A Goodbye to a Father and a Golfer

I LOST A FATHER AND GOLF LOST an enthusiastic player and fan on November 30. James “Ralph” Sagebiel was 94 when he died.

A Goodbye to a Father and a Golfer 1
L to R: Kent, Dad (88) and me.

One of dad’s goals was to play golf when he turned 90, but he took a bad fall that hospitalized him at 89 and never played again. It did not dampen his enthusiasm for the game. He replayed a lot of rounds in his mind and through conversations as he lived his last five years in assisted living.

A longtime sports lover who played basketball and softball as a young man, dad took up the game relatively late. He was invited to play with borrowed clubs in his mid 30s and caught the golf bug. A Methodist minister in the 1960s, he’d play free on public courses in Southern Indiana on Mondays, his day off.

Later, when we moved to California and dad changed his career to education, he played a lot more golf, especially in the summers when school was out. I started playing, too, and through my teen and adult years we spent countless hours together on golf courses.

At dad’s memorial service in December, my older brother, Kent, captured our father quite well — especially through a golf lens — during the time we both shared remembrances.

Here’s what Kent said:

“Dad loved playing golf and was good at it. He was still playing at 89.

“But in his early 80s he lost his golf game. It simply disappeared. He couldn’t hit the ball in the air to save his life. He’d just dribble it down the fairway.

“This didn’t go on for a few weeks or a couple of months. It went on for a year, then another, and then a third year.

“It was painful to watch. A lot of golfers would have hung up their spikes and quit. Not dad. He never cussed, never complained, never threw a club.

“He just kept playing the game he loved, often with the people he loved. He rooted for them, complimenting their shots and games. For him, the glass was half full.

“Then one day I saw him hit one in the air, and then another and another. The California sun began to shine again on dad’s golf game.

“Dad lived his life like he played golf. He never gave up. The glass was always half full. And he never stopped playing.

“I’m going to really miss dad. But I’m going to keep playing, because that’s what he taught me and that’s what he would want us all to do. And I know in my heart that he is still playing and that we’ll all play together again.”

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

8 thoughts on “A Goodbye to a Father and a Golfer”

  1. Sorry to hear about your dad. I've just rejoined my old club Mortonhall in Edinburgh, partly in memory of my old dad. His buddies are still there. It's heart warming to see them.
    What a lovely article.
    One thing I'm sure of is that you would have been a good son to him. There is no doubting that.


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