Near the end ofthe phone call with my son, Eric, the topic turned to golf, as it often did."Do you think Olin is going to win?" he said, referring to Tour playerOlin Browne, who lives near us in South Florida. It was the morning of thefinal round of the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Father's Day. It was tough tocall, I said, because there were many good players in contention.
We haven't talkedsince.
The next dayEric, then 14, was hospitalized after he became incoherent. He was diagnosedwith encephalitis, a rare, sometimes fatal swelling of the brain.
I spent the 2005PGA Championship sitting in a hospital room in Miami, Eric lying in a coma,hooked up to various machines. During the tournament, CBS's Jim Nantz paidtribute to Eric on air and members of the golf writers' association signed aflag from Baltusrol. In the months after Phil Mickelson's victory that flaghung at Eric's bedside, a reminder of the life I have lived and all the friendsI have in golf.
For 20 years I'vecovered the game for The Palm Beach Post, complaining like many sportswritersabout deadlines and editors, but always cherishing the job. It was somethingthat made Eric proud of me.
Over the last 14months work and golf have taken a backseat to my son's ordeal. It has been asdreadful as one might imagine, fighting through the trauma with my wife, Ava,and our 17-year-old daughter, Alex, as Eric, an easygoing kid who played golfand basketball but really loved paintball, battled the seizures brought on bythis awful disease. He spent the first four months in a coma, but sinceregaining consciousness he's often been so sedated we still don't know what hisbrain can process. Will Eric be able to see? To walk? To talk? To interact? Tohave a life?
In March therewas a benefit for us at Old Palm in Palm Beach Gardens. Raymond and Maria Floydhosted. Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were there. So were Olin, Nick Price, JoAnneCarner, Dottie Pepper, Bob Murphy, Ian Baker-Finch, Jesper Parnevik, BrettQuigley, Tom Fazio and Bob Toski. Olin spoke about how Eric wasn't simply ourson, but everybody's son. The benefit came at a time when we really needed it,both financially and spiritually.
The Post has beenunbelievably supportive, increasing Eric's insurance and giving me time to beat his bedside. But it was time to return to work, and last week I was back onthe road, covering golf again and putting up the website for Eric'sfoundation.
Being back in thepress tent, talking to players, writing and doing my job has been cathartic anduplifting. Everywhere I turned last week, whether it was to Price, Baker-Finch,Jim (Bones) MacKay, PGA boss Joe Steranka or designer Rees Jones, people allasked, "How's your son?"
Last Friday, Igot word from Eric's doctors that he can come home this week. Maybe Ericfigured that if I was back at work, it was time for him to return home. I can'twait to see him and to one day tell him that while he didn't win the Open, OlinBrowne never stopped asking about him.
The Eric DolchChildren's Encephalitis Foundation can be found atwww.ericdolchfoundation.org.
Golf Plus willnext appear with the Sept. 18 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
by JAMES P. HERRE
Geoff Ogilvy has it right. The U.S. will win the RyderCup.
The Ryder Cup is in Ireland but will be played on aU.S.-style course
TROPHY HUNTER + CELEB DESIGNER - TRADITION * SMURFITOPEN = RYDER CUP@K CLUB
DARREN CARROLL (DOLCH, 2)
REAL WORK Dolch has set up a foundation to help his son, Eric (inset).
PETE FONTAINE/WIREIMAGE.COM (DR. MICHAEL SMURFIT); CHRIS CONDON/WIREIMAGE.COM (ARNOLD PALMER); DAVID CANNON/GETTY IMAGES (PORT MARNOCK, K CLUB); DAN FARRALL/PHOTODISC GREEN/GETTY IMAGES (MONEY)