Dickie Coombs and Fred DiDonato are my heroes for several reasons.
The 80-something Lower Township residents have refused to let the cold weather get in the way of their passion for golf.
The longtime friends climbed into their plastic-encased cart at Cape May National Golf Club last Wednesday, fired up the portable propane heater on the dashboard and headed out for 18 holes.
There used to be a third member of their group. Before he passed away in 2015 at age 88, local barber Ray Velli would join his friends. Mr. Velli was both an avid and successful golfer who had four aces to his credit and even shot his age when he was 83.
Coombs and DiDonato both had green Masters golf towels on their bags last week. Coombs also sported a green cap with the iconic yellow flag symbol on the front. I assumed they had either gotten the gear from a friend or ordered it.
“No, I’ve been to the Masters five or six times,” Coombs said. “One of my sons was lucky enough to get tickets a few years ago. They are lifetime passes, so I get to go once in a while. (Augusta National) is a special place.”
Coombs did not attend the tournament last weekend. He watched at home while Patrick Reed fought off charges from Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler to earn the green jacket that fit over his garish, hot pink shirt that was every bit as bright as the azaleas that rimmed the course.
But Coombs and DiDonato have vivid memories. Coombs’ favorite trip was in 2004. He sat with his son on a lawn chair in the front row of the 18th green and watched Phil Mickelson’s joyous leap after winning the first of his three Masters.
“If you look at some of the pictures from that moment, you can see us in the background,” Coombs said with a smile.
I started to drool.
I’ve been lucky enough to take in some memorable events and visit some legendary venues as both a sports writer and avid sports fan.
Before he passed away in 2007, my father and I experienced our share of adventures, including some trips to Madison Square Garden to watch his alma mater, Notre Dame, play basketball. You serious hoops fans might remember some of the great college players I got the chance to see in action at the Garden in the late 1960s and early 70s, such as Austin Carr (Notre Dame), Spencer Haywood (Detroit) and Bob McAdoo (North Carolina).
My ears are still ringing from a trip to the famous Brickyard, formally known as Indianapolis Speedway, in 1999 to watch Vineland native and St. Augustine Prep graduate Jeret Schroeder drive in the Indianapolis 500. It also was an opportunity to hear Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), sing “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
There was a game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in fall 2016, a few weeks before the Cubs ended their 108-year drought by winning the World Series. It was a real treat to join Cubs fans in a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
I still get chills at Lambeau Field, regardless of the temperature.
Boxing at Boardwalk Hall in the late 80s also qualifies. I’ve yet to attend any event that matches the raw energy, tension and excitement of a Mike Tyson fight.
But there are items on my list that I still need to check off, however.
I’d love to sip a mint julep while watching the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The closest I’ve come was a beer during the $500,000 United Nations/Caesars International Handicap years ago at Atlantic City Race Course.
I wouldn’t mind taking a trip across the pond to see Wimbledon.
My top event, however, is the Masters.
I’d give my left hand — better make it my right, since I’m a southpaw — to make a pilgrimage to Augusta National and say a prayer in Amen Corner.
On second thought, I’ll need both hands if I’m ever going to shoot my age like Mr. Velli did a few years back.
The way my golf game is now, however, I’ll have to live to 101 to accomplish the feat.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.