Remembering Sarge

<p>Joseph Chester Nieznanski</p>The truism that you never know what you have until you lose it, is sadly true. We all go through our lives never really appreciating what we have. This is especially true in regards to sports and the wonderful game of golf. Golfers never feel more alive than when they are on any golf course in search of a new low score.

The course and the game of golf can be played on expensive well-manicured resort clubs or at a local public course that is often referred to as a "goat ranch" with low green fees but a high level of competition. Golfers leave our troubles in the trunk of the car when we trade the realities of life for the beloved tools of our golfing adventure. As we enter the clubhouse we are accosted by friendly jabs about our past success or failure from the previous weekend, then we reunite with playing partners in search of that elusive goal of playing our best golf and getting our best score and winning the most money.

It's been so long ago that I can't even remember how we met but J. Sarge Nieznanski was my partner for the better part of a decade of playing and fully enjoying golf. Sarge was the caddy for Chichi Rodriguez, the Puerto Rican golfer who had a large following for not only his brilliant game but his theatrics, especially around the greens. Chichi was famous for his sabre routine using his putter as a sword, fencing with an imaginary enemy (par) and cleaning off the blood of a vanquished foe with a hand towel. I never asked Sarge where Chichi got this routine but knowing Sarge as well as I did, I think Chichi got the idea from Sarge. Sarge never bragged or boasted about his time as a caddy for Chichi but he regaled me with tales of the pro tour and I benefitted from his largesse with golf equipment rejected by Chichi. Sarge was a happy warrior and a damn good golfer even at the age of 80 plus. One of my fondest memories took place on a Sunday at our weekly tournament where we had been put into a foursome with two other unknown but tall and handsome players, Sarge and I were at an immediate disadvantage, but their game did not live up to their physical appearances. It should be noted that Sarge had a military background and used a powerful array of colorful language usually reserved for military men, not for some genteel golfers. On this Sunday Sarge asked me on the second hole if I thought his use of profanity was offending our new playing partners. I said that I didn't think so and Sarge went on to say that he was going to up his intensity. On the third tee as we waited for the green to clear Sarge testily asked them if they were offended by his language. They answered no but the more talkative of the two went on to explain that they were both men of god, ministers. Sarge was taken aback but not for long. Sarge was a gentleman, had no prejudices and was well known as a wisecrack artist. Sarge was focusing his attention on the situation with these two unknown golfers and spoke very little to me during the playing of these holes. But on the fourth tee he had to ask why these two men of the cloth were not ministering with their flocks on that beautiful Sunday morning. The answer put an attacking Sarge on defense. The more loquacious player said that, in fact, they were Rabbis. Sarge was unusually quiet for the rest of the round.

Sarge was a local legend, a unique character and it was great fun to play golf with him and to be his friend. Late in life he still had the drive and desire to play well. Whenever he made a birdie, he would turn and look me in the eye and with a sly smile would offer a taunt or a challenge for the next hole and I would happily repay that look whenever the birdie gods took favor with me. In all my life there will never be another playing partner like Sarge. He passed in 2014 and the world is saddened by his absence and golf for me will never be the same joyous and profane fun.

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