As I sat on the plane on the way home from our “family vacation” at the crack of dawn this morning, I thought about how things change…and don’t. When I met Tom, the kids were 4 (Dean) and 8 (Caitlyn). Starting out together, the weekends I had the kids in the summer were pretty standard. Take Tom to the golfcourse to play in a tournament, watch him tee off, pick him up after his round. If he played well, the remainder of the day was good…if he played poorly, we left him alone to pout (yup, I went there). I married a golfer. I didn’t know EXACTLY what I was getting into, but this man I fell in love with made me so happy; indulging his love of golf was the least I could do for him. This is how we started life as a newly formed family. Not quite the Partridge family, but we did our best. I came from a broken marriage where the last thing we did was try to make each other happy. I was determined to show my kids what a real relationship looked like…where a husband & wife truly loved one-another enough to make sacrifices and allow and encourage each other to follow their dreams. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked…and it worked well.
As time went on…the level of competition increased & some of the venues for the bigger tournaments were farther away. The kids didn’t need to be with me (and didn’t want to be) every moment they were home so I was able to spend more time actually watching Tom play. We still maintained at least one family trip each year; always involving golf (specifically the Michigan Open in Traverse City). For (about) the next 10 years, this was a typical summer for “the Werkmeisters”. Again, it probably wasn’t anyone else’s version of normal, but it was who we were.
Not much has changed in the sense that this particular family vacation was also centered around golf – but it has been about 6 or 8 years since we’ve been able to take one together – mostly because the kids are working and have their own busy lives. I see other young families enjoying each other at the beach, at the pool…anywhere except a golfcourse…and I wonder if we did the right thing by the kids growing up. This past week was a typical situation where, when I asked Tom before we left if we could have some days without golf and hearing him agree (to make me happy then me relenting and telling him to play), that I reflect and think that truly this whole journey is for us just as much as it is for him. I really planned this to be a time to connect before the craziness started, but as much as I tried to fight it & get my way…I had to keep in mind that successful athletes are not alone, they have family & friends who love them unconditionally, support them unquestionably and encourage them unfailingly (I was pretty excited to find that IS a word by the way). Tom has the most incredible support system…his family & friends are all in. 150% IN. Physically, emotionally and even (for a select few who are able) monetarily. Our kids (we now have 3 with the addition of Caitlyn’s husband Ryan) are also all in. They have been so awesome through this; supporting us whenever they can, however they can. Dean plays chauffeur to & from the airport for us, babysits his 4-legged fur-sisters & manages the house while we travel. Caitlyn keeps me sane by listening to my complaining (albeit by text – sometimes I’m sure she’d like to ignore me but doesn’t) and Ryan is Tom’s built-in playing partner & stand-in caddy if ever needed (he is a scratch player himself & former Chicago City Amateur Champion – not to mention a legend in Muskegon where they live).
Our friends, old and new, are nothing short of amazing; some of them even have even traveled to watch him play. I’ll never forget when Tom went to play in the US Mid-Am at Bandon Dunes in Oregon and a wonderful couple (Larry & Margaret Seekman) who were members at The Highlands with us actually traveled out to Bandon to watch. So you’re saying, “well that’s fun though”. Well careful what you call “fun”. The round they got to watch (Tom didn’t make the cut) was in sideways rain and 55 degrees. They refer to umbrellas in that weather as “trash can liners”. But there they were…on the sidelines rooting us on (back in my caddy days). They are still friends and still a couple of Tom’s biggest fans…although we don’t get to see them at all really anymore…the good thing about social media is they still follow along and send their words of encouragement from their home in Florida. Then there are the 3 members Tom played with his 2nd round of the week at TPC Treviso Bay; Peter Iovanni from Boston and Robert & Cathy Fareri, a couple from the Jersey shore. Before the round, Cathy told Tom she was nervous to play with him (the pro told them about Tom’s efforts to be on the Champions Tour), but by the end of the round, they were all new fans; all reaching out to him afterwards to let him know they would be watching & rooting him on. I could go on with stories like those. Old friends. New friends. All supporting, all encouraging.
Our family outside of the kids, while a bit more subtle, are a constant source of stability and reality. They keep us grounded – especially his Mom and Dad who are two of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. The apple certainly did not fall far from the tree.
Sometimes I fear this is too much pressure for him…but he’s handling it well so far. I truly believe this is because we’ve all been here all along. Yes, there are some new supporters that jumped in monetarily, but they did so on the advice of some of Tom’s long-time supporters who consist of some brilliant businessmen who have personally (by playing with him) watched Tom’s game grow. Over 20 years they watched him go from being another wannabe to a City Champion to a State Champion to a National Champion. It’s not hard to see he’s the real deal…so much so that he was honored with a place in the State Golf Hall of Fame. Not hard to sell that investment. He’s always handled the pressure of it all and risen above it all…I have no doubt he will again. It may take a year or even two, but he is destined to rise to the next level.
Here’s something funny: along with this ascent in the level of competition has come somewhat skewed expectations. This past week Tom played 5 of 7 days (and practiced 1 other day) while we were down in Marco Island, Florida (including playing on my birthday – it was Grey Oakes, I couldn’t say no). My birthday was also going to be his first round after 2-1/2 weeks off & a back injury during that time that had him visiting our friend Eric Hartman for chiropractic treatments every other day for a week & a half! I’m not going to lie, I was concerned about where his game was going to be…only to feel silly for worrying. I watched him play the round that morning and shoot 37/31 which was really fun and a perfect birthday morning for me. The other 5 rounds weren’t as good…and even as I type that I chuckle because HE WAS UNDER PAR EVERY ROUND! That’s how it is now. Even I expect him to shoot -2 (or better) so -1 leaves me blasé! What the heck!? It doesn’t help that when I ask how he played I get an emotionless, “eh. Okay. I hit the ball good.” then to find out he was under par…at courses he’s never seen before…with guys who are ON vacation & out to have fun! Not ideal scoring conditions mentally, but he still shoots under par. Yah, expectations are a bit altered now.
This week will be busy. We flew back today (Saturday). Tom’s 50th birthday is Thursday. We’re having a small, private birthday party for him on Friday and he leaves for his first official tournament as a senior on Saturday (a Sunbelt Tour event, the Miami Senior Open). He’ll then fly directly from Miami to his first PGA Champions tour event in Biloxi, MS – the Monday qualifier for the Rapiscan Systems Classic. Meanwhile I fly to Germany for a week for work the same day he leaves for Miami, and will be flying to Biloxi for a long weekend the week after that if by some chance he manages to qualify for the tournament.
I fear that this is our new “normal”. Him going one direction and me staying back or even sometimes going another direction. Thank God for the first 20 years we’ve spent together to prepare for this (our 20th anniversary is April 3rd). Thank God for our family & friends standing by us, on the ready to help & support BOTH of us. Thank God for our employers (Tom works for MCS Marketing & I work for Bihl+Wiedemann, Inc) who are also IN 150% (I neglected to mention them earlier). I fear it, but I welcome it..because ready or not PGA old guys (and I think he’s ready)…here he comes!