The tournament was full weeks ago.
But that was only on paper. To see it in person was something else.
The sun had begun its ascent only a short hour before, and yet here they came. Car after car pulled into the parking lot, and before long, a sea of golf bags washed up to surround the clubhouse.
The tidal procession didn’t end there. It only grew as golfers — many of them friends, some of them family and some of them, well, just sympathetic golfers — swarmed toward the lean man clad in crisp black golf slacks and a Livestrong-yellow polo shirt.
“It was something,” says Brandon Honeycutt, one of those aforementioned friends who played in the morning group. “He just said, ‘We’re going to get it.’ Simple as that, man. ‘We’re going to get it.’”
You can ask the question if you want to.
Mark Midford will answer it with a toothy smile framed by the customary goatee, all while looking you straight in the eye.
He’s feeling good, he’ll tell you. Sure, he looks a bit lighter since he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had a tumor removed on June 8, but boy, that handshake is every bit as firm as it’s always been.
This day, Saturday, Aug. 7, is for him and his family — his wife Holly, and two children, Connor, 4, and Madelyn, 3 months. The benefit golf tournament — the kind of fundraiser thing Midford has planned perhaps thousands of times over the years as the head golf professional at Quail Ridge Golf Course — has been orchestrated by family members and close friends to raise money for the Midfords as Mark, 36, prepares for the coming chemotherapy treatments.
Even without the receipts tabulated to the penny, it’s clear the tournament has been an overwhelming success.
A success for many reasons, most of which have little to do with money.
Tony Lewis has two sons. Two golfers. Pretty good golfers, too. And Mark Midford is a big reason for their love for the game.
But while Midford would never even consider it — and he sure as heck would never comment on it — he’s had a big influence on so many kids. Midford runs several junior golf camps throughout the year, and teams up with Tramway Elementary School every year for a golf clinic.
Countless kids have been introduced to golf by Mark Midford.
But he’s showing them all, young and old, something else now.
Tony Lewis has seen it.
“Mark’s always been a huge asset to the community,” Lewis says. “Both of my sons are golfers, and he’s made a huge impact on them with this deal. Both of them look up to him so much.”
They’re not alone.
Look out at the course. Look. Two golf carts and four golfers approach the 18th green. In the fairway, two more carts and four more players begin to reach their tee shots. And back there, on the tee, two more carts. Four more players.
They are all here for one man and his family.
A morning and afternoon shotgun, with 256 players in all to go with scores of volunteers, the “Chippin’ In for Mark Midford” benefit was broken into two separate tournaments.
Mark spoke to both groups before they went out. It was something he felt like he had to do. Heartfelt words, eloquent in their simplicity, drifted over the mass of khaki and collars.
“It really didn’t hit me until this morning when I went to say something,” Midford reflects as afternoon drifts into evening. “I tried to run it just like any other tournament, and I was doing that — until I made my little speech.”
His voice breaks, even now, hours later, ever so slightly.
“I was just overcome with emotion. It was tough for me to say anything.”
But Midford didn’t back down. No way. And those closest to him knew he would press on.
“This is just who is he is,” says Honeycutt, who was befriended by Midford nine years ago, when the current Sanford Golf Course assistant golf pro was just 15.
“One of the things my family has always wondered about is why I didn’t come back home to Connecticut,” Midford says, reliving the crux of his inspired address.
“Hopefully now, with this, they can see why that is.”
The afternoon groups trickle in. The scores are posted and prizes are handed out.
Midford shakes hands and slaps backs with the same vigor as 12 hours before. The smile remains fresh. The glint in his eye is more than enough to make one wonder just what the hell any of us has to complain about.
As the sun begins its descent, a day meant to fortify a family shaken by terrible day in early June becomes one that will be remembered for all time.
“It’s definitely been a great day,” says Midford. “I’ll always…”
His voice trails off.
“Everybody… It’s just hard for me to accept everything everybody has done for me. It just shows how much people care about you, how much they think of you. It’s just… It’s just hard to take.”
Exactly, Mark. That’s why it was so easy — and so important — for so many to give.