Don Keffer and the Joy of Golf
Don Keffer played golf the way few people ever played the game. Every time he stepped onto the first tee he expected great things to happen and most times they did. Every time he challenged himself, tested his ability and pushed the envelope. Each round was an adventure and he enjoyed everything about the game and the unlimited array of possibilities.
Don and I met and played golf together at Los Coyotes Country Club in a junior golf alumni tournament. I was 18 and he a year older. He also grew up in Long Beach, but our paths didn’t cross until that day. He played collegiately at San Jose State and broke into and contributed greatly on a very talented, highly nationally ranked golf team. Our teams competed against each other, and we had a mutual friend in Terry Small, the 1964 NCAA champion from San Jose State. After college, he pursed a successful career in the brokerage field, first in the San Jose area and then in Denver, Colorado. He was so successful that he retired in his mid-thirties. He was a member of Lakewood Country Club at the time I was interviewing for the head professional position. He was asked to look at the finalists’ resumes and when he saw mine, he said that’s the one. I don’t know if he looked at my work credentials, but he knew me from college and he knew I could play. He was my Pro-Am partner in every tournament that I needed an amateur partner. The typical Pro-Am setup for the Colorado PGA was a four man team counting one scratch ball and one net ball. We won more than our share and almost always were in the money. He received no strokes, but was usually good for four to five birdies a round and a lot of pars. In his prime, he was probably a plus 3 or 4 handicap.
What make Don unique was his fun with the game and his unrelenting desire to test new boundaries and try new things. I played with him one day when he shot a beautiful 64 at Lakewood and putted exceptional. The next day, he was on the putting green with four different putters and trying different strokes. “Why”, I asked? “Because I can do better and it will be fun”, was his answer. He did the same thing with clubs. He was the first to use a super heavy putter. He taped the head of a Bullseye putter to the back of his regular Bullseye putter. He experimented with different lengths of putters and different grips, but never used it like Adam Scott, but more like Matt Kuchar. He was an advocate of the high lofted wedge. He had a Gary Player 64 degree wedge that he used all around the green with incomparable skill.
Don stepped on the first tee and thought to himself, “This will be a special day”. He thought each day could produce a course record. He did succeed in setting the Lakewood Country Club record of 62. I have been with him many times when he was four, five, or six under par and he didn’t back off. He wanted to be not just one shot better, but as much as he could get. Did he always succeed? No, but he never regretted his attempt at greatness. He said you have just so many chances at something great, so go for it and don’t be afraid. He loved the challenge. He has taken out the pin on many wedge shots, similar to what Phil Mickelson has done on occasion, and has holed or come very close. Some have thought that is just showing off and boasting, but like Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it”. Don could do it and with a wide grin on his face.
What can we learn from Don Keffer’s approach to golf, and for that matter, life? Play it for all it’s worth, enjoy the experience, have fun, challenge your ability, don’t set limits, don’t be afraid of taking risks, try different things, experiment, and except something special.
Unfortunately, I lost one of my best friends a few years ago. As you can see, I admire him greatly and miss his wit, intelligence, and his love of the game of golf. I learned a lot from Don, I hope you picked up some wisdom from this “one of a kind” person.