Welcome to WingedFoot, home of the 2006 Dads' Open. You know it as the U.S. Open, but the secondmajor of the year is really the game's unofficial father-son championship. TheOpen is where golf, a game that bonds fathers and sons, meets Father's Day, theholiday that celebrates the men who helped make us and that traditionallycoincides with the final round. ¬∂ The biggest story going into Winged Foot wasTiger Woods's playing in his first tournament since the death of his father,Earl. Jay Delsing was the one player in the field who knew just what Tiger wasgoing through. Delsing's father, former major league outfielder Jim Delsing,died on May 4, a day after Earl. Jay left a note in Tiger's locker. "Tigeris such a private guy," Delsing says. "I simply wrote, 'I know exactlywhat you're feeling. If you want to talk, I'm here.'" Delsing didn't hearback from Woods and doesn't expect to. "I don't think he has my cellnumber," he says, laughing.
Jim Delsing, 80,succumbed to cancer, as did Earl. Delsing secured his spot in baseball historyin 1951, when he pinch-ran for Eddie Gaedel, the dwarf who drew a walk for theSt. Louis Browns during maverick owner Bill Veeck's most famous stunt. A weekbefore he died, Jim fell and broke a rib, limiting his mobility. "That tookthe spirit out of him," Jay says. "Internally, something left him afterthat." On the evening of Jim's death Jay visited his father, who lived withJay's mother, Roseanne, 15 minutes from Jay in suburban St. Louis, and gave hima shower, an awkward act that they joked about. Jim felt ill and was helped tobed. He urged Jay to go home. "I wasn't comfortable leaving him," Jaysays. "I had a feeling."
He called hisfather from home. "He sounded strange, and I said I'd come back over,"Jay says. "He said, 'No, I have chills right now, but I have a blanket. I'mO.K.'" The phone rang at 2:30 the next morning. Roseanne couldn't wake Jimup. Jay rushed over, but he knew his father was gone. "That was the longestdrive of my life," he says.
The church wasfull for Jim's funeral, not surprising since he worked for the St. LouisReview, a Catholic newspaper, for 30 years after his career in baseball endedand, as a tireless volunteer for charities, made many friends. His favoritesong was On the Sunny Side of the Street, and the parish musician who performedit at the service couldn't remember the words. "That was perfect," Jaysays. "My dad would've been laughing at that."
Jay, who is 45and enjoying a bit of a revival after reworking his swing with teacher JimHardy, filed an entry for the Open for no other reason than that his dad wouldhave wanted him to. "I hadn't even touched a club in two weeks," hesays. Local qualifying was held on the day after Jim's funeral. It was ablustery day at Meadowbrook Country Club, and though distracted by hisemotions, Jay birdied the first hole of a playoff to advance to the sectionals.His mind kept flashing back to fishing trips with his dad to northern Ontarioand to the stories he had to pry out of his modest father about serving inWorld War II or about facing Bob Feller for the first time and protesting whenthe umpire called the blur of a first pitch a strike by saying, "Thatsounded inside to me."
Winged Foot wasJay's first Open in 14 years. "After my dad passed, I knew I was going tomake the Open," Jay says. "I felt as if something great was going tohappen."
Something greatalmost happened on Friday morning. Wearing a silver belt buckle he found in hisfather's jewelry box, Jay birdied three of the first six holes and shot 33 onthe front side. Winged Foot's rough got him on the back. He shot 72 to finishat 10 over par and miss the cut by a stroke. He showed off his dad's buckleafter the round. On it is engraved 1946 NORTHERN LEAGUE ALL-STARS EAU CLAIRE,WIS.¬†The buckle was so black with tarnish that at first Jay couldn't tellwhat was written on it. After his wife applied silver cleaner, he discovered afamily treasure. "It's so neat," Jay says. "It's the coolest thingI own."
Two fatherscaddied for their amateur sons last week--Dan Dougherty for Dillon, therunner-up at the 2005 U.S. Amateur who recently graduated from Northwestern,and Ed Moore for Jonathan, a qualifier who three weeks ago led Oklahoma Stateto the NCAA title.
Dougherty, atomato farmer in Woodland, Calif., also carried for Dillon at this year'sMasters but says he's retiring his bib after Winged Foot. "Dillon needs acaddie who knows what the hell he's doing," he declares.
An opening 85meant that Dillon had no chance to make the cut, but simply getting to play atthe Open was a thrill and helped the family forget last year's tragic Father'sDay. Dan's father, Bill, came out to watch him compete in his clubchampionship. In a freak accident, a golf bag fell off the seat and onto theaccelerator of a motorized cart. The runaway vehicle mowed down Bill, breakinghis back. He died from complications later in the summer.
"It waspretty bad," Dan says. "Dillon and my dad were close. That's what is sobittersweet about Augusta and the U.S. Amateur last year, and now the Open. Mydad would've been in absolute hog heaven to see Dillon accomplish all ofthis."
Tour veteran JohnCook shared the Open with his son, Jason, who caddied for him, and with hisfather, Jim, a former PGA Tour tournament director who followed John in thegallery. John faded after an exciting opening 71, but Jason got a taste of aNew York Open in the second round, when the boisterous fans began rooting forthe other players in Cook's threesome--David Duval, who was four under par forthe round at one point, and Colin Montgomerie, who was near the lead all day."It was like a football game," says Jason, 20, who has caddied for hisfather most of this year and looped in one other Open, at Pebble Beach in 2000."It's as if we were walking through a tunnel and people were yelling. Itwas pretty cool."
On Wednesday, onthe far end of the range, Jason hit a few balls and tried out some woods thatJohn had scored from a Nike rep. Jason dropped out of Pepperdine after a year,turned pro and won his first mini-tour title--and his first check, for $250--afew weeks ago in Orlando with the first bogey-free round of his life, a 67. Hepromptly text-messaged Dad. "The whole way back in the car," Jasonsays, "I was in awe."
Next to the Cookson the range were Charles Howell and his dad, Charles G. Howell, a prominentpediatric surgeon in Augusta. They've been an inseparable team for years, backto the days when Dr. Howell made sure that his son got the best instruction byvisiting David Leadbetter in Orlando, even though that meant a seven-hour drivedown and a seven-hour drive back for one weekend every month. It's a raretournament that Dr. Howell isn't in his son's gallery. "My dad is my bestfriend, and it's always been that way," Charles says.
They celebratedFather's Day the way they wanted, with Charles playing (he finished 37th) andDad watching. No gifts were necessary. "As far as I'm concerned," Dr.Howell says, "every Sunday we're out here together is like Father'sDay."
Three generations of Cooks, (from left) John, Jason and Bill, have made aliving in golf.
Delsing honors his father, who pinch-ran for Eddie Gaedel, by having his dad'snumber and initials stitched on his caps.
Working together were (from top) the Moores and the Doughertys, while Bob Coe(bottom right) rooted for son Alex.