Photo : John Mummert/USGA

We all have our version of it. It looks a little different in 2022 than when it originated in 1931. Passed down through generations, it’s something that lives in many of us. Historian, James Truslow Adams, first coined the phrase in 1931, but it’s still very much alive today – The American Dream. At its core, the dream grants us all the opportunity to achieve our version of success. Everyone has their vision of how it plays out in their lives. For me, it’s always been quite simple. My ticket to success lies in a letter of acceptance. A few paragraphs etched on pristine paper. You know the thick kind that would fit well in a frame. This paper would be stamped by the USGA and the words in ink would read blurry from the tremble of my hands. The first line would say, “Congratulations on earning your distinguished spot in the U.S. Women’s Open Championship.” When that day arrives, I imagine that the word congratulations won’t be the one that causes a watermark on the page. I anticipate it will be the one that follows – earning. That’s what the American Dream stands for. The opportunity to earn your way. For female professional golfers, what stands between them and that ticket is 36 grueling holes of golf. 

Over the last two weeks, the USGA has conducted 26 qualifiers, in 17 states and three international countries. All players vying for just over 50 qualifying spots in the prestigious U.S. Women’s Open. Any female golfer with a handicap index of 2.4 or less has the opportunity to play their way into the championship. 

Unfortunately, this year, I had to pull out of my qualifier due to my shoulder injury. Leaving me gut wrenched to miss the opportunity for my American dream, I searched for a silver lining. This one was easy to find. Last week, my grandfather’s best friend, Nort, passed away. His celebration of life was being held on the same day as my qualifier. Instead of throwing on my golf clothes and lacing up my spikes, I was pulling out my best black dress and buttoning up high heels. It was time to pay my respects to a man that had given so much to me and this country. 

Nort always wore a pinned American flag to his left chest. Whether he was sporting a t-shirt or tux, the flag was stapled to his heart. When I asked how long he’d been wearing it, he said, “Over 40 years – the least I can give back to a country that has given me so much.” I admired it then, but I never fully understood it until now. 

At his memorial, his eldest son, a former Navy pilot, gave the final eulogy. He stood strong on the altar with an American flag pinned to his jacket and a tie decorated with flying flags fastened close to his chest. This eulogy was highlighted in red, white, and blue. He’d go on to explain that Nort was born in Kolkata, India in 1937. His parents immigrated to the United States amid the Indian Civil War. When their feet hit American soil, they only held 25 dollars in their hands. They’d go on to raise two successful sons. A true “rags to riches” story. Nort paved his way to college through the gridiron – earning a football scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. That’s where he met my grandpa, a friendship that lasted for fifty-plus years. I imagine it is now rekindling right in the skies above. Nort married his best friend and raised four wonderful sons. In each one he instilled this value of patriotic pride. Through the crackling voice of his oldest son, I finally understood what it all truly meant. The dream is not about our personal pursuits. It’s about what we can give to others. In the land of the free, there is only one thing that comes at no cost – love. That’s the true riches that evolve from rags. Those will be counted in the number of hearts we touch after our heart takes its last beat.  As tears rolled down my face and I looked around at the overflowing church, I saw the true wealth Nort had accumulated. That’s the opportunity that lies in the American dream. The freedom to love others at no cost and no expectation in return. 

At that moment, I realized that I had it all wrong. My dream of qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open was rooted in accomplishing a dream for my own pride. A paper of acceptance that I’d add to my trophy case. Trophy’s that eventually will be stored in boxes and rarely see the light of day. The true opportunity of realizing a golfer’s American dream is in the platform it provides. A larger one to touch more lives – fans, spectators, volunteers, and little girls formulating dreams of their own. Hopefully actions we’ll see on display this year. When the sun sets on Sunday, the person lifting the Semple trophy will no doubt be a deserving winner. But, perhaps the real winner in this game (life or golf) is the person that takes advantage of this platform to share their hearts. Maybe that’s the real trophy we should be trying to win in this journey called life.

Nort was a school principal. I’m going to venture to guess that he had something to do with putting me in this “timeout” from my qualifier. Maybe he knew that I wasn’t ready to punch my ticket until I understood the true opportunity of the American dream. For when I finally realize this dream, I won’t think of myself. I’ll think first of my Uncle Nort and then of all the others that I will share that gift with. That’s the way to live a life that’s truly rich.

So, was it a year missed? I don’t think so.