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DeCock: US Open a special time for fathers and sons long before Sunday

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
- (919) 829-8947
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Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com
Denny DeCock, working as a marshall, calls for quiet on the sixth hole during the third round of the U.S. Open on Saturday.

PINEHURST I will see my father only briefly on Father’s Day, dropping him off at the airport early Sunday morning before I head back to the U.S. Open. We will not get to spend much time together on the day itself, not that we typically do, but neither of us will complain. What we have done this week was far, far better.

While I have been at Pinehurst writing about the U.S. Open, my father Denny, 67, spent three days volunteering as a marshal on the sixth hole shushing galleries, tracking shots, inadvertently photo bombing Phil Mickelson and generally having a ball.

When a family scatters to the winds – my parents outside Chicago, a younger brother in New York, a younger sister in Philadelphia – it helps to have a little gravitational pull here and there to draw everyone back together outside of the holidays and weddings and funerals and baptisms and all of the attendant chaos of those family occasions. For the men in my family, it’s golf.

My father taught my brother and me how to play, etiquette first, the swing second. We caddied our way through high school and college. One year for his birthday, my siblings and I bought him a set of PGA Tour yardage books so he could follow along from his recliner. And now, as adults, it’s a common thread in lives that have gone so many different directions.

This is what we do. We have been to the Masters, to U.S. Opens, to PGA Championships, to a Ryder Cup. Golf brings us together, both playing it and watching it. My father and I spent these three days together as observers. In September, my father and brother and I will be back in the Sandhills to celebrate my 40th birthday with four rounds of golf in three days. He’s only a few years away from taking his oldest grandchildren out on the course.

We are far from alone. Walk among the pine needles at Pinehurst this week and you’ll see fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, grandfathers and grandchildren. There’s something about this tournament that draws the generations closer. It’s more than just the timing of the final round on Father’s Day. It’s a sense of ritual and tradition – the power and beauty of golf as a game for all ages.

What’s true outside the ropes is true inside of them as well. Many players put their father’s name on their bags this week instead of their own – Brendon Todd’s bag reads “Rock Todd” – and a few of the older players went with their children’s names. And two of the week’s most touching stories involve a son caddying for a father and a father who, very briefly, caddied for his son.

Fran Quinn’s brief appearance on the leader board became one of this Open’s heartwarming stories, a 49-year-old journeyman playing some of the best golf of his life. Even better, he’s sharing his surprising run with his 15-year-old son Owen, who’s caddying for him and even had his own media availability outside the clubhouse Friday afternoon.

“It’s a great experience for him,” Fran Quinn said. “It’s probably a better experience for me.”

Kevin Kisner, a new father himself for all of five days, was on his way to missing the cut Friday when he pulled his dad out of the gallery to finish out the final few holes of his first U.S. Open appearance as his caddie. They missed Father’s Day by two days, but they weren’t complaining.

“Walking down the 18th fairway I got a little choked up,” Steve Kisner said. “But it means a lot. Kevin is a good person, and that’s what’s most important to me.”

And then there’s a volunteer marshal and his sportswriter son, enjoying some rare time together. So Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Safe travels home. We’ll see you back here in September, when there’s a different golf course calling us all back together.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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