Remembering Jordan on his Birthday

Today would have been my son Jordan’s 25th birthday. I just got an automated email from the Future Masters in Dothan, Alabama wishing him a happy birthday. He loved that tournament. His birthday fell during the event and for a few years we always celebrated at Hunt’s Seafood restaurant in Dothan, another place he loved.

He was paired with some interesting players over the years at the Future Masters, some friendly and fun to play with, some arrogant in only the way ultra-talented junior golfers can be. One kid, who never spoke a word to him after the first hole introductions, went on to be a very successful amateur and plays professional golf now. The day they played together; I thought my son was a much better player- but fathers always think those things about their sons.

It was always more fun to watch him play when it was a friendly group where all the other players were encouraging – complimenting good shots and marveling at 300-yard drives. The world of junior golf is cutthroat, and this was a competition, of course. Every player was hoping to catch the attention of the many college golf coaches stealthily roaming the grounds.

The last year Jordan played in the tournament was his 18th birthday week. We went to Hunt’s, and he ordered fried shrimp. We were happy. It was a good night. After a pretty good first round, he had a couple of bad holes on the back nine of the second round. With a few holes to go, I started to get a little sad when I realized he was probably going to miss the cut. This would be his last round at the Future Masters. Those five magical summers of golf in Dothan had passed by in just a few moments.

I always watched from well ahead of his group. Standing underneath a massive oak tree between the 17th and 18th fairways, I saw his 2nd shot on 17 miss the green well left – into an impossible spot. He looked at the lie for a couple of seconds, pulled a 60-degree wedge, took a full swing and flopped it to a foot. One of his playing partners exclaimed “Great shot!” I could hear the comment 250 yards away and smiled to myself.

Jordan’s drive on 18 was one his patented low rising draws that seemed to stay in the air forever. I walked ahead to position myself in the shade behind the 18th green. Dothan in late June is unmercifully hot. The type of heat that makes it hard to breathe. The Spanish moss on the massive live oaks seemed to shimmer in the stifling humidity.

In those days I could always tell from the rhythm of his swing whether a shot would be good or not. I didn’t even have to watch the ball. The swing on this last shot – I imagine it was a 9 iron – looked perfect. It landed 15 feet below the hole and stopped. He was the last to putt. His ball never left the hole. A birdie on the last at the Future Masters.

What I will never forget is the genuine smile on his face as he shook the hands of the other two boys in his group. I am sure he knew he was not going to make the cut this year, but he congratulated them for playing well. I avoided him as he went to sign his card. We usually didn’t talk much after a 78.

A few minutes later, I helped him load his clubs in my car in the boiling asphalt of the Dothan Country Club parking lot. I had started the car while I was waiting for him, so it could cool off. When he got in, I could tell he was tired and disappointed. We didn’t speak for a a few minutes on the way back to the hotel. It was too late to drive all the way home and we had booked the room for the night anyway.

Finally, he said something.

“Dad, can we go back to eat at Hunt’s tonight?”

“Of course we can,” I answered.

I miss Jordan. As his friends start to get married and begin their lives, I wonder what kind of person he would have become. He had a good heart and was always so friendly to his playing partners, no matter how he played. He encouraged the people he competed against.

Jordan would have been 25 years old today. I thought about unsubscribing from the annual Future Masters Happy Birthday e-mails, but I do not think I will.