DAN HALLDORSON, AN UNSUNG STAR OF CANADIAN GOLF

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You probably missed it, but one of my favourite golfers recently shuffled off this mortal coil. In fact, most of you probably don’t even have a favourite golfer. But never mind.

Apart from that, the reason you may not have noticed his demise, is that Dan Halldorson, tragically done in by a stroke at 63, defined the phrase “low profile”. Not only was he a Canadian professional golfer before Mike Weir, he had the on-course charisma of a dozing accountant. Not many noticed him during his golfing career, and after he retired, he was soon unjustly forgotten. Me, I loved the guy.

There was something so unassuming about Dan Halldorson, so unlike any other golfer on the PGA tour. Shunning the flashy polyester slacks and other riotous garb of the time, Dan preferred loose, almost baggy, dark pants. When the weather fell below 80 degrees, he often donned a formless sweater that might have been picked up on sale at The Bay. With his dour moustache, photo gray glasses and a thin expression that never seemed to change, whether he was shooting 80 or 65, he trudged around the golf course, as if fearing the worst on every shot.

Yet, in one of those unfathomable attachments that makes being a sports fan so much fun, I became a huge fan of Dan the Man. Long before the days of instant leaderboard updates, I would scrutinize the tiny agate roundup of the latest PGA tournament every Monday in the paper to see how Dan did. If he made the cut and pocketed a nice cheque, it cheered me up.

Maybe it was the fact that I love underdogs, and Dan Halldorson woofed with the best of them. He had none of that year-round golf on immaculate, sun-bathed courses, college scholarships, coaching and every other advantage that characterizes the competitive background of so many American pros. Dan grew up in dusty, nondescript Shilo, Manitoba, never went to college, and scratched around on the  barebones Canadian tour, before making it to the glamorous PGA tournaments through hard work, grit and determination. His career was a triumph of will over adversity.

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Despite missing more half-way cuts than Boo Weekly, plagued by a bad back and terrible attacks of eczema, Dan survived for more than 15 years on the toughest tour in golf. Even after he won the Pensacola Open in 1980, he never seemed to emerge from the fog into the sunlight. When he earned the biggest pay cheque of his career, a princely $88,000 for finishing second in a tournament 11 years later, Dan admitted afterwards: “I was totally confused out there.”

That tournament was a bonanza for Halldorson watchers. For the first time in a while, he was in contention. As the final holes approached, the American TV announcers were forced to talk about him. However, it was clear they knew almost nothing about this strange golfer from Canada, lurking behind those glasses. He seemed to belong on the other side of the spectator ropes, rather than vying for the lead. Finally, after an awkward pause, commentator Arnold Palmer offered: “Dan’s a fine player.”

Our man from Shilo approached the 16th hole, only a stroke or two out of the lead. But two bad shots left him with a short tap-in for a bogey. Unbelievably, his 18-inch putt slid by the hole.  Dan’s shoulders drooped as sadly as his moustache. He staggered off to the difficult 17th hole, a long par 3.

An indifferent tee shot left him about 8 miles from the hole. He let fly his mammoth putt. The ball scooted all the way across the green, over dips and dales and a break or two. And then, miraculously, it plopped into the hole. A completely improbable birdie. Too much. Dan’s reaction? He smiled slightly and headed to the 18th hole.

In a way, those two holes were typical of Dan Halldorson on the course. You just never knew what he was going to do. Likely, he didn’t either. Two examples. At the Canadian Professional Golf Association championship late in his career, competing against a bunch of fellow Canadians who could barely carry his bag, the veteran PGA tour competitor shot an opening round 80. That’s right, 80! Did Dan think of finally quitting this “crazy game of golf”? Nope. In the second round, he carded a 67. How can a golfer improve by 13 strokes in a single round?

A bit later, at the Greater Milwaukee Open, Dan was lights out for the first nine holes, shooting an incredible 29, seven under par. With visions of a 59 inevitably dancing in his head, Dan proceeded to shoot 39 on the back nine, a swing of 10 strokes. Then, after barely making the cut, while almost every other player was battering the relatively easy course with under par rounds, Dan shot 77, by far the day’s worst score. He plummeted to the bottom of the leaderboard. But Dan was ever a never-say-die kind of guy. On the final round, despite bad weather and difficult pin positions, Dan shot 67. He still finished last. But what a ride.

There’s little doubt that his many health problems were a major reason for these wild swings from wonderful to wobbly. If his back was feeling good, look out! If it was out of sorts, look out below!

Yet, besides his PGA tour win, Dan won two World Cup Championships, partnered with Jim Nelford and then Dave Barr, a few other miscellaneous tournaments, and compiled 28 top 10 finishes on the PGA tour. Said Canadian Tour one-time winner Adam Speith: “My dad used to tell me I was a ball-striker. After watching Dan, I guess it explains why I’m in advertising now.”

Added former pro Ian Leggatt: “I think it’s unfortunate really that a lot of people don’t know the amazing career that he had in the game of golf….But that was Dan’s thing. He never talked about himself. He was always more concerned about how everyone else was doing.”

Soft-spoken, modest to a fault, and a huge supporter of Canadian golf, Dan Halldorson was a class act all the way.

RIP, Dan. Gone too soon.

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A SPECIAL REMEMBRANCE DAY, AND SYRIAN REFUGEES

Last week, two days before the numbing atrocities of Paris, I went to the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Japanese-Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park. It was a simple, almost homespun occasion, far removed from the military-like precision of the packed event at the main cenotaph downtown. A black-robed priest gave a purification prayer, clapped three times and performed a spiritual cleansing by waving about a long baton festooned with white paper streamers. He then talked six minutes past the proscribed 11 a.m. time for the two minutes of silence. No one seemed to mind. Beside me, a teen-aged girl wiped away tears, while an elderly Japanese-Canadian woman in an ordinary gray kimono stood with head bowed, eyes tightly closed.

There was also a pointed theme to this year’s Remembrance Day in Stanley Park that made it unique across the country even more relevant today, given some of the hateful fallout to the mass murders in Paris. The ceremony commemorated this year’s 70th anniversary of the formal acceptance of Japanese-Canadians into the Canadian Army. At a time they were still branded “enemy aliens”, had been forced into internment camps and work gangs, and their families stripped of their possessions, 120 Nisei signed up for a special, military intelligence unit to help in the fight against, yes, Japan. And then, it was only pressure from British and American military commanders that finally forced Canadian authorities to admit them into the army. In an intensely moving moment, Kazuko Yatabe, widow of veteran Eiji Yatabe shuffled forward to lay a memorial wreath on behalf of her husband.

Kazuko Yatabe

(Photo by Randy Enomoto)

Was it all only eight days ago? After Paris, bowing our heads in remembrance on that sun-bathed morning feels light years away. Yet, looking back, as hearts harden towards welcoming desperate Syrian refugees to this land of relative bounty, the event seems to take on a deeper meaning. Some of the same prejudice and unwarranted fear that imposed internment on thousands of law-abiding Japanese-Canadians is sadly afoot, again. Since Paris, a mosque in Peterborough has been torched, a Muslim woman in Toronto severely assaulted, others verbally harassed and some have reported being shunned in supermarket line-ups, over worries they might be suicide bombers. Ant-Muslim graffiti is on the upswing. Meanwhile, and arguably worse, there has been a disturbing rise of opposition to Canada’s plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. A sensible suggestion by Premier Christy Clark that the northeast of B.C. might be a good place to settle some Syrians sparked an immediate online petition calling for a referendum on admitting refugees to the region. It quickly attracted more than a thousand names. Similar petitions across the country to halt the influx have also attracted widespread support.

Of course, the petitioners don’t come out and say they don’t want Muslims here. They site security concerns. The possibility that one of the suspected nine Paris terrorists might have been among the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming through Europe has been seized upon. No matter that the terrorist ringleaders were French and Belgian. And no matter that Canada is taking refugees from relatively-stable camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, not from the huge, heartbreaking crowds thronging to Europe. While the government’s ambitious refugee deadline might be well served by extending it a month or two to ensure the process unfolds smoothly, “security concerns” have been seized upon on as reason to keep “them” out. With proper screening in place, there is no evidence that these refugees, most of them families, pose a security threat, other than to those, perhaps, who think just being Muslim is suspect.

All of which brings me back to last week’s Remembrance Day in Stanley Park and the special attention paid to the internment of more than 20,000 Japanese-Canadians. As with the current hostility toward Syrian refugees and Muslims, facts and context meant nothing. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour, Japanese-Canadians were overtaken by a tidal wave of irrational fear and prejudice that stigmatized all of them, based only on their race. In British Columbia, where almost all lived, there was wild talk everywhere about a sinister “fifth column” of Japanese, loyal to their mother country, plotting to undermine the country from within. Japanese-Canadians were looked on with suspicion, merely because of events far beyond the borders of Canada they had nothing to do with. They were different. They might be up to something. Sound familiar? Yet not one incident of sabotage or disloyalty was ever uncovered.

It is distressing to see the same emotions whipped up all over again. Lest you think I’m stretching the comparison, I give you Roanoke, Virginia in the United States, where the anti-refugee hysteria is far more deep-seated and pronounced. Calling for an end to assisting Syrian refugees to resettle in the area, Mayor David Bowers drew a parallel to the fears Americans had about ethnic Japanese in the U.S., after Pearl Harbour. He applauded their internment, which, he said, had kept America safe. Sometimes, words fail….

There is some good news, however. In 1942, almost no one, except a few brave members of the CCF and civil libertarians, spoke out against internment. This time, many, many Canadians are rallying to embrace Syrian refugees and denounce those who single out Muslims, who use their prejudice to stand in the way of these unfortunate victims of a terrible war coming to Canada. If only more had spoken out 73 years ago. “Lest we forget,” event moderator Gordon Kadota reminded us on Remembrance Day. Indeed.

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COMRADES-IN-ARMS, LEST WE FORGET

There’s nothing quite like the experience of talking to a veteran. They have so much to tell us of a time we peacenik baby-boomers simply can’t comprehend. Death and carnage and mayhem all around them, seeing buddies blown up or shot before their eyes, killing enemy soldiers themselves, and yet they carry on with the fight. Not quite the ordeal of finding a downtown parking spot.

Over the years, I’ve interviewed veterans from the Boer War (no, I wasn’t there…), World War One (the worst of all wars), and the Second World War against fascism. Never have I failed to come away in awe at their courage in signing up, the hell they experienced, and their vivid recollections of a distant past.

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My own personal hero is First World War vet, William “Duke” Procter. Duke was the sunniest centenarian I ever met, and the liveliest. But every time the war was mentioned and he remembered the boyhood comrades he had lost, his eyes would well with tears. He made a vow to himself that he would never forget them. So, every Remembrance Day, he would ignore his advancing years and march with all the younger guys to the small cenotaph in Lumby, B.C. I covered his last march for the Globe and Mail, when Duke was 104. You can read my story here. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/great-war-veteran-104-is-still-in-step/article18436414/

Recently, I had the good fortune to interview World War Two veterans Gordie Bannerman and Orme Payne, 94 and 93 years old, respectively. They were best friends growing up, farm boys from southern Saskatchewan. They enlisted in the same regiment on the same day, and went right through the fierce, bloody campaigns in Italy and Holland together. Both escaped with barely a scratch, and 70 years later, they remain the very closest of friends. But there was one harrowing night just three weeks before V-Day when….well, you can read about what happened and their extraordinary friendship in this piece I wrote for Wednesday’s Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/brothers-in-arms-a-friendship-that-has-endured-long-after-their-warended/article27197709/

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(Gordie Bannierman, 94: Yours Truly; Orme Payne, 93)

Despite their age, neither Bannerman nor Payne seem to have forgotten anything of their war years. Both are born story-tellers, still sharp as the proverbial tack. Their recollections are a treasure trove, made even more rewarding by the fact that so few vets from the Second World War are yet with us. I relished every moment of my time with them. Here are a few snippets from what they told me that didn’t make it into my story for the Globe. Such a time.

ENLISTING, 1940

Bannerman: We made a decision to sign up. What were we going to do? There wasn’t 10 cents in most houses, and if there was 10 cents, your dad put it into the collection plate. So there was no money, no crop. Really, you might call it an escape.

We were in Aneroid until the beginning of September. It was the first train ride for a lot of the fellows, and there was waving goodbye to everybody, kissing all the girlfriends. Some older fellows from Moose Jaw were along. They knew some taxi drivers, and the next thing you know, the train is loaded up with beer and everybody is sloshed.

We arrived in Indian Head. They had the band out, and they had the 76th Battery, our sister battery, all lined up. And cripes, Major Jacobs called us to attention. I think the only two who didn’t drink were Joe Spork and me, and maybe Orme. Four guys fell flat on their faces. It was an auspicious entrance to Indian Head, I’ll tell you.

ARRIVAL IN ENGLAND

Bannerman: There were sunken ships all along the Mersey in Liverpool. One of our guys, Billy, he was a signaler with us, could really talk. Even better than me, and he could swear better, too. He was yapping away as we sailed in, and a seagull just crapped right in his mouth. He spit and swore for 10 minutes. And the Regimental Sgt. Major, who was pretty strait-laced, had to crack up over it. So that was our landing in England. We took the little train to Aldershot. Arrived there at night. We went into the old Waterloo Barracks, which had been there for a hundred years. I don’t think the blankets had been washed all that time.

LAYING TELEPHONE LINES

Payne: I was a land sergeant in charge of troop signals. My job was to stay out of trouble and keep the communications working. Basically, telephone lines. You could not depend on those radios. They’d break down when you needed them the most. I would set up telephone lines. Mile after mile after mile.

I would be given a map reference. We’re going to cross the river at Point X here and I got to have a line up there. It had to be done at night. You’re in a strange country, in the dark, and you’ve got to avoid roads and mine fields. Patrols were wandering through. I really don’t know how, but my crew and I always got it done.

YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW

Bannerman: When Orme was promoted, the officer he reported to said: “You see this paper, Payne?” It was a blank piece of paper. “That’s my shit list, and you’re on it.” Orme says: I just came in the door, sir. “Well, you might not be on it right now, but you will be.” He had to stick it out there all during the Hitler Line, and he had a pretty tough time, let me tell you, right up there with the infantry and forward observation officers.

Payne: My god, it was amazing anyone survived, not just the shelling, but eating out of those aluminum mess tins….

ON THE GOTHIC LINE

Bannerman: Orme had to do communication for the forward observation officers. There was one place in the mountains that we called ‘the mad mile’, because it was so exposed to the Germans. Every time a motorcycle went along that road, the Germans started shelling him. We’d take bets. Is that guy going to make it? No kidding. Orme never realized this was going on until a long time after. He said, Cripes they were making bets to see if I’d be hit…

Payne: The troop commander said we need you up here as soon as possible. I said: How do I get there? He said: Follow the burning tanks. There were 11 tanks in a row, all blown up. A 75 mm tank gun was hidden in the bush, and the guy waited until this column of tanks went through, then he just started with the tail end, shooting them all in the rear, right near the motor. He got every one of them. And then the bugger gave up. They took him prisoner. That’s war.

THE BEST OF FRIENDS

Bannerman and Payne, relaxing after 73 straight days of combat and shelling, as the Canadian Army fought its way up the spine of Italy against elite, battle-hardened German troops.

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THE BATTLE OF OTTERLO AND A VERY CANADIAN PASSWORD

Payne: A bunch of Germans walked in on us in the middle of the night. I’ll tell you, it was blacker than the inside of a cow. If we’d been fighting by the book, we would have been goners. But we were so darned mixed up, we had them mixed up. And somehow we got out of it.

One of my own guys damn near shot me. Little Peter Powliss. He was a gun sergeant. Little short guy in a slit trench, We changed the password every day and that night the password was Hockey, and the answer was Puck. So he yells Hockey and I yell back Puck. He put this .303 right in my face pretty much. I kept saying “Puck… Puck… Puck”. I was sounding like an outboard motor. Finally, I just slapped that darned rifle, and it went off right by my ear. My head rang all night. The stuff that went on that night was enough to make a rabbit spit in a bull’s eye.

(Incidentally, the CBC had a first-hand report of the battle from none other than a young Charles Lynch, who went on to become an illustrious Parliament Hill correspondent. Here it is: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/ve-day-countdown-canadian-army-repels-desperate-germans)

VE-DAY

Bannerman: On May 5, the Dutch celebrated, their liberation. But we all went to bed, sleeping on the floor. We were just so tired. We couldn’t believe it was over.

Payne: Well, they officially announced it, and I’ll tell yuh, my first thought was from my own point of view, What the hell am I going to do now? I’ve got to get a job.

COMING HOME

Bannerman: We were coming back by train from New York, and we’d just crossed into Canada. There was snow on the ground. Suddenly, I heard this commotion at the end of the car. “Come quick, come quick.” And one of the prairie fellas said, “Look, Gordie, out there in the snow. Rabbit tracks.” All of a sudden, he was home. We were all home.