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Friday, June 14, 2013

My (Tiny) Connection to the U.S. Open and Looking Forward to Going on Father's Day

When I was a kid growing up, my best friend lived two blocks away.  He lived in a nice, single-family house, but it wasn't huge and it didn't have a lot of land.  The one memorable thing about the neighborhood was that the next street down wasn't a through street.  It ran smack into a small estate with a big, colonial house with one of those nice, wooden, wraparound porches that Norman Rockwell painted and that might resemble houses near Merion.  I grew up east of the Schuykill River, miles and light years away from Merion (I had cousins who lived near there, and, yes, they believed to a degree that they were superior because they lived on the Main Line and we did not; I personally could have cared less). 

My friend's house's backyard abutted this small estate, with chestnut and crabapple trees separating his parents' property from this estate.  And old woman lived on the estate, an heiress to a manufacturing company that had either folded up or left for the South when we were young.  An old caretaker lived on the estate too.  The woman seldom went out. 

The house had an air of mystery for us, and my friend's father every now and then waved and mosied over to say hello, but there wasn't much conversation.  The woman kept to herself. 

We knew her as Mrs. Stetson.  (Her first name was Helen).

The manufacturing company was a hat company.

Stetson hats.

When we were in high school, the local newspaper ran an article about her, on the fiftieth anniversary of one of her biggest accomplishments in life:  winning the 1926 U.S. Women's Amateur tournament.

At Merion.

The part of the road that went into her property we called the Dead End, because so seldom did cars go in and out of the place that we were able to make very near her gates home plate, and we played softball on the street (if you pulled the ball and got an extra-base hit to left, you risked drawing the ire of a guy who made millions in the cemetery business; other neighbors weren't nearly as well off). 

The house doesn't exist any more; Mrs. Stetson is long gone.  What made me think of her was a snippet on NBC today that reviewed past major championships at Merion and their champions, and, well, there she was.

And that got me to thinking about growing up, and golf, and my taking up the game when I was in college.  My friend who lived a couple of blocks away played in elementary school, because his father belonged to a country club; mine did not (so I took to playing tennis with friends on public courts).  Later, I took up the game, enjoyed playing with friends at the end of my senior year in college, and then for about a five-year period with my father before he passed away -- too young -- in the mid-1980's. 

When the news that the Open was returning to Merion reached me, I didn't get all that interested because, well, it's nestled right outside Philadelphia and getting there is difficult.  But as the event grew closer, I thought that this was a must event -- and a must to try to get there on Father's Day.  My son, a young teenager, has started to take up the game, and we've shared some fun, major events together.  And I'll forever remember, among other things, his first baseball game at Citizens Bank Park

But there's something about the Open, about Merion, about courses that were made not with bulldozers but with the local topography in mind, without huge stadium seating, about the sporting world focusing on your area, and about celebrating something with your son.  Sure, getting there will be a journey, but being there -- amidst all the hoopla, all the media focus, all the big stars -- should be something we should remember for a long time.

And to think, as a young boy I was within yards of someone in the neighborhood who won a major championship at Merion before television, before the internet, before Twitter, before the three major networks, let alone ESPN.

My, has the world changed since Helen Stetson won her tournament 87 years ago. 

But Merion hasn't changed much, and the scoring averages haven't changed much either.

Father's Day.



My home town (more or less).

Walking around with my son.

I can't wait.


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