Date posted: May 5, 2015
The ravages of time are cruel reminders of man’s mortality. I’ve witnessed that reality many times during the years.
Grandma Mattie battled the ravages with every ounce of energy produced from her bantamweight frame. She complained that “ol’ Arthur’’ (that’s what old folks called arthritis back in the day) had her 80-year-old knees swollen the size of a grapefruit. Then she’d hand me a bottle of rubbing alcohol. “Rub grandma’s knees, son,’’ she would say. “They hurtin’ mighty bad.’’
After I finished massaging her aching knees, grandma would pat me on the head and give me my reward: a few pieces of peppermint or horehound candy. Then she would resume her daily domestic duties—ironing dress shirts and other clothing to perfection for one of the families at Christ School, a boarding preparatory institution for upper class boys from around the country. Grandma would stand on those aching knees for hours. Then she would read scriptures from the Bible. I believe the combination of faith and intestinal fortitude kept the ravages at bay until she was ready to turn back the sheets a final time at 101 years young.
When I first started working with Calvin Peete on his biography, he was already firmly in the grip of the ravages. Tourette’s syndrome had robbed him of the ball-striking skills that made him a legend on the PGA Tour. He used magnets in an effort to control the tics and involuntary jerking associated with the malady. His shoulders were a lot more rounded than I remembered making him appear shorter and older, I guess.
Still, he flashed a huge smile, firmly shook my hand and gave me a sincere “soul brother’’ hug like old friends are wont to do. Cal and I were not old friends, although our paths had crossed on tour when he was at the top of his game. We had also shared the same lectern several times at various ceremonies and speaking engagements.
He was, however, a longtime hero of mine. Like most African Americans who aspired to play golf, I wanted—no, needed—someone of color who resembled me for inspiration or just plain verification that a black man could compete at the highest levels. Cal Peete was that confirmation personified.
Sure, I knew of Charlie Sifford, Pete Brown, Lee Elder, Curtis Sifford and others who came before Cal. I grew up caddying at a country club where the great African-American golf icon, John Brooks Dendy, served the wealthy white members with an amazing amount of dignity and respect. None were afforded any visibility for the average golf nut.
Television network appearances for the handful of blacks on tour were more rare than UFO sightings. Cal Peete changed all that. From the late ‘70s through the mid-‘80s, Cal’s success on tour landed him on TV nearly as often as George Jefferson. He won 11 times in the ‘80s (12 times overall) and was in contention many more times. Only Tom Kite won more often than he.
Cool walking, cool talking Cal Peete was the man. Not only “our’’ man but the man.
I interviewed Cal infrequently for the project. Sometimes at his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl.; other times at the TPC at Sawgrass, where he maintained a permanent locker as winner of the 1985 Players Championship contested there. He aged right before my eyes. On the inside, however, his faith and fortitude were stronger than ever.
The last time I saw Cal was at Charlie Sifford’s funeral in Charlotte, N.C. I told him I’d touch base with him back in Atlanta, where we both lived. He passed before I could sit at his knee again. Add another regret to my list.
Yes, the ravages of time eventually walked down arguably the greatest golfer of African-American descent before Tiger Woods. However, his legacy remains secure. It’s very much alive in his family and friends who loved him; even foes who admired his greatness between the ropes and his originality outside them.
I promised Cal we’d write his story together. And get it published. I intend to keep that promise, ravages or not. For true heroes never die. They just fade to black.