Last Competition

by Doug Magill

Edisto Beach lies south of Charleston, and has a reputation for being undeveloped and out-of-the-way.  The locals call the pace there, Edis-slow.  It was a perfect place for my two brothers, my sister and I to gather in late September to connect, spend time together and celebrate our now aging family. 

Late in our week together my older brother Bob and I played golf on the Tom Jackson-designed Plantation Course on the island, and my younger brother Tom joined us – though he couldn’t play.  It was especially poignant, as Tom has been an avid – some might say obsessive – golfer since childhood.  He carried a 6 handicap for a while, and had a smooth and powerful swing.  He and I would compete intensely against each other every fall when we got together, just because we were brothers.

The Plantation Course is a lush and winding delight, with water hazards – it seemed – on every hole.  The Par 3 3rd at is a gently sloping 142-yard hole, with traps guarding the approach.  Tom asked if he could play this one hole with us, borrowing my rental clubs.  I outdrove him with a nice, arcing 8-iron that happily found the trap in front of the green.  Tom’s swing was awkward, creaky and bouncy, but his ball made it out about 120 yards.

Tom was thin, pale, and had an old man’s gait, due to the rod in his leg from the cancer that had caused part of his femur to be taken.  His hip hurt, he had trouble breathing due to the cancer in his chest and he had scars from chest surgery.  He also recently had surgery on his jaw due to calcification from the radiation treatments for his neck cancer.  His swing was a shadow of what it once was, but he was still in the fairway.

My second shot didn’t clear the trap, and Tom’s looked like one of his normal chip shots onto the green.  His short game was always better than mine, as he had learned long ago that chipping and putting saved his game –  and he worked at it.  When we competed I usually won, as I found that negotiating strokes beat technical skill any day, and Tom would be overconfident and lose angrily.  There’s nothing else like competition between brothers.  But, in the last few years that changed, as he learned to negotiate to how I played and began winning more often. 

Three years ago Tom was diagnosed simultaneously with neck and kidney cancer.  His kidney was removed immediately, and he began radiation and chemotherapy for his neck cancer.  It was horrific, and left him weakened, scarred, and without taste or salivary glands.  He endured, with grace and humility.  And, he never complained, or felt sorry for himself.  He later developed jaw problems that required multiple surgeries which left him unable to open his mouth very well.

I finally found the green and two-putted.  My little brother had two putts as well.  His grin was pure Tom, and for that moment there was joy, and we were brothers just playing golf.  And as he laughed he said, “You know, Doug, if this thing gets me you’ll be the youngest, but I’ll always be the favorite.”  And so it is.

Tom died a week later due to complications from the kidney cancer that had invaded his lungs.  Now, the final scorecard reads, Tom 4, Doug 5, in our last competition.  So, for the rest of my life there will be no rematch, but every game of golf I will play from now on I will see Tom’s grin at besting me once more.  Wherever he plays now, may his swing be supple and true, the fairways long, the rough high, the sand fine and the greens fast.  Requiescat in Pace, Tommy.


One thought on “Last Competition

  1. It’s so hard to lose a sibling. I remember one of my later conversations with my sister. We were sitting at the kitchen table talking about people in our lives who had passed on. Suddenly she paused, looked at me and said, “ I wonder what people will say and remember about me when I’m gone.” Their memories and their souls always live on, their faces look back at us from across a room or the kitchen table, when we do something that we used to do with them, when we share their stories.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. With much love, Leslie.


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