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The tragic story of a golfer who died far too young

Sometimes you read something on social media that tugs at your emotions when it’s posted by someone you know and it involves the passing of someone you didn’t know.

This was the case a few weeks ago when Dave Hilson, a fellow journalist, wrote about the sudden passing of his first cousin, John Howard Aman, who succumbed to a heart attack on June 30 while the two were golfing. He was only 59, a few weeks shy of his 60th birthday, and was retired.

I didn’t know John, but Dave tells me he enjoyed my work covering horse racing, something I did for 10 years working at the Toronto Sun.

I left in 2006 to pursue a freelance career. Dave has been working at the Sun for several years and I often tell him I wish we could have been there at the same time because I admire him as a journalist, someone who can write, edit, lay out pages, do a podcast and ask good questions when he’s interviewing.

In other words he can do it all, what is often referred to in Major League Baseball as a five-tool guy.

He’s also the kind of guy you enjoy talking with and having a beer.

So that’s why I was personally moved when he posted the news about his cousin.

I asked Dave a few days after his cousin’s passing if I could write a story about John and he politely asked if it could be put off for while because the suddenness of John’s passing was too acute.

I wanted to write the story a week after I wrote about Noah Darling, whose father, Joel, I have known in the journalism broadcast business for a long time. Noah recorded a hole-in-one, the first time in his life.

Is there anything greater in golf than recording a hole-in-one, especially for the first time?

Conversely, is there anything sadder in golf than someone passing away while playing it?

To me, the two stories illustrate the profound joy and sadness of life, both with a connection to golf.

Dave and I talked this week and he gave me some background about John’s interest in golfing.

“He started playing the game really late, maybe 10 years ago, but he was a hacker,” Dave said. “He didn’t play that much because he was working, but he retired a year ago and moved near where I live (in Owen Sound, a picturesque town about three hours away from Toronto). We always played together a couple times in the summer, and generally we played at mid-level courses.

“But since his retirement, he wanted to play more and started watching videos of YouTube on swings. I’d try and give him some pointers here and there. He was a good fastball player as a kid. He was a pitcher, so I figured he had the skill that he eventually would have gotten better golfing.

“It was just nice being out there, he and I, walking around and talking and having a beer. It was a way to bond, really.”

John passed away playing at a public course called Scenic City near when he and Dave lived.

“I play with a bunch of guys that are pretty decent golfers, who don’t want hackers, so I never had him out with those guys,” Dave said. “I was supposed to play the following morning, but I hadn’t been out with my cousin for a couple of weeks. So I said, ‘let’s go out to Scenic City.’ It’s an easy course for me. Normally I always like to walk when I golf. He liked to drive the cart. I had been encouraging him to start walking because it’s healthy and if you hit a bad shot you have time to blow it off walking 100 yards or whatever. But that night, I decided to take a cart because I’d knew I’d be walking the next morning and my legs were going to be a bit stiff.”

He said the two of them were going along just like any other normal day of golfing. John had ordered a pre-made vodka drink in a bottle. Dave bummed a smoke off of him. Just after the two had hit tee shots off the fourth hole, John chunked his second shot to the green and then said his arms were hurting a little bit. Dave thought it was because he hit the ground hard with his approach shot. On the fifth tee, John mentioned to Dave he was still hurting. Dave said it was just casual conversation, no reason to be worried, probably lingering pain from the shot on the previous hole. In retrospect, Dave said it may have been the first sign of a heart attack. While driving to the fairway for their second shots, John told Dave he had a bit of a pain in his chest. Dave asked him if he was okay and if not, let him know.

Following their second shots, the two were on different sides of the course walking toward their balls, and John told Dave he felt sick.

“I kind of clicked in there was an issue and said to him, ‘Do you want me to call 911?’ By the time I looked over towards him, he walked off toward the side of the fairway to puke. He was leaning on his knees with his hands and then he just went down.”

Dave ran over to John, who was face down. Dave knew it was serious and ran over towards his phone and called 911. The operator was walking through what to do if he needed to do chest compressions, but Dave indicated about two minutes later he was sure John had passed.

By the time paramedics arrived 10 minutes later, it was confirmed John had passed, but there was a thought he could be revived in the ambulance. Dave drove to the hospital, where it was confirmed John had passed. Dave is convinced the heart attack was so massive there was nothing he could have done to help save John.

Dave said it took him two weeks before he golfed again, but the memory of what happened on the golf course on which John passed is still painful and he won’t play there again or even look at it while driving by it.

I feel badly for Dave because he’s someone I consider a friend.

Sometimes life just isn’t fair.


Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko is an award-winning writer who has published nine books, three of them bestsellers. He has been involved in sports writing for more than 35 years and has interviewed many superstar athletes. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and enjoys watching golf and playing it.

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