Golf Begins After 50

By Mercer BaggsJune 23, 2009, 4:00 pm
Golf in America
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Jay Lamothe can’t remember if he made a five or a six on the previous hole. He doesn’t keep a scorecard, even with short-term memory loss.
“Every hole is kind of my game,” he says. “I just try and worry about making a par and having a good time.”
Lamothe can’t remember the day of his accident either. Linda knows, though. She’s Jay wife, and reminds him that it happened Feb. 6, 2003 in Fredricksburg, Va., on Interstate 95 South.
While that particular date often escapes him, the details never do.
Lamothe remembers clearly the snow-packed highway, the car entering from the on-ramp, the moment of collision, his truck turning over, his raw arm scraping the highway through the broken glass of his driver’s side window.
He remembers getting hit in head and gouged under the eye by cans of tuna fish he had just purchased at Wal-Mart, and the State Trooper kicking in his front winshield to pull he and his co-driver out of the vehicle.
Driving a double trailer for Watkins Freight Line, Lamothe was going about 40 miles per hour with “three or four inches of snow on the road.” He was leading the way, acting as a plow for those behind him, when a car raced onto the interstate at around 65 mph.
“He was so drunk, he didn’t realize there was a reason the traffic was going so slow,” says Lamothe, who was wearing his seat belt. “I was in the middle lane and he tried to sweep all the way to the far left lane. He hit my right, front steer tire which kind of knocked the truck off its axis.”
Lamothe looked in his rearview mirror, and when he saw his company logo on the side of his second trailer, at a right angle with the first trailer, he knew he had lost control.
The tail was wagging the dog – a 70-foot beast of an animal, weighing over 80,000 pounds.
No one was killed that day. The kid who caused the accident was arrested for a variety of offenses, including DUI.
“It’s funny,” Lamothe says, without a laugh. “I never thought I’d have to thank a drunk driver for saving my life.”
After an overnight stay in a Virginia hospital, Lamothe and his co-driver were cleared by doctors and took Amtrak back home to Massachusetts.
In the wake of the crash, Lamothe developed headaches, neck-aches and persistent dizziness. He went in for a routine CT scan and x-rays showed a mass in his brain. After a biopsy, doctors told him it was cancerous.
“Who knows how things would have played out had it not been for the accident?” Lamothe says.
As it was, Dr. Rees Cosgrove of Massachusetts General was able to successfully remove the tumor. Lamothe began chemotherapy a month later. Four months thereafter, he and Linda moved to Florida.
It has always been their dream to head south. The accident delayed their transfer but had it not been for the crash Lamothe could have been living in blissful ignorance until the tumor took his life.
Lamothe was alive. He was living in Florida. And he was miserable.
“Chemo,” he says. “It’s brutal. They figure out enough chemicals to kill you and then they back it off just a little bit. You take it for three, four or five days a month and then you take the rest of the month to recover. The following week after you take it you feel absolutely horrific. Then the following week you feel a little bit better. And then the week after that you start to feel almost normal. And then you’re at it again.”
After a few cycles, Lamothe was in a self-described “funk,” constantly dreading his next round. “I’d get so emotional just thinking about it,” he says. “I knew I had to pick up something to occupy my mind.”
A friend of Lamothe’s loaned him a set of golf clubs. He started to go out to the driving range near his house. There he fell in love – and experienced the frustration that always seems to come along with such attachment.
“You wouldn’t think that putting this little ball on this tee and standing still – how hard could it be? I couldn’t hit the firggin’ thing,” he says.
“I took a couple of lessons and this guy was, ‘Move your shoulder this way, move that this way, move your arm like this.’ After three lessons I thought golf was 10 times harder. Lessons weren’t the way to go for me.'
Lamothe never played golf as a kid in Milford, Mass. He played hockey instead. As he said, “If you wanted to play (golf), you had to have money. If you didn’t, you did what I did, which was go down to the pond.”
And so figured Lamothe, “If I could teach myself how to play hockey, I could teach myself how to play golf.”
He went to the driving range every day, smacking balls like a slap shot until they finally started going somewhat straight.
Eventually, he started actually playing the course. He does that about once a week nowadays, hits the range another three days, and practices his putting most every other day.
Linda financially supports the household, which also includes her mother, who does most of the cooking. Jay helps out where he can, like with yard work and grocery shopping, and he also volunteers at a local hospice.
He shares his experience and, more importantly, lends his ear. He spent one day talking with – and listening to – a man his age who was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“He was 51, had a seizure and he has a GBM (Glioblastoma multiforme). If you get a GBM you are done. The doctor tells you to get your affairs in order,” Lamothe says, struggling to restrain his emotion.
“Why not me? Why do I have what I have and other people don’t?”
Lamothe doesn’t sleep well. He wakes up around 5:30 every morning and goes about his golf routine. He likes to be the first person on site. He enjoys the peace.
“I saw a Perigon Falcon the other day on the course. And I just stared at it. It was beautiful. Things like that I really enjoy. Once I got sick I developed a new appreciation for a whole lot of things,” he says.
“When someone tells you that you’re going to die, you’re whole perspective changes.”
A while back, Lamothe played with a guy from Michigan. The two finished the front nine and the visitor stuck out his hand and said, “Hey, I really enjoyed it.”
“Oh, you’re only playing nine?” replied Lamothe.
To which the man said, “I was going to play 18, but I’m playing so badly I can’t do it.”
“I go, ‘What does that have to do with anything? It’s a beautiful day, you’re playing golf, you’re from Michigan – it’s freezing up there and 75 (degrees) here.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m really just not enjoying myself,’” tells Lamothe.
“I didn’t say it to him, because I didn’t want to make him feel worse, but I thought: How in the world can you not be enjoying yourself?”
For nearly 50 years Jay Lamothe only wondered what it was like to play golf. Now he can’t imagine his life without it. If he’s not playing a round, he’s practicing. If he’s not hitting a bucket of balls, he’s on the putting green. And if it’s raining … well, then he replays shots in his mind.
Golf started as mental therapy for Lamothe and has developed into an addiction. He reads everything about the game he can get his hands on, makes his own clubs and spends a little too much time shopping around for equipment.
“My wife said to me, ‘We need to have a little talk about you and eBay. If you order another club – you see those clubs you’ve been making in the garage? You’re going to be sleeping with them.’”
Lamothe has heeded her warning.
“She is a wonderful person, my wife,” Jay says. “She really has two jobs – one is her regular job and the other is taking care of me. I have thanked her on numerous occasions but she just says, ‘You would have done the same for me.’ I always say, ‘Yeah, but I don’t think could have done as good a job.’”
Lamothe is a person of good fortune. He's fortunate to have survived his highway accident, fortunate to have discovered his brain tumor in time and fortunate to have survived cancer.
He’s fortunate to be alive. One of the reasons he loves golf so much is that it constantly reminds him of that.
“You know,' he says, 'a lot of times I walk down the fairways – because I play a lot by myself – and I say, ‘Lord, thank you for letting me be out here. Just … thank you.’”
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