bus to the car?”
Just before a young man from the back room began giving us directions to Carnoustie, I realized that I had mistakenly swallowed not my morning stomach pill but the pill I had to take every night to put me to sleep. I’d consolidated them for the trip into one container.
“You take a bus from outside to lot number [number what?]. Then you’ll go out the [what?] exit. Take the [oh God . . . ] northbound to the [are you kidding me?!] motorway, which will take you to the [Jesus, Mary, and Joseph] across the [we’re screwed] Bridge.”
I was watching his lips move as he talked, but his words weren’t reaching me. I turned to Jack. “Did you get all that?” I asked.
You know that feeling when someone gives you a photograph he’s taken of you recently, maybe at a party, and you look at it and think, this is how I really appear to the world? It’s the cold proof that each of us lacks the ability to see ourselves the way others see us. At the wheel of the little Fiat that Jack began calling “the Death Machine,” I wanted to look cool, debonair, even a little defiant as I drove on the left side of the road for the first time in my life and used a stick shift for the first time in twenty years. But my last decade of life spent cruising suburbia in the living room of a minivan had emasculated me to the point where I could sing castrato in a musical about Mario Andretti.
And I had wanted this to be my big moment, my chance to lift the value of my stock in my son’s eyes. Golf cap on backwards, cigarette clenched between my teeth, hands pounding the steering wheel to the drumbeat of a blaring radio, cup of black coffee steaming beside me, power shifting through the corners. Instead I was hunched over the wheel like Nanny before the state took her license away.
What People are Saying About This
John Feinstein, author of A Good Walk Spoiled
"I don't know if you're going to play better golf after reading Walking with Jack—and there's a good chance you will—but I do know that you're going to want to call your son at the end, wherever he may be, just to say hello. Just because you can. You're also going to see more things, think more thoughts, and have a richer experience when you walk those next 18 holes. This is a terrific book, destined for that small shelf of great golf writing."
Leigh Montville, author of Ted Williams and The Big Bam
Meet the Author
DON J. SNYDER is the author of many acclaimed books, including the memoirs The Cliff Walk and Of Time and Memory and the novels Night Crossing and Fallen Angel.
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I have mixed feelings about this book. The parts where the father (Don) is examining his relationship with his son (Jack) I found sometimes very moving. As a Dad, some of this really struck home. This is what the book should have been about a bit more. I could have done without the political asides dealing with the author's perceived vision of America. Regardless of what your politics are, I found this distracting and inappropriate to the story. I would have liked more about the aftermath of the this story. The insights into golf and what it takes to be a great caddie were very well done. As a golf professional, I found this part very relatable. As a Dad, I found the father/son interaction (which is complicated and often rocky) to be very well done. Don't expect this to be a great "golf". It is more about personal exploration and learning to let your kids be who they want to be.
First - it's NOT THAT Jack! If you are writing about golf and you use that first name = its about Nicklaus. Don't be mis lead = it is not about the golden bear. Still it might only be a little about golf. While the stories about the sport and the places its played are certainly central, you don't need to know a lot about golf to read this. Just in time for Fathers Day, it's about every relationship bonded by father and son. It's a lot about dreams and what they mean to each individual. Maybe a father and a son share golf but maybe the dream doesn't rest the same with each. If you are a golfer - you just gotta' get beyond the fact that Jack's AVG. drive must be 330 or something!!! That said, it must have been tough to write, but it's outstanding to read.
Walking With Jack is a terrific book about golf, but like any great sports story, it transcends the game. In the talented hands of veteran writer turned caddie Don Snyder, the book uniquely captures the drama and details of the sport to surely captivate everyone who has ever swung a 5 Iron, from the most casual to the most fanatic of golfers. But this is a must-read for anyone, even those who don't know the slightest thing about golf. And that's because tucked into this terrific "golf book" is a love story, and perhaps the hardest love story there is to tell, or to live: the love between a father and son. Snyder lays bare a true tale rife with tenderness, tension, confusion, enthusiasm, hope, heartache, longing, loyalty, strength, frailty and, above all, the indomitable love between him and his son---no longer a boy, but a man making his own way, in life and on the golf circuit, his now-aging Dad standing just off to his side. This intimate story of Don and Jack, told with such eloquence and honesty, is truly a journey that any reader will carry with them forever like a bag of trusted clubs. This isn't a book to read, but to own, because you'll want to return to it again and again, like the shared memory of a cherished round of golf revisited over and over with just the right friend. -John Roche