I’ll never forget the moment I decided to go all in on my son Jordan’s golf career. It was in the final round of the Boys 12-13 division of the Alabama State Junior Championship at the classic Donald Ross–designed Mountain Brook Club, just outside of Birmingham. There had been a two-hour rain delay, with only a few holes left to play for the leaders. As we sat in the exceedingly formal MBC clubhouse, waiting out the violent summer thunderstorm, Jordan and I discussed his chances. He was three strokes back. He was only 12—still at an age when sitting and talking with his father at a golf tournament with his friends around was not a complete embarrassment. Jordan had always been the most positive kid I knew, and he was no different this day. “If I birdie the last three holes,” he smiled, “I still have a chance, Dad.”
When play resumed, the boys went right back out to their positions with no warmup. Jordan’s first hole was a difficult 170-yard par 3, all over water to a tiny green with an impossible pin placement. I was up ahead watching by the green, as I always did in those precious years. My son was up first. He took a couple of practice swings and played quickly. I can still hear the sound of that strike. The ball flew dead straight, landed 2 feet short of the hole, hit the pin and stopped on the edge of the cup. Right then I knew that I would do whatever possible—financial and personal concerns be damned—to help my son play golf at the highest level. I spent the next seven years of my life focused on this promise.
It was Aug. 2, 2012, and Jordan shot the low round of the tournament that day, but finished tied for second. The top 10 finishers that year all went on to play Division 1 collegiate golf. Many of them are still playing at various schools around the country. My sweet, happy boy—whose golf instructor once told me had more raw talent than any player he had ever taught—died on May 17, 2021, at 21 years old of an accidental drug overdose.
The grief of losing a child is not quantifiable. It comes in subtle and devious forms. Just seeing Jordan’s blue KPMG golf hat—he was a huge Phil Mickelson fan—could make me cry uncontrollably for an hour. A few days after his death, my wife and I opened a safe in his room. It contained two letters from his former high school golf teammates, a Jalen Hurts football card and various photos of our family together over the years, including one of me holding him at the hospital the day he was born. It was heartbreaking beyond any of my previous comprehension. I was barely able to get out of bed most days and found it almost impossible to focus on my work as an architect. The sense of guilt I felt over Jordan’s death—and will probably always feel—was often overwhelming.
I had to do something drastic. On Aug. 2, 2021—nine years to the day of that long-ago junior golf tournament—I boarded a plane by myself in Huntsville, Alabama, to fly to Glasgow, Scotland, to spend a month in my favorite country. It seemed like the only way to begin to heal from the irreparable.
I became fascinated with links golf while watching the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry, the legendary Duel in the Sun between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. It was my father’s favorite tournament, and it became my favorite tournament. Other kids could recite the lineups of the Boston Red Sox or Cincinnati Reds; I could rattle off every winner at every venue. When I was in high school, my dad and I vowed to make the trip. We first went in 1994 and played the Old Course, Carnoustie, Crail and, critically for me, Cruden Bay, Machrihanish and Dunaverty. The upcoming month in Scotland would be my seventh visit.
On my previous one—in 2019, to the Mull of Kintyre—my son Jake and I met and played golf with Robbie Wilson, a native and resident of Lochgilphead. As sometimes happens in life, Robbie and I hit it off immediately, and we had since become close. I joined Dunaverty Golf Club, my favorite course in the world, with his help. He was one of the first people I contacted about Jordan’s death. I didn’t want him to see something about it first on social media. We spoke, with me unable to get out many coherent words, and Robbie offered to do anything he could. His home would become my base camp.
Not long after his run at the State Junior Championship, Jordan began to take lessons from well-known teacher Hank Johnson at Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham. They were wildly expensive, but I didn’t care. Jordan loved Hank, and his game was improving all the time. He was named Player of the Year by the Alabama Junior Golf Association and started playing on the varsity team at Hartselle High School in seventh grade. In the summer, our family vacations were spent traveling to tournaments all over the Southeast. By 2013, still in eighth grade, he was one of the top players on a talented high school golf team. He won two events that year and three more the next. The team qualified for the state high school championship in 2013 and finished third in 2014.
In 2015, Jordan was a sophomore and the best player on a stacked team. There was a special chemistry and determination with that group, and rural, small-town Hartselle High won the Alabama State Championship over two teams from the Birmingham area that were loaded with Shoal Creek and Birmingham Country Club members. After the final hole, he was ecstatic and hugged me harder and longer than any other time in his life. It remains the single happiest moment of my time on earth.
But time does not stop. Although three of that core group of golfers were back in 2016, the team dynamic was changed. Jordan still had a great individual season. He was happy, making good grades, and won two more times that spring. I bought him his first car. College coaches began to contact him, including two Division I programs in Alabama. We made a visit to one of the schools the summer following his junior year. After talking to Jordan for 10 minutes, the coach offered him a scholarship. He was so proud and happy. I was too. What dad would not be overjoyed? Jordan had already been offered a full golf scholarship to a local two-year college, so we told the coach we were going to think about it. Playing Division I golf with a full academic schedule is a major adjustment, so I wanted us to consider all the choices. Maybe starting out at a smaller school would be better for him.
The nice young woman at the Glasgow Airport Hertz rental counter was ecstatic to hear my Alabama accent. “You are the first American I’ve seen in almost two years,” she said with a huge smile. “You’re here for a month? On holiday or for work?” “A bit of both, I think. Scotland is my favorite country,” I replied. “Aye, it’s lovely, isn’t it?” she said as she handed me the keys. Her voice was like hearing an old friend. I felt strangely at peace for the first time since May 16. I was home.
The drive over the Erskine Bridge and around Loch Lomond on the A82 is one I’ve made many times—a beautiful stretch along the famous loch, past the historic village of Luss and then on to Tarbet, where I stopped and found a bench by the water and took some time to think about Jordan. I replayed the last week of his life, as I did in every free minute. There were families with small children having picnics on the shore. I felt a sharp pang of grief as I watched a young father kick a soccer ball back and forth with his son. The sky was crystal-clear blue, with the sun illuminating everything in a surreal yellow light. I walked to the car and drove on to Lochgilphead.
Robbie greeted me in his shop with a hug. “You’ll be needing some tea,” he said. He returned with some cakes and two cups. It was such a relief to simply talk about golf with him. We discussed where I should go for the first part of the trip. He planned to join me for as much as he was able. We would, of course, play Dunaverty together, but I convinced him to come with me out to the remote Isle of Colonsay to tackle the ancient course there. It is a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Oban. There is a single hotel with eight rooms. We booked one before the tea cooled.
During the first 10 days staying at my friend’s house, we never really talked about what had happened with Jordan. I think Robbie wanted me to have some sense of normalcy, and he was right. We ate fish and chips and watched golf on TV at night. On his advice, I visited the brilliant Isle of Seil Golf Club. We played Dunaverty and had dinner at the new Machrihanish clubhouse. Some nice people invited us to play Gullane No. 1, North Berwick and Panmure as their guests. We made a whirlwind trip to East Lothian and then up to Angus—54 holes in two days—staying the night at the Ducks Inn in Aberlady.
Our visit to the Isle of Colonsay was magical. We walked a links seemingly unchanged in 250 years, mingling with sheep roaming the machair. The turf was resilient and fast. The beach and ocean were in constant view on a rare clear day. We were the only two people on the course. Good shots were struck and we laughed at the miracle of this old course on such a remote corner of the planet. That evening, we sat outside in the hotel garden, watching the sunset with a pint of Tennent’s. The manager stopped by and told us there were fresh oysters, just caught that morning. Robbie made it all feel like the usual Scottish adventure we would have taken years ago. It was the only thing he could have done.
Jordan and I had high hopes for his senior golf season in 2017. He’d had a good summer, making the cut in the Future Masters and playing well in several other events. He practiced every day until dark, and it showed. I would sit on our front porch in the evenings and wait for him to get home from the course so he could tell me about his day. I can remember listening for the sound of his car coming up the street. He was the team leader now. All the guys he’d played with for so many years were gone. In hindsight, I think this started to affect him. Those friends had always been a positive influence, but his new group didn’t have the same vibe. His grades slipped badly. He said he was having a hard time concentrating on his schoolwork. He was really worried about it, and we found him a respected psychiatrist. He was prescribed Adderall. I believe this is the first—and maybe the most critical—factor that ultimately led to his death.
In my opinion, Adderall is a dangerous drug. While I’m sure it has helped a lot of people, it is also widely abused on high school and college campuses. I still wonder if he was encouraged by friends at school to try to get a prescription for it. At the time, we didn’t think much of it because Jordan’s grades had improved almost immediately. He appeared upbeat and said he could focus so much better at school. His high school golf coach praised him for the academic improvement. Everything seemed to be back on track. But that proved to be a high-water mark; his outgoing personality began changing over the next few months.
Jordan still had a good senior season. He mentored the younger players, and the team played well, although not to the heights of previous years. Jordan was just not quite himself. He started to become more withdrawn at home. Gone were the conversations of the summer—he would go in his room and shut the door when he got home from golf practice. Although he won once and made several all-tournament teams, as I look back at all the photos from that season now, I notice that some of the sparkle had left his eyes.
There were still some wonderful moments. The team made it through sectionals and was on to sub-state, where only the top two teams advanced to the state championship. Jordan was not striking it well that day, but battled the entire round and managed a 74. After finishing third as a team, his high school career was over. Life has so many abrupt endings. The winning team was full of guys who had been Jordan’s rivals for almost six years. As they were celebrating by the 18th green, my son walked over into the middle of them and shook every single one of their hands. I still cry when thinking about it.
The plan was to play one more round with Robbie, then venture out solo from Lochgilphead to the northwest coast of Scotland. We drove up to Traigh, an ethereal nine-hole layout, to play with his daughter and her boyfriend. After a brilliant round, Robbie headed home and I stayed the night in Fort William with Shannon and Gregor. Since it never seems to get dark in Scotland, the three of us got in another round at a local nine-holer in South Ballachulish.
The course—formerly called Dragon’s Tooth and now bearing the unfortunate American-sounding name Woodlands—is in the shadow of Sgòrr Dhearg, a 3,360-foot peak of the Beinn a’ Bheithir, one of the most dramatic mountains in Scotland. Shannon, a former player on the Scottish national shinty team (a sport close to American field hockey), is tall, outgoing and a strong ball-striker. Gregor, somewhat more reticent, was on leave from the U.K. army, but his love of golf was obvious. We had never met, but they took me in like we were old friends. I loved playing with them; it was nice to see two people with their entire lives ahead. Yet it came with melancholy: Jordan would never be able to play a spontaneous round with his girlfriend on a summer Sunday night.
Somehow, the moment passed without me breaking down completely.
At the wild 90-degree dogleg of the third hole, the fairway dropped down to a lower level. We all hit good drives. When we got to the corner, I noticed a massive red deer grazing by the green, about 100 yards away. It seemed unconcerned by anything we were doing, and when we all hit our shots to the green, it nonchalantly strolled into the woods, where a burbling river ran into Loch Linnhe. I putted out first and went ahead of Shannon and Gregor, who were hitting a few practice putts. As I crossed the bridge, I noticed the deer staring straight up at me. I froze. The deer did not move. I stood on the edge of that stone bridge and looked at this beautiful creature for at least a minute, knowing it was a sign from my son. When Shannon and Gregor walked up, the deer did not run; he just slowly faded into the evening mist.
Jordan graduated from high school in May 2017. I look at his senior photographs now and don’t know why I didn’t do more to help him. His last Future Masters and Alabama State Junior were that summer before college, and even though he played decently, I knew something was wrong. He didn’t prepare the way he always had. We decided that it would be best to accept the community college scholarship. The Division I coach understood and made it clear that Jordan could still come play for him after his first year. It seemed like a good plan. But the community college coach who had signed him, who knew Jordan well and loved him, quit before the season started. A totally different, negative-reinforcement-style coach took over. That was the worst thing that could’ve happened, given Jordan’s fragile mental state. He quit school and college golf after the second tournament.
We didn’t talk much for several months afterward. It was frightening, but he was still seeing the same psychiatrist, so I thought he would eventually be OK. Sure enough, after those tough months, he surprised me by proclaiming he wanted to play golf again. He was so talented that another community college in the area immediately offered him a full scholarship. It seemed like he was returning to his old self. He started practicing and going to see his instructor again. I took him to the school and got him signed up for all his classes.
I know he was trying hard to make it. We began talking more. When his new team started the fall season in 2019, Jordan was excited. I played a few rounds with him at Sweetens Cove in those weeks leading up to September and he turned out some incredible golf. He had a 30 on one nine-hole loop. I was letting myself believe that my son had come back to the world. I did not see any major issues, but in the back of my mind I knew he still acted somewhat off at times; “Adderall strange” is the only way I know how to phrase it. He had to pass random drug testing to play, so he was not taking anything illegal at the time. That made me feel better.
The team qualified each week for upcoming tournaments, like most schools do. After playing decent golf with a few stretches of brilliance in the first event, he missed qualifying for the second one. I have since learned that the coach chewed him out in front of the entire team after that first tournament, yelling that he had “wasted a scholarship” on him. But he got back after it and led the first round of qualifying the following week with a 69. After the round, instead of being praised for having a great day, his coach asked why he didn’t play that way all the time. Jordan told his mother all of this; I never knew until after his death. I am now sure he suffered from severe anxiety, low self-esteem and at least moderate depression. Considering that, the negativity of his new coach was dangerously unhealthy for Jordan. I am not placing blame on the man, but it was the exact opposite approach to what Jordan needed. Two days after that 69, Jordan quit school and college golf again.
From Fort William, I headed north through the Highlands alone, playing courses in the Scottish wilds as the mood took me. I made a detour and played the stunning Isle of Skye GC at Sconser. Next came the quirky and fun Lochcarron GC, followed by one of the revelations of the entire trip, Gairloch. The nine holes there on the ocean are as playful and beautiful as any place I’ve been; I stayed an extra night at the Gairloch Hotel so I could play it again. The freedom of time and isolation felt good. I played at my own pace, going out early and usually never seeing another golfer, often stopping to take in the view from a memorial bench. It seems like every course in Scotland has one.
I reached Durness, the northernmost course in mainland Scotland, around 11 a.m. one day and found the parking lot deserted and the clubhouse unlocked. A nice local gentleman came to greet me as I was walking out of the tidy but empty building; he must have seen me drive up the narrow road. “Do you need any help?” he asked. I explained that I was actually a member, having joined during the first wave of the pandemic to help the club, and that I’d always wanted to play it. “Aye, there were many folks around the world that did that. It was much appreciated,” he said. “Well, it’s a pity about the weather. You’ve got it to yourself today.” He then explained the entire nine-hole routing to me, which was helpful considering the first hole is a 90-degree dogleg left straight up a mountain.
The haar and thick mist of rain lent an air of mystery to this wild, remote outpost of golf. After climbing the mountain to the first green, I began to understand why Durness is beloved by so many. The view back down to the eighth and ninth holes, both hard by the Atlantic, is spectacular. I walked slowly alone among the heroic dunes, taking time to hit as many shots as I wanted.
Jordan had an original 1990s-era Scotty Cameron putter that he had used since he was 12 years old. It’s identical to the one that Jordan Spieth still uses. I treated it for him with gun-metal oil before every tournament. It was the putter he used to win the state championship on that memorable day in 2015. He loved that club, and I’d brought it with me to use on this trip. When I reached the fifth tee, I remembered a conversation we’d had in the weeks before he died about Scottish courses. We’d watched short videos of Dunaverty, Durness, Machrihanish and others on YouTube. He’d said that Durness looked like a place he would love to go.
There is a bench behind the tee looking down that wonderful fifth fairway; the entire world of Durness is spread out before you. I sat there and pulled out my son’s putter. I ran my fingers across the lead tape he had carefully put on the bottom of it. I remembered the night we’d gone to the store to buy the tape and a dozen high-number Pro V1s, his favorite ball. We’d stopped to eat at a Buffalo Wild Wings on the way home. Parents sometimes do not realize how precious and fleeting these simple everyday moments are. “I am so sorry you are not here, baby,” I said quietly to the howling wind as I held my son’s favorite club. For the first time since arriving in Scotland, I sobbed uncontrollably.
After quitting college golf for the second time, Jordan began to slip further away from us. He quit playing altogether and rarely spoke to me. He had a girlfriend at the time, and when she broke up with him unexpectedly he withdrew even more. He rarely left his room, staying up all night playing video games and sleeping all day. I suspected that he might have started experimenting with other drugs besides Adderall, but I didn’t know what to do. I would occasionally text him that I loved him and would do anything to help. He would sometimes respond with “I love you too, Dad,” but that was about the extent of our interaction during that time.
A ray of hope broke through when he decided to work on the grounds crew at the local golf club where he’d learned to play the game with my father. His first-ever tournament win was the junior club championship there when he was just 12 years old, beating players several years older than him. I wondered about him going to work there after having been a member for so long, but he seemed to love it. He was far from himself, but he got up every morning, went to work and worked hard. Many days he would send pictures of a fairway or green he had just finished mowing to his mother, brothers and me on our group text. I started to talk to him about pursuing a career in golf course maintenance.
In the late fall of 2020, due to the actions of another employee, Jordan lost his job suddenly. This was catastrophic for his mental state. He retreated to his room and went back to playing PlayStation all night and sleeping all day. We rarely spoke. I knew he was either drinking heavily and/or taking drugs of some kind. I was at a loss. He was 21 years old and I could not make him do anything that he did not want to do.
Early in 2021, Jordan made some small attempts to engage with the family. He went to play nine holes with his two older brothers. One Sunday in February, he sat down and watched golf with me for two hours. His eyes were clear and he was smiling. He continued working on a one-hole golf course he had started building in our backyard when he had been on the greens crew. Despite these flashes, there were still many times when something wasn’t right. Nevertheless, I remained hopeful. We watched the Masters together that spring for the first time in years. In late April, he played in a big golf tournament with me at the University of Alabama. We talked the entire drive there. Our group included one of his heroes, former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. Jordan’s swing still looked perfect, and he played well that day. McCarron asked him for swing advice. We had a great time, but when I looked at his eyes, I could see he was still struggling.
I was working in my office in early May when Jordan knocked on the door and came in. He never did that. He said excitedly, “Dad, I know I have wasted my talent these last few years. I want to play golf again. I want to play in tournaments again. I can try the mini-tours.” I was shocked. I told him I didn’t care if he ever played golf again, but if that’s what he wanted, I would help. He would not stop: “I know I can do it, Dad. I’m ready to work at it again.” Thrilled that he was talking to me, I went along with it. For the last 10 days of his life, we spoke every day. We watched golf videos at night and talked about Mickelson’s chances at the PGA. I laughed and said Phil had no shot, but Jordan thought he might go big. He played with his grandfather, my dad, on May 12. He texted me shot by shot, something he had not done since his junior year of high school: “Just had 4 feet for birdie.” “Eagle putt on 5 lipped out.” “This is the best I’ve hit the ball in four years.” “I just shot 70 and it should have been a 63.” “I know I can come back.”
I let myself think that maybe he was getting better.
From Durness, I took the harrowing A838 around Loch Eriboll to Reay. The camper vans heading west barrel along the narrow single-track road toward the oncoming cars, sometimes four in a row, seemingly daring them to proceed. I took to pulling over into the nearest passing place whenever I would see them coming in the distance. Worn out by the drive, I decided to stay local for a few nights and play Reay and Wick. It was a good decision; they are both excellent courses. From there I started back south, stopping for two nights to play Brora and Golspie. They are often overshadowed by their rightfully world-famous neighbor, Royal Dornoch, but they shouldn’t be. I thought about Jordan, especially when I came to a hole or shot that I knew he would have loved, but I did not feel overwhelming grief.
I was slowly making my way back to meet Robbie for three final nights at Dunaverty, via the Isle of Arran. On a clear day, the wee nine-holer at Corrie GC has to rank as one of the most stunningly scenic golf courses on the planet. I took my time and visited Machrie Bay and 12-hole Shiskine, one of my favorite courses in Scotland.
One night I was sitting on the patio in the Brodick Bar, nursing a pint and watching dogs walk by, when I got a message on Instagram from Greg McCrae, Arran native and owner of a small, homey pizza and ice cream restaurant there. He’d seen that I was in town. A few minutes later, Greg walked into the bar, carrying his golf bag over his shoulder.
We talked for several minutes about golf on the island, and he asked me about the other courses I had played on my trip. When I started to explain the reason I was there, he stopped me: “Aye, I know why you are here, Jim. I hope you find some peace.”
In the aftermath, you analyze every moment you can remember of the final days. On May 14, the Friday before Jordan died, I had driven to Jacksonville State University in northeast Alabama for a work project. On my way back home, he texted me: “Can you give me some money to buy a practice net to put in the backyard? I’ve been chipping all day, but I want to work on my swing.” Of course I would. When I got home, he was in the front yard waiting for me. I gave him $40 and he thanked me. He returned a few minutes later with a net that he immediately erected. That afternoon, I was in my home office when I got another text from him: “Can you come out here and take some videos of my swing?” He had not asked me to do this since his senior year in high school. On this late-spring evening in Alabama, it looked perfect.
The next day, I bought him lunch at Zaxby’s. He left at some point in the afternoon with a friend who had asked him to help on a potential landscaping project. I went to bed early to read a book. While I was lying there, I had the idea to take Jordan up to play Sweetens Cove the next day. We had not been there together in a long time. Out the window, in the twilight, I saw him cutting the small green in our backyard with a manual reel mower. He had his headphones on, so I went back to bed and fell asleep. It was the last time I saw my son alive.
On Sunday around 9 a.m., I texted him about playing. He responded immediately, “I would love to, Dad, but we are going to work on this landscaping project today. I am going to get paid $100.” He seemed proud to be doing some work and making a little money on his own, so I did not push it: “OK, be careful. I will see you when I get home tonight. I love you.” “Love you too,” he responded. It was our last communication.
I made the drive up to my favorite American golf course and walked 18 holes. When I got home that night, Jordan wasn’t there. My wife said he was still working. Exhausted from the day, I went to sleep, thinking that it was good that he was doing something he enjoyed. The next morning, Monday, May 17, I took a shower to get ready for a 9 a.m. Zoom meeting. Afterward, I saw a notice on my phone that a 911 call had been made from Jordan’s number at 8:16. It was approximately 8:20 when I saw it. I went straight to his room, which was out in our old garage and a little separate from the rest of the house. He wasn’t there. I immediately called my wife, who was at our oldest son’s house, babysitting our new grandson. She told me Jordan had come in late to get his PlayStation. He had taken it over to his grandfather’s house, who was out of town, to play with his friend. They had just decided to stay there together and play video games all night.
I called Jordan’s phone. No answer. I rushed to my dad’s, which is less than a five-minute drive away. There is no point in describing what I saw and what happened over the next several frantic minutes. It is something that no parent should ever see. It is my sincere prayer that any parent reading this never has to experience it. At the hospital, they told us that Jordan had likely died from an interaction between Adderall and an opioid pill or Xanax, possibly laced with fentanyl. There was no alcohol in his system.
A drive-up ferry services Lochranza to Arran to Claonaig. I got there early to beat the camper vans and the coffee-shop queue. Crossing the Kilbrannan Sound back over to the Kintyre Peninsula to meet Robbie, an old, unfamiliar emotion returned: excitement. I had booked a small house for the next three nights at Dunaverty Rock—a mere 75 yards or so from the fourth green at Dunaverty Golf Club, my favorite hole on my favorite course. That Friday afternoon, we were scheduled to play with Ari Techner, a friend from Sweetens Cove who had moved his family to Campbeltown from the U.S. in the summer of 2019. We grabbed a soup-and-sandwich lunch in the clubhouse before meeting Ari on the first tee for the kind of game that can be played only by the ocean in Scotland with good friends.
On Saturday, Robbie and I played as a team in a best-ball open competition at Machrihanish, his home club. Machrihanish is my second-favorite course in the world. I was relieved to play well for my friend at a place we love so much. That night, we sat in our den looking over Dunaverty Beach and talked into the late hours about our families, life and, of course, golf. Before going to bed, we decided to get up early and play Dunaverty one more time together. Robbie said we should just walk out to the fifth tee, eat lunch in the clubhouse, then play the last four holes and end up right back at the house.
The morning was eerily quiet. Normally you can hear the waves crashing, the ever-present howling wind or the constant braying of sheep in the distance. As we stood on the fifth tee, it was silent and calm. We were the only golfers out on the course, and we didn’t say anything to each other before we teed off. We both hit the ball well at first, but I missed short putts on the first four holes. “Unlucky, Jim,” Robbie said as I missed yet another 4-footer for par on No. 8. Then he stopped. Robbie is a brilliant golfer, but he rarely, if ever, gives playing advice on the course. “The only thing that matters is hitting the ball in the middle of the putter face, Jim. That is the only way you will ever make a putt. That’s all there is to it.”
The 11th tee at Dunaverty is the highest point on the course and is appropriately named Mount Zion. If there is a holy place in the game for me, that is it. There is a bench where I usually stop and sit for as long as I feel like it. The turbulent and unparalleled linksland of Dunaverty spreads out before you, the impossibly blue Irish Sea in the far middle ground and the coast of Northern Ireland just visible in the distance. After we both drove the green situated well below—with a helping wind, I must admit—Robbie asked if we should sit for a few minutes.
The weight of everything that had happened suddenly came crashing down on me. I thought about Jordan and how much he would love hitting off this tee. He would hit his 2-iron, I thought, and I could just see him striking it with that piercing, beautiful ball flight. I thought of my son Jake, who had laughed out loud when we crested the ridge on the blind ninth hole and saw his ball on the green. I thought about my oldest boy, Jonathan, who has his own son. They had been so affected by their brother’s death. I thought about my sweet dad, who had first come to Dunaverty with me in 1994 and loved it so much, and was still so heartbroken over the loss of his precious grandson, whom he had helped to learn the game. I was crying and could not stop. “I’m sorry, Robbie. I’m thinking about Jordan and Jake and—”
I could not get any other words out. Robbie put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I know, Jim. I know. God bless your soul.”
In those first days following Jordan’s death, I was reaching out for anything to grab onto. Scottish author and Shetland Islands resident Tom Morton, whose classic Hell’s Golfer had been one of my bibles for the wilds of Scottish golf, had recently written a book called It Tolls for Thee about “reclaiming and celebrating the end of life.” We had corresponded a few times on Twitter, so one night I messaged Tom with the terrible news and asked if his research for the new book had led to any revelations about how to deal with such a tragic loss. He responded immediately: “Oh, Jim, I’m so sorry. I have been in Ayrshire for the past 10 days with my father, who just died on Saturday. The book ends with a quote I have found helpful and is often wrongly attributed to Queen Elizabeth: ‘The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love. It is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment.’ I’m afraid I have no overarching insight except to say that love endures.”
When you become a parent, you have only one job for the rest of your life: to protect your child. It is the only thing that really matters. I have no overarching insight to offer other than that.
Robbie had to leave after our round to get back home to Lochgilphead. We stood on the deck outside of Dunaverty Rock and said our goodbyes. I started to cry again as he hugged me. “You stay well, my friend,” he said. I could not get any coherent words out. He drove off behind the fourth green and was gone. The next morning, I started out toward Glasgow Airport and home—stopping on Arran for a last round at Shiskine with Ari, then on to ancient Prestwick for the final round of my month-long journey. Prestwick was the site of my first round in Scotland, almost 30 years earlier with my dad. It was the appropriate place to finish this odyssey. I hoped this wouldn’t be my last round of golf in this wondrous country, but if it was, the symmetry felt right.
On my final night, I stayed near the beach in Ayr. I walked downtown to find a place to eat, then walked back to the beach to watch the sunset. It was a clear night. I realized that I could see Dunaverty in the far distance, past the southern tip of Arran. A young boy was throwing a tennis ball to his dog in the gentle surf. I smiled, and for the first time in what felt like a very long time, I did not cry.