Jack's golf group gathered at his final 19th holeby J.W. Miller on 04/08/19
Yes, it's Masters week and whenever somebody mentions "Jack," the first reference goes to Mr. Nicklaus. But my thoughts this week go to another Jack, a guy who Masters Jack would have appreciated. I met Jack Hensley on the golf course. He was the ringleader of a regular group of rollicking retirees who played every day but never bet on their games, mainly because their games weren’t worth losing money over.
When Jack invited me to join his group, I soon learned that the difference between me and Jack’s group was that, unlike me, some of them had been very good golfers in their day. The trouble was that their day was during the Nixon administration. A hundred years later, their swings still showed rhythm and grace but that doesn’t guarantee distance when you’re playing in your eighth or ninth decade. Jack’s group was not one that played cut-throat golf. It was civilized golf, kind of like happy hour at a favorite watering hole.
After I started playing with Jack’s group, I realized that some of the regulars were better than others but none were head and shoulders above the rest, unless you count the 65-year-old "kid" who still showed flashes of his years on the Southern Miss golf team. The majority of the members were from somewhere else. The Count was from Cleveland, Gout was from Canada, and Dugout was retired military and from everywhere. Another former soldier, KP, played on a prosthetic limb that replaced the leg he lost in Vietnam. He’s a little wobbly on a sidehill lie, but I wish I could drive the ball as far. Other members of the group had special powers. The Doorman’s tip to keep my back shoulder low through the ball magically added 20 yards to my drive. Charlie O. not only could smell if a snake was slithering nearby but could tell if it was poisonous or harmless simply by the odor.
That was Jack’s group. Unique, fun and good guys, and all of us were there Monday at Jack’s final 19th hole to wish him farewell on his final journey to another course where the grass is emerald, the greens roll true and the sun shines every day forever.
When I started playing with the group and Jack learned of my background, he would call frequently with questions about his beloved Saints. He was a fan but an educated one. I’d see his name on caller ID, and I knew his mind was going a mile a minute. “I have a question,” he would announce. “Why in the world….” and I would be put on another spot as a guy who should know the answer. “Well, okay,” Jack would respond, letting me think I had given him an answer that satisfied him, although it probably didn’t.
Another time after I appeared on WWL-TV talking about the Saints, Jack told me that he was a huge fan of WWL anchor Karen Swensen. “She has such a great smile, always seems to be happy and enjoys what she’s doing,” Jack said. Having gotten to know Karen through my appearances, I confirmed that she was a very nice person.
So when Jack’s health started to decline last fall, I sent Karen an e-mail asking if she would write him a note or send him an autographed photo. She countered with an idea that confirmed Jack’s opinion of her. “Give me his phone number, and I’ll give him a call,” she offered, and I did and she did. Jack called me right away, sounding like I had sent Publishers Clearing House to his door with the big prize. He could not stop smiling for days after, and I wrote Karen another note thanking her for her kindness. I did not know that at the time she was going through her own personal tragedy of her husband’s illness and eventual death.
The last few times Jack played with us his body had declined to the point he had to tee off from the “super senior” tees that are placed about 20 yards forward of the women’s tees. He would play three or four holes, take his cuts and generally send the ball out to the vicinity of where the rest of us had hit. It will be different next time Jack plays. We all agreed Monday that the next time Jack Hensley tees it up, he’ll be hitting from the back tees with no pain and a new group of players who will come to know and love him as much as his last group did.