Earliest Known Photo of My Father Playing Golf: 1927

My father trying golf in 1927, with a corner of my grandmother's rose garden in the background.

My father trying golf in 1927, with a corner of my grandmother’s rose garden in the background.

He was two, and his grip was close to the one he used as an adult. I took up golf in my mid-thirties, and when my brother watched me hit a weak slice with a five-iron, shortly after I’d started playing, he said, “You’re already the second best golfer in the family.” The clubs in the photo belonged to my grandfather, who was a decent player. They were custom-made by Kenneth Smith, who was also from Kansas City and hadn’t been making golf clubs for very long. Among the other golfers who played with Kenneth Smiths, eventually, were Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mickey Mantle, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, and the King of Morocco. I played golf a little when I was twelve and thirteen, and the driver I carried (which I hated) was a cut-down Kenneth Smith.

Here’s a Kenneth Smith advertisement from the December 1961 issue of Golf Digest:

GD Kenneth Smith 12-61

My father underwent major surgery when he was in his seventies, a few years before he died. The operation lasted for six hours, and he ended up with sixty-one staples in his abdomen. When he finally began to come around, a couple of days later, the doctors had to put restraints on his arms to keep him from inadvertently ripping out various tubes and catheters and monitoring devices. He was on a ventilator for a while, too. It was a rough time for him, and an even rougher one for my mom, who, after all, was conscious through it all. She was at his side when he opened his eyes. The first thing he said, in a voice that was weak but filled with hope, was “Am I at the country club?”—exactly what I would have asked in the same situation.

Kenneth Smith

3 thoughts on “Earliest Known Photo of My Father Playing Golf: 1927

  1. Nice story. It reminds me of playing golf with my late friend, Jim Dudley. Jim was an avid golfer, a lobbyist and a former college basketball coach. An all-around “guy’s guy”. In any event, Jim was diagnosed with cancer and toward the end of his life, his friends decided to chip in so he could play in a Pro-Am here in Chicago, at Shoreacres, one of the greatest, old-time courses in America. Jim knew his days were numbered, but he still had a great smile on his face as we played the round.

    We played the first nine holes with Tom Purtzer, who was simply delightful. Our second nine pro was Freddie Couples. As I recall it, this was the year before he won the Masters. We all played pretty well, but we smiled and chatted even better. Jim’s wife was following us around the course that day, videotaping some of the shenanigans. We also had a couple friends taking photographs, so those of us playing could have some mementos. My favorite shot is of Freddie behind me as he tried to help me line up a putt. It hangs in my judicial chambers today, more than twenty years later.

    About six weeks after the pro-am, Jim was in dire straits in the hospital. His son, Matt, was visiting and he rigged up the vcr to the television in the room. He put on the video of our pro-am round. When it showed Jim taking a whack at a five-iron toward the Redan green, he told his son, “darn it, look at the position of my hands on the backswing”! That story has always resonated with me on a couple levels. First, it illustrates the beguiling game of golf, one that just gets inside your head and your heart and won’t let go, even when your body is ready to depart the earth. Second, it is a sweet expression of the bond of father and son, forged in part over the game of golf.

    Thanks for this story, it made my day.

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