By Jeffrey Markowitz / Detroit
On December 6th, 2022, I had surgery — reverse shoulder arthroplasty. In layman’s terms, it’s a complete shoulder replacement. I avoided it for years by going to physical therapy.
In September, after seeing Dr. Kyle Anderson, an orthopedic surgeon in suburban Detroit, I was advised to get an MRI on my left shoulder — pronto. At the same time, a follow-up appointment was made to review the MRI the following week. Much to my surprise Dr. Anderson called me the next morning with the news — my shoulder was fried.
Dr. Anderson told me that my shoulder problem was a direct result of playing golf since childhood. A golf swing is very unnatural and affects every natural muscle in the body. Add arthritis to the mix and surgery is a must. Many golfers encounter this problem.
Since Dr. Anderson is the top dog among orthopedic surgeons, his schedule was naturally booked — I had to wait to have surgery. Unfortunately, I was passed over when patience was handed out — the wait for me was excruciating. All I could think about was the impact on my golf game—would I be able to play the game I loved and how bad would I be?
Most people would say that it is a blessing just to be on a course playing a game with friends and enjoying the beauty of nature. I tried to wrap my head around that thought. But who the hell was I kidding? I still needed to play competitively.
It’s amazing that I have been fortunate enough to play golf for over 60-plus years and I’m now 72 years old. Golf is a game to be played for a lifetime — it’s truly a gift. I could only play baseball and hockey into my 30s. I was a goalie and finally I became puck shy — I no longer had the reflexes or the speed to block a shot. The other sport I enjoyed, softball, also ended — it became a Sunday morning kibitz.
I discovered golf when I was seven years old. While watching TV, there was either an ad, or an actual tournament that I saw on our black and white television. (Color television was just breaking through and hadn’t found our house yet for some reason.) I immediately thought golf was a sport I wanted to try.
My dad, better known as Louie, noticed my interest in golf and brought home a few used golf clubs from a sports store. The clubs were too long for me, so Louie cut down the shafts and used duct tape for grips. He also cut the backyard grass short enough to practice chipping and putting. My next-door neighbor Bernie Kaftan and I would spend hours practicing. Louie was very creative — my golf career began.
Over the next few years, I came to appreciate the beauty of a golf course as I watched PGA tournaments on color television. I was also able take free lessons at the Rackham Golf Course, in Huntington Woods, Mich., which were sponsored by the Detroit Free Press. My friends and I rode our bikes to the course while pulling our hand-held bag of clubs behind us.
We were lucky enough to learn the basics from Ben “Bennie” Davis, a professional golf instructor at the course. He taught us how to properly swing and hit a golf ball. He also taught us about golf etiquette — replacing divots after a shot, fixing ball marks on the green, and raking sand traps after hitting the ball. Following these simple rules makes the game better for everyone else. Bennie also taught us that you could learn a lot about life by playing golf.
When my friends and I completed Bennie’s lessons, we were allowed to play nine holes for a quarter—imagine that! We spent every possible day at Rackham Golf Course playing against each other for Twinkies and a Coke.
As the years progressed, and I finally understood the game, I could reflect on Bennie’s words and appreciate his insight. He was the first black golfer who was certified by the PGA to instruct golfers on a public course. When Bennie demonstrated how to hit a golf ball, he used his driver. When making contact, it sounded like the ball was shot out of a rifle. That moment was unbelievable — we were shocked.
In 1962, my friends and I caddied for a tournament at the Rackham Golf Course that was sponsored by the NAACP. A magical moment happened when we were chosen to caddy: Joe Louis, the great boxer, was in the foursome. My friends, Bernie Schwartz and Bobby Graff, were also caddies. But Bernie got the luck of the draw–he caddied for the Brown Bomber. It was very cool to be a part of that experience.
When I got a little older, my friends and I would practice at the Oak Park High School football field. It wasn’t really the best idea as the field was all sod and usually in great shape. The groundskeeper couldn’t have appreciated seeing us take divots out of the field.
It was 1965 and I was practicing hitting short irons through the goal posts in the end zone on a Saturday at 10:00 am. And I was unworried, thinking no one would be around at that time. I was wrong. Suddenly a large figure was walking toward me from the parking lot. I knew I was going to be nailed. He kept getting closer and I was about to be tossed off the field. I stopped swinging and said hello.
The stranger actually responded in a cordial manner, and I was surprised. He introduced himself and said his name was John Peace. He then asked where I went to school. I responded that I was starting my first year at Oak Park High School and would be in the tenth grade. Mr. Peace told me he was the golf coach and asked me to try out for the team. I knew I was on my way.
I made the team and spent the next three years playing varsity golf for Oak Park High School. It was a wonderful experience to play competitive golf. Our team was able to play at public and private golf courses. The ones I remember the most were Franklin Hills, Orchard Lake, and Western Country Club. To play on these courses now, you must be well-connected.
Playing competitive golf in high school made me understand the game more completely. Recognizing what the game was all about, I began to see the challenges. Golf is really three games in one. First, you play the golf course and then you play against the competition. The third part and the hardest for me was (and still is) being able to concentrate and stay focused for hours while playing 18 holes. If my head isn’t screwed on the right way, I can’t play well. This is true even for the top professionals.
There is an important aspect I neglected to mention that increases the pressure of hitting the ball — gambling. In other words, putting your hand in a friend’s pocket for a few hours. Any golfer who gambles enjoys this part of the game. The phrase “spreading hate,” is our lingo for beating your friends out of money. It is one that my friends and I know all too well.
It is said that golf is a gentleman’s game. Arnold Palmer, one of the giants of the game and well known for his magnetic personality, commented he would always play a round of golf with a prospective associate before making a business deal. That would tell him a lot about the person. Palmer was widely respected and to this day is still one of the top money makers due to his reputation in business and what he meant to the game of golf. That’s why he is known as “The King.”
When playing for money, the game becomes more intense. Golfers can bet on a wide range of items on a course — stroke play, match play by the hole, and then everyone’s favorite, skins (money). This is when the low score on the hole takes the skin. However, if there is a tie, and a par (a certain number of strokes) is needed to win the hole, it’s carried over to the next hole. The low score then takes the money.
The beauty of skins is that a player can win just one hole if there are no ties, or no one has a par. Then it’s possible to win a string of holes. I guess a golfer could pitch a shutout, (a reference to a baseball pitcher who holds the opposing team scoreless) and collect the money from all three players. This would be rare and require a lot of luck —but I accomplished this many years ago.
In 1987, my friends and I were at The Fortress, near Flint, Mich. on a cold, windy day. There were four foursomes playing. I played very well that day — my friends hated me hard. My close friend, Steve, called it “the worst day ever.” After the round everyone paid up and I bought lunch. The guys made sure they ate well, and my winnings were gone in a flash — it was ridiculous. That got everyone back to even.
Betting on yourself is a serious proposition. The game is difficult, and gambling makes it even more humbling. About 10 years after graduating college, in the early 1980s, my friends and I were playing in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan Golf Course. One of my friends had a connection so we could play the course. The day was difficult — I was about to lose to Steve. I needed to hit my third shot close to the hole, which would give me a chance to tie. I chunked it and it landed on the green. However, I was still 30 feet away from the hole. Steve had his hand out to take my money. Seeing the gesture, I bore down and my putt rolled in the hole. I knew Steve was pissed off. As he walked over to pay me, with money in hand, Steve spit on it. It’s plain to see that the game can demoralize a person.
Another time, in 2001, while playing golf at the Grand Traverse Resort, in Traverse City, Mich, skins was the game of choice. It was the third day in a row that my buddies were getting hammered by me — I had most of the skins. The situation was getting tense. One of the players, Keith, was close enough to the hole to win some skins if he made his putt. I was off the green and needed to hit my chip shot close to the hole to tie.
I hit my shot too hard and it rolled way past the pin. As my ball picked up speed, Keith began rooting for the ball to go further away from the hole. One of our agreed upon rules is “no rooting against another player”. Keith ignored it and kept telling the ball to go further. As I walked to my ball, I told him to stop the BS and the other guys agreed. Keith’s response was “I’m not afraid to die.” We are still talking about it to this day.
Now I must bare the sad facts about my lack of golf course etiquette. I was much younger, foolish, but a better golfer than my opponent. Once again, at the University of Michigan Golf Course, I was getting beaten by a friend whom I thought wasn’t nearly as good as me. This type of thinking is an automatic losing proposition. I was upset with my game and quite embarrassed. As I approached the next hole, I was trying to gather my emotions so I could hit my tee shot down the middle. Upon contact I watched in despair as the ball rolled 50 yards into the rough. I took my hat off and spit into the air. Foolishly, I then moved a few feet and it landed on my bald head — bull’s-eye.
It's easy to see that the game of golf can certainly change a player’s mindset. Friendships are tested, tempers may flare and debt can be accumulated. Golf clubs have been snapped in half and stuck in the ground with great frustration. Putters are even tossed in the water that surrounds the green. Tree-lined fairways are a common place to find golf clubs stuck in the branches.
Even when the bad seems to outweigh the good, though, golf remains a game that keeps calling me back for more. I’m not the player I once was, but since having surgery, rehab has become a priority to get back on track. I began a regular routine —two or three times a week. In addition, my physical therapist gave me a series of exercises to complete at home. These exercises are to improve strength and range of motion. My target date is June 1st. I‘m working hard every day — no pain, no gain! I’m on the comeback trail to play the game I love.
After a 30-year career in construction management, building commercial and residential jobs, Jeffrey has turned to his passion–cooking. He is the master of the grill and has been nicknamed Chef Jeff by his family. Jeffrey also started a small catering business. Nothing makes him happier than satisfying his customers.
Jeffrey enjoys sports and has spent 60+ years playing golf. Competing with friends, playing the course and, most of all, keeping his head in the game for all 18 holes has been gratifying — even if he’s far away from par. He is also the husband of Judi Markowitz, who writes the Dateline Detroit column for The Insider. They have four adult children and seven grandchildren who keep them on their toes. Oh yeah, let’s not forget George, their Bernese Mountain granddog. Jeffrey’s life is full, and he is happy.