My Friend Larry

Larry Berle is perhaps the friendliest guy on the planet. He seems to know everyone I know, plus most everyone else, too. He accomplishes this in a couple of ways. He gets you to introduce all your friends to him, and then he actually remembers their names, what they do, where their kids go to school, and genuinely is interested in learning more about them.

And he plays golf.

The first characteristic he seems to have been born with. The golf I blame on his wife. Annie is just like Larry, except she’s probably a better golfer. (Her given name is Ann, but she’s so damn exuberant all the time you can’t help but use the diminutive.) When she and Larry started dating eighteen years ago, she introduced him to the game. She still plays a little, but not as much as Larry, mostly because nobody plays as much as Larry.

Larry’s in his early sixties, but looks like he’s forty. I have an idea how old Annie is, having been to a birthday party or two, but let’s just say she could easily pass for twenty-eight. I attribute their youth to their health, and their maddeningly consistent buoyant outlook on life.

Larry sold his business three years ago to concentrate on playing golf and making friends. Annie still works, so that cuts into her time to indulge his obsession. They do spend a lot of time together, though. They have gone hiking nearly everywhere in the world. Egypt, Papua New Guinea, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Patagonia have all felt their footprints.

But eighteen months ago, their life as they knew it came to an abrupt halt. Larry had been out riding his bike, and when he didn’t return home Annie began calling his cell phone. Then she began calling police precincts and hospitals. Only after Larry had been missing for eight hours did she find him at Hennepin County Medical Center. Somehow he’d fallen off his bike and cracked his head, hard, on the concrete. He doesn’t remember how this happened, and while somebody called 911, no witnesses were there when the ambulance arrived. At the emergency room, they were so busy trying to save him that they hadn’t thought to call any family. Annie finally talked with someone treating Larry, who told her to hurry because he wasn’t expected to make it.

He did make it, with extensive surgery that included temporarily removing a large piece of his skull, which allowed his brain to swell. He also made it, I’m convinced, due to the prayers and good wishes of his thousands of friends who set up a phone and email network that provided daily news of his condition. We friends also took care of Annie, which mostly involved not talking constantly about Larry and concentrating instead on dinner and wine.

A few years before his accident, Larry had embarked on a quest to play Golf Digest magazine’s top hundred courses in the United States. A few of these are public and relatively easy to access; however, most are exceedingly exclusive. If you aren’t the guest of a member, you’ve got no chance to play unless you make the PGA Tour. And since the tour doesn’t take high handicappers like Larry, his only means of playing many of these courses was to make about a hundred new friends—friends who happened to be members of clubs like Augusta National.

Of course, Larry did it. He worked his extensive list of friends to make contact with members who’d be willing to play golf with a stranger. Sometimes, he simply cold-called people, introduced himself, and wrangled an invitation.

Over the course of nine years, he finished the list. Then he figured he had to write a book about it. He plunged into a task he knew nothing about, and was about two-thirds of the way through his first draft when he fell off his bike.

Six months after the accident he was back at the book. He was suffering from some of the common side effects of a brain injury. His concentration and patience were both shot. He’d lost the ability to perform simple tasks such as balancing his check book. But the same determination that got him onto the courses got him to finish A Golfer’s Dream. In fact, he says finishing the book helped “bring him back.”

For avid golfers, the book might be a slight disappointment. It’s not about the golf per se so much as it’s about all the friends he made on his quest. But that makes it even a better read, because when it comes to making friends, Larry is Tiger Woods.