Saturday, 26th September 2020

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

“My Kid’s Gonna Be a Star”

Posted on 30. Aug, 2009 by in Golf

In Zimbabwe, as in New Jersey, all fathers live their dreams though their kids

HARARE, Zimbabwe

On the parched fairways of the Wingate Park Golf Club in Harare, Zimbabwe, Lewis Muridzo takes a break from his afternoon of lessons and does what fathers everywhere do.  He brags about his son.

Tall, articulate and immaculately dressed, Muridzo pulls out the clippings. His son, Lewis Chitengwa, 25, plays scholarship golf at the University of Virginia.  He has won two college championships and finished in 7th place in the NCAA tournament. Golfweek magazine selected him as a pre-season first-team All American.

And, as Muridzo, will tell you with great delight, the boy beat an amateur Tiger Woods by three shots to win the 1992 Orange Bowl World Junior Tournament in Miami.

Nike contracts have started with less.

I ask myself, as I play a round with Muridzo, what would be the writing equivalent of beating Tiger?  A Pulitzer?  A rave review in the Times?  Spielberg calling up to see if the movie rights are available?

Lewis Muridzo has paid his dues, but never hit the big time himself.  Muridzo started as a caddy, became Wingate’s first black manager and now is one of the few black golf pros in Zimbabwe.  On these fairways-of-dreams he pushed his children to become champions.  A daughter, Rhoda, was offered a golf scholarship to the University of Virginia, but “fell pregnant” and apparently lost her competitiveness.  Lewis Chitengwa is Dad’s remaining hope.

I’ve never met Chitengwa, but I can imagine that he picked up his ambition from dad. Muridzo and I played a round together.  For three holes I traded pars with the sweet-swinging pro before I got sloppy and he didn’t.  Concentration is half of golf’s oxymoron.  The other half in relaxation, which perhaps explains why you have to be either very clear, or very neurotic, to enjoy the game.

Which sounds a bit like the skills needed for fatherhood.

My father bragged about me, too, but he never pushed me. Yet he was a dreamer, just as much as I sense Muridzo is.

I sensed my dad’s romantic star many times, although he rarely spoke about his inner passions openly – he had the male disease of keeping things to himself.  I learned, through his sister, about his depression-era adventures — bootlegging whiskey off the California coast, drifting, pre-Kerouac, around the States.  I don’t know how I know, but I know, that he danced and laughed with the French girls after VE day. I saw glimpses of his passion when he would scribble some poetry, or mess around with paints, or go off to Europe on a solitary holiday.  But mostly I sensed it when I saw one of his army photos, in which he posed with a trombone in front of a tent. He looked, well, cool.  I never heard him play a note though, and the silent trombone seemed to indicate that my father had put his dreams into a blind trust in order to manage the serious post-war business of raising a family and making a living.

My dad never pushed me.  He rarely said more than “do whatever you think will make you happy.”  I think he sensed early on that I would have rejected any forced directions to my life, as he had rebelled in his own adolescence against anyone having the temerity to tell him what to do.

And what skills did I possess as a spoiled, skinny, near-sighted kid?  I had a successful career in suburban New Jersey high school soccer. I was not bad, but could never play for Juventus or Manchester United.  I nearly burned down the bathroom while practicing campfire-building skills in the toilet – I suppose that might have prepared me to become a flight engineer for the Mir space station. I was quick and smart and smart-assed, which I suppose might have helped if I had wanted to be a lawyer.

And I always could write.  My first major opus, a third-grade play, involved young boys and spaceships and flying bears.

On reflection I see that my father provided support more subtly but just as powerfully as Lewis Muridzo offers his son. I remember when I wrote my first article, at the age of 15. I collected ancient Roman and medieval European coins and wrote a convoluted treatise titled “Denarius to Dernier” for a newsletter called the World Coin Bulletin.  My father helped me take the pictures, setting up a makeshift studio on the kitchen table. Our efforts led to my first sale: $10.

As I grew older and started to explore life I realized how he was watching me from a distance, gratified that some of his curious and creative genes had found sunlight.  Several decades, 50-odd countries, several books, many lovers, dozens of mountains later I like to think that I live a life he would have liked for himself.

My dad’s softly-softly approach worked. He guided me, but never pushed. But Lewis Muridzo is taking a more direct approach. Before he put Lewis Junior on the plane to the States, Lewis Senior insisted that the boy sign a contract making the old man his manager when he turns pro.  And his kid too is thriving.

Who’s way is best?  Maybe both, maybe neither.  I’m working on a new book that has lead roles which would be perfect for Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer.  And Chitengwa’s working on his short game, planning to turn pro in the summer.