Duke

I first met Duke Bope when I was 15 years old. We played junior golf together. He was a long ball, really good player and I felt like I was handling a telephone pole when I grabbed a golf club. No real feel for the game but my dad encouraged me to play, so I did. Duke and I ended up in inter-club matches together and in some instances when they tried to stack the deck, he was stuck with me for a high school golf partner. It was there that I first saw…….”the look”. A guy from St Elizabeth accidentally stepped on Duke’s brand new driver and he looked at the guy with a look that could melt stone. The guy turned 50 shades of white and I intervened and said, ” Ah Duke, we can get that fixed – no problem.” And we moved on. I thought we were going to have a homicide on our hands that day.

He loved to drive my ’64 Buick convertible even though he did not have a license and I always let him have the helm after school with our group of nitwits holding court with the top down. Not real bright on my part but how do you refuse a “Big 33” football player?

Moving forward, I went to see Duke at Boston University and we had some fun times hitting the music scene in bars in the Cambridge area. I specifically remember one night when we went to this joint and saw a flaming red head wailing on her guitar and singing the blues as well as anyone we had ever seen. Bonnie Raitt went on to international fame but we saw her in her Boston club days and still talked about it years later. Duke was a music guy and we always talked about the latest albums and concerts. For an ex B.U. football player, he had an artistic side which helped him in later life working with his dad and brother in the tile business in Pittsburgh.

As we both entered the working world, football was always entertaining to Duke and he always thought that if you didn’t wear a helmet and pads, it was not a sport. He never understood my love for cycling and remarked, ” I thought you quit riding bikes when you are 14?” I took him to the Thrift Drug Classic to see the international class cyclists ride up Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh and he was amazed. I said, ” Duke- these guys are in amazing shape” and he agreed but never really understood until I nurtured his understanding over the years. My son Jack taught him a lot about basketball and he became a big fan of Lebron James.

He and I were pals and as different as we were, we learned a lot from each other. Duke was a strong Christian and his love for the Lord was evident in his daily life. He always quoted scripture and had a serious demeanor to him. Over the years, I saw…….” the look” but I always liked to make him laugh and often at our dinner table with Janet, Jack and his mom, I would catch him off guard and make him belly laugh. He and I were so different yet we learned so much from each other.

I remember when I first dated his sister who eventually and fortunately became my wife, I made the trek to Bellevue where they both lived in the apartment building that their dad owned. As I pulled up to the curb, I saw Duke in the yard. His remark was, ” What brings you to Bellevue, Pat.” And “the look” came out again. I stuttered and stammered a response about a date at Hartwood Acres. He chuckled and went inside. I learned later that he remarked to Janet,” He is a nice kid.” Janet said, ” Kid? He is older than you.”

As the years went on, Janet and Duke spent time at the beach with their aunt and uncle and became very close as brother and sister, caring for their mom after their dad died.

Duke maintained his love for golf all of his life and as a single digit handicapper at Sewickley Heights Golf Club, he was well known for his ability and had a lot of friends there. He lost in a playoff this summer for the Senior Club Championship and his competitive nature came out when he talked to me about the match. He had the guy on the ropes and let him off the hook and it made him angry. The fiery competitor was not amused and no matter how I tried to say that it was amazing to make the finals, he wanted to win. He was a winner. Second place was never good enough.

We eventually moved into the same neighborhood with Duke so that his mom, Jack, Janet and I could live close by and we spent a lot of time together grilling, sharing time on each other’s patios and spending holidays and fun times together. When you talk to Duke’s friends, the common denominator besides being a strong Christian is that he was extremely generous. Case in point, when we moved in, the next day, a beautiful Weber grill was on my patio, courtesy of Duke. He would entertain his mother’s friends and buy them gifts along with taking them out to eat. He would have parties at his house and always had beautiful gifts for the ladies. He couldn’t do enough for you. His mother tells the tales that Duke would not of his anonymous generosity with people who were in need at CMA Church on the Northside. Picking up peoples tabs at McDonald’s where it was obvious that needy people were scrambling to put together enough money for a meal. He never wanted it known that he was the gracious host.

We lost Duke this week at 61 year old. A tragic and sudden illness took him away and we all feel the void in our house, the neighborhood, his workplace and among his customers and friends. A big strong human being was taken at short notice,and we are stunned. The only consolation for us is that we know he is with the Lord who he loved with all of his heart. If there is a golf course in heaven, I know that his dad was waiting on the first tee with a smile on his face. ” You’re on the tee, Duke.” I am sure he approached the ball, gave it ” the look” and creased it right down the middle as strongly as ever. Life is fragile folks. Love your spouse, your family, your friends, and take the time for all of them. Duke surely did. Thanks for reading.

Mr. Palmer

arnold-palmer-07

I have never been a good golfer. In fact, I have not played in four years. However, my dad introduced me to the game as a young man and the one thing I do have is a respect for the traditions of the game of golf. As a high school guy, I had the opportunity to attend the PGA National Team Championship at Laurel Valley here in Western Pa. Dr. Anthony Nicolette and his two sons Richard and John were all friends of mine from the neighborhood and Dr. Nicolette was Arnold Palmer’s eye doctor. When the team event was at Laurel Valley, Dr. Nicolette piled us all into his car and off we went to see the best golfers in the world compete. It was there that I had the chance to meet the great Arnold Palmer. Mr. Palmer to us.

Golf: Thunderbird Classic Invitational: Arnold Palmer smoking cigarette during Friday play at Westchester CC.  Rye, NY 6/14/1963 CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X9294 TK1 C12 F19 )

Golf: Thunderbird Classic Invitational: Arnold Palmer smoking cigarette during Friday play at Westchester CC.
Rye, NY 6/14/1963
CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X9294 TK1 C12 F19 )

As young bucks, Richard and John and I were star struck as Mr.Palmer conversed with their dad. Doc N then always introduced us and with an intent, interested, look, Mr. Palmer shook our hand and asked how we were enjoying the day. His handshake was strong and his demeanor sincere as if we were all he had to think about at that moment. We were part of his army and he wanted to make sure we were having a good time.

A few years later, I had the opportunity to marshall at the US. Open at Oakmont. I have posted on the experience before but I remember Johnny Miller floating up the fairway in total concentration looking at no one in the gallery. Jack Nicklaus stared down most people in the gallery with a competitive steely eyed look that almost made you feel uncomfortable. Arnold Palmer, on the other hand, stopped to talk to all of the marshalls on our hole while waiting to take his shot. I remember him asking me where I was from and again, was I enjoying the tournament? Arnold Palmer, asking me, if I was having a good time while he was in the thick of the hunt for the US Open! That is the kind of guy he was and we lost a good man this week in Western Pennsylvania when he passed away on Sunday.

25 MAR 2013:   Tiger Woods shares a laugh with Arnold Palmer as Woods holds the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida.

25 MAR 2013: Tiger Woods shares a laugh with Arnold Palmer as Woods holds the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida.

There has been a lot written about the man this week by some very eloquent journalists and folks who knew Arnold Palmer very well. I do know he was a kind man, a benevolent person with the March of Dimes and building a children’s hospital in Orlando. I know he was a mentor to young players for many years including Tiger Woods. But as the writers say, he made golf accessible to the common man. This included young guys like Richard and John and me who were amazed at the time that he afforded to us and his friendly relationship with his eye doctor with whom no request was too much. He made sure Doc Nicolette was given primary parking, marshalling duties with Laurel Valley attire, dining privileges and on and on, personally attended to by Arnold Palmer himself. He took care of Doc Nicolette and didn’t leave it up to his assistant. That is the kind of person we saw when we had interaction with this legend from Latrobe, Pa. arnold-palmer-2016-masters

He is gone now. But his legacy will live on and his benevolence for charitable causes will also continue because of his personal attention to detail. No wonder the “army” followed him faithfully years into his career. You always knew where Palmer was on the course. Richard and John and I have him etched in our memory forever because of his kindness to us and his eye doctor. RIP Mr. Arnold Palmer. Thanks for reading.

What constitutes World Class?

I have probably had the same experience that many of you have when I have encountered what we call world class athletes or individuals. I categorize the experience in one of four ways. First- I am sure we have all met world class individuals whose reputation precedes them. For instance, I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting people like Arnold Palmer, Art Rooney Sr., Olympian Frank Shorter, childhood heroes like Roberto Clemente, Vernon Law, Bill Virdon, and other Pittsburgh Pirates of a bygone era. They were larger than life and when I met them, I was a bit in awe because of their reputations. golf_e_arnold_576
The second type of encounter is what I would call seeing the world class athlete in action. We have all seen pro football and baseball games and marvel at the athleticism of these individuals from the seats in stadiums. I have been fortunate enough to see Tiger Woods on the practice tee at PGA events. I have seen World Cup skiers like the Crazy Canucks at the Hahnenkamm downhill ski race in Austria.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA I have seen the women and men at the World Cups. I will never forget seeing Perine Pelen of the French National team take a slalom section unlike anything that I would have ever imagined. So fast and fluid. I had the pleasure of caddying for Ben Crenshaw at the US Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club when he was a student at the University of Texas. To see him hit a golf ball and tote his bag while witnessing intense focus on the golf course was enlightening. I was a marshall at the US Open when an extremely focused Johnny Miller won and set the course record at Oakmont.14d7c856-bf4a-4b95-ada5-4359dd6b415c I have witnessed Lance Armstrong ride up Sycamore Street in the Thrift Drug Classic here in Pittsburgh several years ago before his cancer. My brother in law who said to me,” I thought you quit riding bikes when you were 14″ marveled at the athleticism and conditioning of the world class cyclists at this event. It opened his eyes for sure seeing that he only thought athletes put on pads and hit people.
Ratchet up the experience one more notch and I have been fortunate enough to participate in an event or a venue where I have witnessed a world class athlete perform with me alongside. I had the pleasure of riding with Greg LeMond at charity cycling events.DSC00468 80 miles a day with the 3 time Tour de France champion. He was not in TDF shape at all and older, but you could still see the strength in his thighs on the flats and the speed at which he took turns on the road. I have skied behind Phil Mahre the ex World Cup ski race champion and Olympic gold medalist. It was amazing to me to see his really strong turns skiing right behind him. No skidding, just pure carved turns leaving trenches in the snow behind him. His strength was amazing. Riding the chairlift with him was enjoyable as he told tales of the World Cup and the U.S. Ski Team.hqdefault I have raced in club road cycling criterium races where people like Matt Eaton ( former US National Champion and Britain’s Milk Race champion) come flying by me on the inside giving me pointers and instructions as he led the pack. The club races often combined classes and it gave us normal racers a chance to ride with the good guys. It was amazing to witness the speed and technical ability in which they took the turns in the race with a tight pack of riders all around.
So what actually makes an athlete world class? Like “epic” and “extreme”, “world class”, is often overused but a truly world class athlete is an individual that has devoted his or her life to their sport. They are often singularly focused and have been willing to make personal sacrifices in order to achieve their goals. Oftentimes, their focus has caused them to be selfish or self serving but in order to achieve, sometimes you have to have that “take no prisoners” attitude in order to be successful. But in my mind, a truly world class athlete or individual is one who can encompass all the attributes of athleticism but has a perspective on the world around them which supports their efforts. Take Joan Benoit Samuelson- the 1984 Olympic Marathon Women’s gold medalist.maine-joan-benoit-samuelson I had the good fortune of meeting her at the Boston Marathon Nike Expo. She had been in the booth a long time and when I finally made it through the line to meet her, I told her that her former ski racing coach Jace Pasquale said hello. Joan stopped whatever she was doing and was truly interested in how Jace was doing. We chatted for what seemed an eternity only about Jace. Joan was not focused on her reputation or accomplishments, only what was going on in the life of her old ski coach. She was so pleasant and unassuming that I walked away thinking to myself,” what a nice, non- self centered person.”
There are a lot of world class athletes like Joan Benoit Samuelson who use their talents and reputations to serve others. Joan is involved in many charitable causes in New England. There are also those athletes who do not focus on life outside of their sport. The impressive thing to me is to meet or see in action those that do care and think about life outside their athletic box. We may not have the talent, time, or willingness to be a world class athlete. But in my mind, we can be a world class person by caring for someone in need, being a friend to someone who is down in the dumps, sharing our knowledge about our favorite sport or hobby with someone who is just starting out. To me, we can be world class by caring. That is a trait that is not limited to athletes but can be applied to all of us who have a world class attitude towards others with whom we come in contact. Be world class!! Thanks for reading.