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Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Long Goodby

We members of Star Fort Ladies Golf Association have managed to stay on the golf course through our cataract surgeries, lumpectomies, bladder tacks, diabetes struggles, mastectomies, and chemotherapies, deaths, wakes, funerals, and periods of excruciating grief.   We tee up each other's balls and retrieve them from the cup from time-to-time, share tips and tricks for strengthening damaged body parts, compare recovery times from minor and major surgeries, and sit quietly while our friends weep.  Given our average age, we treat each other's occasional memory lapses, absentmindedness, and verbal transmogrifications as inconsequential.  We're tough women.  Some of us are very tough.

Sudi, my friend of many years, is among the toughest. She was in considerably better shape than me the day we completed a round in 104-degree weather, in our matching hats.

When I initially met Sudi I had no idea she was a golfer.  I knew her first as a small town police chief (I think the police department had 4 officers and a dispatcher), and I followed her public service career as she transitioned from police chief to an elected member of the town council.  I was doing business with the town at that time, and enjoyed watching Sudi talk down, argue down, and bully into submission the mayor and anyone else on the town council she felt wasn't working for the best interests of her town.  She was a powerful moral voice in the best tradition of strong Southern women.

Sudi and I joined the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association at about the same time, and we played golf at about the same skill level.  Like everyone else, Sudi's life had occasional bumps and complications, but there came a point when we agreed, outside Sudi's range of hearing -- and shortly after she took that dramatic left turn and dumped Sue onto the cart path (I mentioned this event earlier in It's About the Competition) -- that she probably should not be driving golf carts any more.  For more than a year we conspired to ensure that Sudi's playing partners slipped into the left-hand cart seat before Sudi could make her move.

Then we learned that Sudi had become confused driving home from the course one afternoon -- about 20 miles through the countryside to her little town -- and had called her son (he lives in Charleston, 4 hours away) for help.  He guided her along the South Carolina backroads by remote control.  Among the Star Fort Ladies Golf Association, eyebrows were raised.  Heads shook sadly.

During a club tournament Sudi got trapped in a bunker.  Her cherished chipper, which she used for all shots under 50 yards and sand, wouldn't do the job.  After three attempts she turned loose with an impressive string of colorful profanity, picked up her ball, tossed it on the green, putted out, and announced her score, adding a penalty stroke for the hand wedge.  It fell to me to explain to her that she had disqualified herself when she picked up her ball.  She did not, could not, would not understand why the penalty stroke wouldn't suffice.

Still, Sudi was at the course and ready to play 3 times each week, loving golf as much as we all do.  She was out for about six months after a mastectomy but, while weakened physically, continued to play through her period of chemotherapy, voraciously eating bananas, pimento cheese sandwiches on white bread, and candy bars to sustain her through 18 holes.  Her club choice narrowed: to a driver, a fairway wood, a chipper, and a putter.

In the late summer the South Carolina climate combines high humidity, heat, and no wind, and settles over our golf courses like a suffocating cloud of steam.  I was playing in the monthly Interclub tournament, and as my foursome finished our round and headed back to the clubhouse for lunch, I happened to see Sudi, alone in a cart, weaving along an adjacent fairway going away from the clubhouse.  I detoured and ran her down.  She was lost, flushed with heat, confused, angry.  I changed carts and rode back to the clubhouse with her.  Sudi was still navigating familiar environments more or less successfully, but was becoming increasingly disoriented when she found herself beyond her routinely traveled trails.  Her world had narrowed, step by imperceptible step.

Someone called her son, who came for a visit and took her home with him.  We thought we would not see Sudi again at the golf course, but about 3 weeks later she pulled into the parking lot right on time with a big, broad grin on her face.  Her explanation, straightforward, as always:

"I raised so much hell he was glad to see me leave.  I have to have my golf."  And for a time, Sui played on.

And so it went until Sudi was hospitalized with a case of pneumonia she wasn't able to kick.  I visited her.  Others visited her.  Sometimes she knew us.  Other times she needed to be cued.  Finally, greatly weakened, but physically recovered from the pneumonia, she was discharged.  Her car keys were confiscated.

Sudi has left the game.