I was perhaps the luckiest kid in the world, for one very good reason… my Father, William J. “Bill” Kargetta, was always my best friend.
‘Pop’ was a pretty good athlete, a very good high-school baseball pitcher & college amateur golfer, and he enjoyed all sports in Michigan… Red Wings Hockey, Tiger Baseball, Lions & Wolverines Football… but Golf was the sport & game that he most enjoyed. Best of all, for a kid like me that not only loved his Dad but really loved sports, Pop took a very subtle approach to my own sporting development… he gave me opportunity, then let me do it my way. Of course he taught me how to throw a curve ball, properly drop a football for a punt, or grip a 5-iron… but it was always with a light hand on my shoulder, more like a constant pat on the back with a big smile… and I appreciated all of it.
Anxiously waiting each day for his blue Ford to return from a long day’s work, so he could watch me hit 5-irons in the twilight, and listen to my 12 year old mind tell how I’d learned the eternal secrets that had eluded all but maybe Hogan, were among my daily reasons for living. Pop was the reason I wanted to succeed at athletics… I wanted to make him proud.
Putting was the thing Pop did better than anyone I ever met. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone putt better than he did. I’d put him up head to head with any Putter in the World, and I’ve seen a lot of good ones. He and I used to play a game, Putting for Dimes. We’d each place as many dimes in our pockets as we wanted to risk, and then we’d putt back & forth at two holes on the practice green, or at two hockey pucks on the carpet in our family room. Each make took a dime from the other. I almost never won… Pop made so many thirty footers that it was near impossible to beat him. I remember one time, he was close to 70 years old, maybe the last time we putted, and I made three straight 30 footers… but he made each putt coming back, so I didn’t earn a dime!
Bill’s putting skill (as well as his extreme gentleman’s manner) was well known by the members at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, where I caddied and worked in the golf shop. When caddying for a member for the first time, and when asked (usually on the 2nd tee while waiting for the next group to hit their approach irons) who I was, and where I lived, I’d point across Indianwood Road at the orange brick ranch house, and the member’s response would be… “Are you Bill Kargetta’s boy?”. Then, the stories would begin. The theme was always the same… and always a surprise, as I never heard (as a kid) from Pop his history in golf. Stories of him rolling in putt after putt to win matches were told to me by multiple members though, who knew him well in his sixteen years serving as Club Secretary.
When a bit older, I started asking Pop about those stories. He related to me how his putting skill, always good, got a lot better as a teenager when Willie Turnesa came to Meadowbrook CC (where Pop caddied) for some tournament and took an interest in young Bill (his caddy). Turnesa was the US Amateur Champion then, and gave Bill putting lessons. Pop had a very wristy and hands dominated putting stroke, and though I imitated that when young, I never seemed to be able to do anything but putt in streaks… good for 9 holes maybe… but never for long.
Years later, as a junior, school, and then amateur golfer, having Pop watch me play made the experience memorable. I remember the ’81 State Amateur, where the weather in Charlevoix, Michigan in June was typically cold & wet, and Pop had been sick, so I told my family to keep him home, at least until I got deep into the match play. The tourney site was like 300 miles from home, and I really didn’t want him driving alone so far. So here I am, in a cold drizzle teeing it up on my first Qualifying hole (#12 at Belvedere CC), and there is Pop, standing about 200 yards away trying to hide behind a lone tree. Upset and worried about him, I bogey 12 & 13, and make a shaky par on 14. I try to get near enough to speak with him, but he keeps about 100 yards away at the closest. Finally, my worry is turning to anger, and I promptly eagle 15 with a Driver-Seven Iron combo to 3 feet. As I walk off the green, he comes up behind me and says… “I was just thinking… if you didn’t do something special soon, I was going to drive the 300 miles home right now!”. I laughed the rest of the tournament, and had several wonderful days with him in the process. He even got to witness my back-to-back sudden death matches (39 holes total) in one day. He watched me miss consecutive 3-footers on the 36th, 37th, and 38th holes I played that day.
I used to tease Pop that he used up most all the “one-putts” allocated to the Kargetta name, and didn’t leave enough for me.
As the years went by, and I had transitioned into putting like my various role models (Pate, Crenshaw, Nicklaus…), and uniformly failed to putt well enough, I asked Pop what he thought of when standing over a putt. “Make it!” was the reply, but my mind at the time didn’t appreciate the purity of the answer. Surely there must be some secret he was keeping from me, though that made no sense at all. Turns out, he was absolutely right. Simply thinking “make” let his subconscious take over… and the results were stunning.
The huge treasure chest of knowledge, humor and wisdom that he imparted to me over a 41 year period… on the various subjects ranging from engineering & design down to the simplest little bits of advice on dealing with various situations, have been refreshed in my mind over and over through the years as my own search for wisdom has uncovered cases where his truths were revealed… usually as I became wise enough to recognize them.
Pop had one story for me that was particularly tough… he was stopped from being able to play golf with Ben Hogan in the military in WWII (inter-service base champions were going to have a match), because he was awaiting orders to ship out to the Pacific on a C-47, and his Major wouldn’t let him off base. Then, about a decade later, when Pop was playing in George S May’s World Amateur in Chicago, he and Hogan got to briefly meet. Hogan of course won the World Championship at Tam O’Shanter that year. Hogan was Pop’s favorite player… he followed him in the two US Opens at Oakland Hills, and the Carling & Motor City Opens that Hogan entered. Hogan was my favorite player too… because of Pop.
Pop’s physical feature that stood out were his “Hawk’s Eyes”. For years now, whenever I see a Hawk on a Golf Course, my heart skips a beat. “Black Hawk” was a natural name for the Putter I designed right after I finished the Black Swan. I think of how Pop would have had joy using it… and maybe even have given up on that old Tommy Armour Ironmaster Putter.
I think about Pop everyday. I thank God for having the best gift he could give me… and of course, Pop’s grandchildren will learn all about him, from me. So they’ll be blessed by his life as well. Pop always cared about others first… it was his defining spiritual characteristic. He sacrificed his entire life for others… me perhaps most of all.
He was a humble man, while in reality he was really heroic. When he was a 12 year old child, he saved his friend’s life by pushing the boy to safety from an onrushing automobile, and was hit by and dragged by that big Packard instead. Young Bill (Pop) suffered horrible injuries, including multiple bone & skull fractures, and internal injuries. That other boy grew up to be a doctor, and was Pop’s friend for life.
Pop is 12 again today… in Eternal years. Twelve years ago today, my Hero went to Heaven. April 6, 2001, was the toughest day of my life. But he’s been holing out long breaking putts with St. Peter, Ben Hogan, & Willie Turnesa for a dozen years now, even if there are no dimes in Heaven.
Love You the Hugest Pop. See You soon. Get your dimes ready… I’ve got a new Putter to show You.
Postscript… Seven Years Later… April 6, 2020.
Life (and Death) can sometimes give you little hints.
When I was a boy, the man outside my immediate family that I most admired, was a ballplayer on the Detroit Tigers. He wore Number Six.
Why did I, as so many millions of others, admire him? Was it for what he did on the grass and dirt at old Briggs (then Tiger) Stadium? Well, sort of.
If he went 0 for 4, well, I didn’t admire him any less. I just waited for the inevitable two hits the next day. Or the day after that.
Was it because of his cannon arm in right field, that I was amazed by… watching him throw missiles home during pregame warmup from near the 370 marker in RF? Yes of course, I enjoyed that, but that is not why I really really admired the man.
When I was 10, in the dead of a Michigan winter, they announced that there would be a Day of Honor for the Man. August 2, 1970 was the announced Day. I shoveled snow and cut grass and babysat dogs and did everything else I could think to do for nickels and dimes to save up to buy two tickets to take my favorite person in the world to that game… my Dad. It turned out to be one of the happiest and most memorable days of my life.
I wrote a letter to Mr. Tiger… The Line, Number Six, that winter. I thanked him for all he did. He seemed like an old man to me (he was only just turned 35… a kid!), and I respected him so deeply that I agonized over every word. I told him I admired him for all the reasons he reminded me of… my Dad. Talented yes, but Humble. Awe inspiring of course, but Dignified. A Leader… but in a Quiet, Unassuming Way. Heroic, but Friendly. The ideal man to emulate, in my 10 year old mind. Just like my Dad.
I have no idea if he ever read that letter. I of course believe he did. But I do not know.
Today however, he can if he wished to. Hope he does. Pretty sure Pop had a copy in his pocket, waiting for this day.
It just so happens… Al Kaline went to Heaven on the 19th Anniversary of Pop going to Heaven. What a unique coincidence for me. Sort of a Doubleheader… just for me.
The day started with tears and prayers, remembering my Father. The day ended with those tears and prayers comingled with more of the same, for the Man that reminded me most of my Dad.
Heroic. Humble. Helpful. The ideal role models… both.
Heaven is their Home now. The 19 year veteran Pop gets to show the latest Rookie Saint, Mr. Tiger, around the Clubhouse, if you will. If I did not need to be here to try and solve what has been given me as a mission, I’d be begging God to take me there right now… just to see them both… eternally young, without pain, smiling and enjoying the bliss we all pray that our loved ones and heroes experience after this often frustrating and tear filled existence on Earth.
Here’s to them both… and to all others that live a life that inspires the best in the rest of us. Bill, tell Al what he meant to so many, even though he knows already. Al, meet Bill… you are going to love him as much as I do.