Yesterday, I wrote a brief tribute to a departed friend. Today, our 2nd and final day at the 2018 US Open, I consider my life in golf, and what might be yet to come. As with many, I began playing for enjoyment, then matured into a competitive golfer. Too late, small and mentally weak to compete at higher levels, my instincts for writing and photography offered a transition into the history of the game. Not the one before my time, but the one of my time.

I think about how much I love tight, firm fairways. The kind that echo when you stomp them. The sort that demand your hands stay ahead of the ball, releasing late, pinch-trapping the ball. The brand that afford putter as an alternative from … nearly anywhere. Shinnecock is that golf course, as are its neighbors. I love the farmland of western New York, but the only time I played that style of fairway near Buffalo was a long-ago summer, when Bright Meadows decided to not water its course, and it played like Scotland.

When you are an amateur writer and photographer, you appreciate a media center like a gift-getting morning. Every element is a present to you-the enthusiasm and drive of the writers and shooters that do this for a living, the meals, the work space with your name on it, the proximity to media from the entire globe, the access to information.

It is possible to get conten when you have attended and covered multiple events. I’ve personally been to the 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2018 US Opens, the 2003 and 2013 PGA Championships, the 2018 Curtis Cup and the 2009 and 2013 Walker Cups. By content, I don’t mean happy and satisfied in a positive way. Instead, my temptation is to not walk the course so much, not chase down the camouflaged shots, and not do more than osmotically access the spirit of the event.

The importance of the golf course that we see and that we do not, is impossible to celebrate. We try to define the routing relative to the topography, winds and sunlight, we accentuate the avenues to the drive zones and the putting surfaces, we highlight the correct/incorrect manner of playing each hole. And somehow, the majority of golfers still attribute success to a golfer’s swing and demeanor, and not her/his strategy, restraint, and patience.

Walk a golf course from 18 green to 1 tee and you will know it well. You will see the backside of the hillocks and mounds, you will understand why that thing happened when you carried that bunker. You will decipher the putt that you under-read and over-hit. And you will come to know that the great golf courses might be played in reverse, without missing a thing.

There are golfers who are content to play their home course relentlessly. They wish to know, consciously or sub, the intricacies of one golf course, the nuances of it alone. And there are others who elect to play hundreds, if not thousands, of courses across the flat earth. This phylum travels, with or without money, to grand or prosaic layouts, for one of two reasons. They are belt-notchers, or they are experience-collectors. I belong to the genus that would just as soon photograph as play a golf course. It’s my way, and the only one I imagine expedient.

A writer told the story of how the 7th hole at Shinnecock played so impossibly in 2004, that Phil Mickelson intentionally played to the greenside bunker, rather than the putting surface. From there, he deduced, he could spin a wedge and save par from below the hole. He made par. Others made 5 and 6 at the par 3 hole. For us, the golfers, the lesson is to never take up residence in the rut that thoughtless repetition digs.

We found our way to the North Sea Diner, a burrow near the Wolf Swamp sanctuary, north of route 27 and Southampton. Three of us had eaten there last August, and the food and company were as comfortable as we remembered. What we had forgotten were its name and location. We swore it was south, toward the ocean. Instead, we found ourselves north, near the Peconic Bay. No matter. Things rarely are identical to what you recall, but in the final assessment, they are worthwhile.

In the end, each experience should be measured against these words of farwell, courtesy of Charles Krauthammer: 
     It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad 
     to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.