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The greatest awful round of my life

April 11, 2011

As the Masters Tournament came to an end Sunday in Augusta, Ga., I couldn’t help but think of a baseball game I went to years ago.
One Christmas, my family bought me two tickets for a game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
As someone who grew up playing baseball, this was an unbelievable gift, and one I was fortunate enough to enjoy with someone else.
As soon as I saw the tickets, I knew the only person I wanted by my side at that game was my friend Chris, whom I’ve known since we buddied up on the kindergarten playground.
The two of us always played together on teams well into our teenage years. In fact, as a coach, his father pretty much taught me the game of baseball. I probably should’ve taken him, only I knew Chris and I would have considerably more devilish fun.
We planned a weekend trip consisting of flying into Washington, D.C., and taking a train up to Boston with a stop on the way to New York City.
I’d never been to New York or Boston. I’d been to Washington, but that was definitely Chris’s town considering he spent the previous year in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
You see, while serving overseas in Afghanistan, on April Fool’s Day, Chris’s Humvee ran over an IED (improvised explosive device). The blast killed the other passengers and left him with a severely injured right leg, which had to be amputated right below the knee, as well as an injured arm after a piece of shrapnel blew through his right elbow.
By all accounts, and from what I saw when visiting Walter Reed for his Purple Heart ceremony a couple of months later, Chris was more than lucky to be alive. I wish I could say the same for his deceased teammates, and I know a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think the same.
Unlike me, who probably would’ve wallowed in self pity and depression, Chris immediately decided that he wasn’t going to let this little setback stop him from doing the things he loves most, including one of the many sports he’s always enjoyed playing: golf.
So, when we pulled into New York and emerged from beneath Madison Square Garden, we met up with one of the directors of the Wounded Warrior Project, which happened to be hosting a golf tournament that afternoon out in Long Island.
Although Chris had long been involved in the program, which helps injured service members overcome combat stress through outdoor, rehabilitative retreats (whitewater rafting, fishing, skiing, etc.), this would prove to be my first go ‘round.
Being in the presence of so many injured veterans, as well as policemen, firemen and first responders from the World Trade Center — all of whom just wanted to drink some beer, grip it and rip it — was beyond inspiring.
And, actually, being one of the few persons without a disability made me feel kind of guilty. That is, of course, until Chris started beating me.
This was the first time he and I had competed against each other in a sport since college, and believe me when I say it felt as if a day hadn’t passed. 
Look, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not very good at golf. My brother’s claim to fame is shooting a 79 at St. Andrews; mine is making it to the green in one at War Memorial after hitting two cart paths.
But Chris and I were always a pretty even match, no matter what the sport. So, after a couple of holes and with him a couple of strokes ahead — sans half a leg and an elbow — my nostalgia flew out the golf cart window and the old competitor took over.
Of course, that didn’t last long, because, like I said, I’m flat-out terrible at golf. Besides, by the time we reached the back nine, our main concern had gone from sinking holes to sinking suds, an activity in which we both always will excel, I expect.
We spent the last half of the tournament doing what old friends do best: telling old stories and laughing. We even ditched our scorecards, deciding instead to cruise around the course and interrupt other players’ games by haphazardly flying through fairways, laughing all the while.
It was wonderful and just what I missed most about being with my friend.
While I would never compare the hurt I felt from his ordeal to a sliver of what Chris has had to go through, playing golf with my friend, albeit terribly, was very therapeutic for me. I needed that. In some selfish, honest way, I needed to know that I could still go out and play a round with him, and that life was still the same.
Sure, things are not the same. But maybe in a way they’re better, because he and everyone around him has a better understanding of how fleeting life can be, and a better appreciation for those in our lives.
So, as I sat on my couch yesterday and watched the world’s greatest vie for the coveted Green Jacket, I couldn’t help but think of that fateful day, how awfully I played — and yet how much it meant to me.
• • •
Charlie Gocio is the Co-sports editor at The Saline Courier. He can be reached at 315-8228 ext. 257 or sports@bentoncourier.com.

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