Archdeacon: A promise kept, ‘Dad we did it! Love, me’

She had the funeral director take a mulligan.

When he’d told her he’d stuck the note in the hip pocket of her dad’s pants, she’d shook her head and asked if, instead, he could put it in the inside pocket of his sport coat.

“I wanted it close to his heart,” Christine Lindsey said quietly the other evening as she sat in a white Adirondack chair overlooking the 18th green at the NCR South golf course.

When the field of 120 golfers tees off Thursday in the first round of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open at the famed course, there will be several with bigger names and more impressive credentials than hers.

Ten U.S Women’s Open champions are in the field, including Annika Sorenstam, JoAnne Carner, Laura Davies, Juli Inkster and Amy Alcott.

But few have a more heartfelt story related to this tournament than Lindsey.

At 50 – the minimum age for this tournament – she is the youngest woman in the field.

She’s been thinking about this event for the past seven years, ever since the United States Golf Association announced in 2015 that it was adding a Senior Women’s Open in three years.

A former collegiate golfer at Stetson University, she had labored on the Futures Tour for nearly five years without great success and then spent several more years as an assistant pro at Seneca Golf Course in Louisville.

Finally, in 2007, she put the sport on the back burner and became a realtor.

But then the USGA renewed a passion and she immediately called her dad, Jim Ridenour, who’d first taught her the sport when she was eight years old. Later, he’d caddied for her in some of her biggest tournaments, including victories at the Kentucky State Amateur in 1995 and the Kentucky Women’s Open in 2002.

“I said, ‘Dad, in 2022 I’ll be 50 and we can try to qualify for the Senior Open,’” she recalled.

“He said, ‘That would be great, just fantastic.’ But then he was like, ‘Oh, Christine, when you’re 50, I’m going to be 80. I don’t think I’ll be able to caddy at 80.’

“I said, ‘That’s OK, Dad. You can be there to watch. You’re a part of this.’”

But a couple of months later, everything changed when her dad and his good buddy, Rick Roth, were out fishing just east of Louisville, on a farm pond near Simpsonville in Shelby County.

“They were in a little jon boat, Rick was up front and Jim was manning the little trolling motor in the back,” said Mary Jo, Jim’s wife of 47 years. “Rick said something to him and when Jim didn’t answer, he said, ‘Ridenour, why aren’t you talking to me? You deaf?’

“When Jim still didn’t say anything, he turned around. Jim had slumped over. He still had the fishing pole in his hand. The line was still in the water.

“He was gone. He had died immediately, without a sound.”

The sudden death of Jim Ridenour – one day after his 73rd birthday – stunned everyone.

He had been a middle school teacher for 27 years and later worked part time in pro shops at two area courses. He was a huge Louisville Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds fan and he was proud of his two children, Keith and Christine.

His passing especially shook his daughter. For decades they had bonded over golf.

‘Dad just knew what to say’

“I remember once when she was just 8 or so,” Mary Jo said. “I was fixing supper and Jim was in the backyard with her and she was hitting Wiffle (golf) balls for the first time. He must have given her a club he cut off, I can’t remember, but when he came back in, he said: ‘You know what? She has a natural swing.’”

Soon Christine was joining her dad’s foursome for their weekly Saturday morning games. They were always the first group off the tee, so it meant getting up early and then playing fast so as not to hold up the rest of the groups who had congregated on the first tee behind them.

“She’d always ask, ‘Daddy, can I go with you?’” Mary Jo said. “At first I wondered if she was just trying to get out of Saturday morning chores, but it soon was pretty evident she loved the game.”

Christine had to run to keep up with the men, but the payoff came when there occasionally was a wait and she was allowed to hit a ball or take a putt on a green.

Later, when she was playing in tournaments and her dad was caddying for her, they made a good team, she said:

“I remember one time I wasn’t playing well in a tournament in Danville, Kentucky. I made the turn and then didn’t play 10, 11 or 12 very good either. It was fixing to be a bad round of golf and then he said, ‘You know, I played a round with my cousin once and he birdied the last six holes.’

“That’s all he said, but it planted the seed and I birdied five of the last six and finished with like a 73. Dad just knew what to say.”

And then all of a sudden he was gone.

The night before the funeral, she stayed up late and penned a note to him.

“I told him it broke my heart that he wasn’t going to be with but I’d do everything I could to get to the Senior Women’s Open,” she said. “Then I taped that note to a photo my husband Jerry had taken of me and my dad.

“It was from about a month earlier at the Kentucky Open. I had just teed off on the 18th hole and Dad was standing off to the side. It was the last time he caddied for me.”

She got up early the next morning and went to Kinko’s and had note and photo laminated.

No one knew she’d had the funeral director slip her promise into her dad’s coat pocket before the casket was closed and, following a funeral mass at St. Edwards Catholic Church, was buried at Cave Hill Cemetery.

Although she eventually told her mom about the note, she then busied herself in her job as a realtor over the next few years and only played golf once a week – early Saturday mornings – with the guys her dad regularly played with.

Finally, this past May, two months before the Senior Open qualifiers would be held to gain entry into the NCR Tournament, she took a lesson from Seneca pro Kevin Greenwell, who’d begun tutoring her as a 12-year-old and for whom she later worked as an assistant.

“I told him I was eligible for the Senior Open, but I could think of a hundred reasons not to play,” she said. “I said it would take up too much time and would be too hard for someone working full time and not playing or practicing very much. It was a tall order to compete at that level and I didn’t want to set myself up for potential failure.

“But I told him I’d also promised my dad.

“That’s when Kevin looked at me and pointed his finger and said: ‘You need to keep that promise!’

“And I knew that I’d never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t tried. And Dad would have been shaking his head up above.”

And so in July she teed off at Jefferson Country Club outside of Columbus – in one of the 16 qualifiers around the country – shot a 77 and made the field.

Tears of joy and sadness

She said there were tears of joy and sadness, too. She’d be completing her promise. but without her longtime partner.

In the month since then, she’s tried to practice two to four hours a day after work for what she calls “the biggest tournament of my life.”

Her new caddy is Dave Gambol, a realtor in the same brokerage firm who worked many years previously as a professional caddy in Louisville, Tampa, Florida, and French Lick, Indiana.

When she tees off Thursday, she’ll have a bit of a gallery. Along with her husband, mom and brother, there will be other relatives – including her aunt, Marla Ridenour, the Akron Beacon Journal sports columnist who once worked for the Dayton Daily News – as well as co-workers, clients and people from the golf community.

“I know Dad knows what’s going on, too,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Then again, she made sure of that.

A few days after she qualified, she took her scorecard to Cave Hill Cemetery and used a golf tee to stick it in the ground next to his grave maker. She pasted a note on it that read:

“Dad, we did it! Love, me.”

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