“John, all I want to do is run a few photocopies. Can you get me in the office?” That was how I convinced John Daken, my former colleague, to let me access his office photocopy machine to run 50 copies of Buff-Golf, a leaflet that would soon reinvent itself as BuffaloGolfer, the website. John was a guidance counselor, and I was a recently-fired teacher at a local school. John’s extension of charity moved far beyond those monthly photocopies; we ran Buff-Golf as a leaflet for two years, before the web transformation. As I worked my way back into teaching, and out of a mild depression, John was there for each step. What types of steps? Here are two examples.
We were at Byrncliff while I was unemployed. John laughed as I fished each and every pop bottle and can from the garbage receptacles, so that I could turn them in to make a little cash. Fast forward to our first US Open trip, in 2002. We stopped in at Terry Hills to see if they were interested in a web review, something extraordinarily new at the time. “I’ve seen your site, and to be honest, I don’t see what it has to do with golf,” said the man behind the counter. What it has to do with golf? It’s all about golf. “Could you bring it up, so that I can see what you mean?” I asked back, and bring it up he did: buff.com, a gay male porn site. Yup, there we were, two gay, male porn stars, out for a round of golf in Batavia. So fetch.
I’m happy to say that I bestowed upon John his writing moniker, the Travelin’ Duff. I explained that Duff was more a term of endearment than a characterization of his game, and he believed me. John loved the open road, and so we scheduled as many trips east as we could. The early 2000s were blessed times for metro NYC golf. The first Bethpage Open was in 2002, soon followed by the 2004 playing at Shinnecock Hills, in the Hamptons. John was a Brooklyn boy, so being in the Hamptons and not under suspicion, was like a dream come true. If you know the Hamptons, you know that lodging doesn’t come cheap. That year, we were broke as usual, and needed a place to stay for five days, during the Open. It turns out that there was a campus of Southampton community college, coincidentally across the street from the entrance to Shinny. John got us a room in the dorms, for $75 a night…a steal if ever there was one.
We pulled into town at 3 am on Monday morning, to find our rooms wide open. We crashed and woke up the next day to the sounds of an impending national championship. Check-in was a breeze, and off we went to claim our press and photo passes. In the early 2K, the United State Golf Association, who run the Open, were as unfamiliar with the power of the web as anyone. So unfamiliar, in fact, that they gave two yokels from Buffalo complete access to the field. There we were, I with my spiffy, almost DSLR camera, and the Duff, with his … Walgreens disposable. Yup, the Duff had abandoned his good camera in Buffalo, and was forced to shoot with a disposable film camera. Can you imagine how many times the marshals stopped him, only to find out that he was a legit and credentialed photographer? I split my sides laughing as I recall those glorious days.
John had decided that his daughters and their children needed him more than golf did, so he let me know that he would be on hiatus from writing. It turned out to be permanent, and the web site was poorer for his absence. We still made the occasional pilgrimage to the Porter Cup in Lewiston, but the open road was no more.
I visited John in the hospital last week, and he spoke of rehabilitation and hoisting a beer together. He said it as if it were a foregone conclusion, one already written in the books. On Friday night, I’ll hoist that beer, but I won’t have company. I won’t have my very best, adult-hood friend, to join me in the toast. Instead, I’ll have memories and sadness and a smile and a hug. I love you, Duff, and I’m going to miss you something fierce.
John, The Scrambler (aka Kevin Lynch), PineCone (aka Brian Atkinson) and I took a trip to North Carolina in 2009. We stayed in Pinehurst and played a number of top courses. John, as we all know, could blend obstinate and stubborn to his own version of perfection, and this was one of the trips that he chose to mix that cocktail. On one particular course (Tobacco Road) John insisted that he park a golf cart on a hill next to the tee, and up to the deck he strode, pipe clenched in teeth, club and ball in hand. As he drew the club back, we heard the unset brake release, and the cart rolled down the hill, into the woods. Well, we couldn’t stop laughing, which made John angrier, until he finally saw our point of view. Duff, you are one tough cookie, even when you’re mad at me.
When folks weren’t looking, when there was no pressure, John had as good a swing as anyone. He put his club in the slot on the backswing, released his hips on the downswing, and let the ball fly. One year, he told me that he wanted to become a better, pressure player, so we agreed that we would play for a dollar a hole, every hole. I would give him one shot per hole, and at most, he could only lose $18 in a round. Round one didn’t go so well, and we never played for that amount again. Very few of us are meant to play this game competitively, but if we play it with enjoyment, we win.