John Stemniski

When I first spoke to John
It was during a call I made to
The golf course where he was working.
It was a little surprising to hear a
New voice on the line,
Obviously an older man.
I asked my question and he was no help
At all. I wondered why they let him answer.
It’s part of my theory of
Bad business that they always put the
Most unknowledgeable, most unfriendly
Personality in as the phone answerer.
John fit this bill to a tee.
The next time I called it was in reference
To an upcoming tournament. Again,
He was no help at all. “I don’t know,”
He said. “Is there anyone else there?”
I asked. “I don’t see anyone.” Very disappointing.
So, I got an opinion of John that was
Not flattering. Not flattering at all.
And, I knew he knew me, because around
The pro shop he sort of kept his distance,
Eyeing me out of the side of his eyes,
Wary. That didn’t sit well either.

And, then, it was a Saturday afternoon,
I had worked late and felt like a round,
A few holes anyway, of golf.
As I walked around the winding course,
I saw someone else out there, hoofing it,
Like me, and I had a sense that I was
Gaining on him. At the third hole,
I was on the tee, he was walking to the green.
He reluctantly waved me up. I hit the green.
As I approached I recognized John.
It was not the recognition of thrill,
I sort of shrugged internally.
It is one of the ways of golf;
Single players join up for the good of all.
“Good hit,” he said. “That was a beauty.”
He chipped his second shot to the green and
We settled in to put out. I missed the birdie,
But made a par. He bogied.
The next hole he hit a monster drive
And loosened up a little. I dubbed about
175 yards, so he had some time off as I hit
My second, a screaming three-wood
To the front of the green. He sliced badly.
It was still his shot. He told me that
He got the job because he was a friend
Of the head pro. Which was an odd thing
To say to a member. “Oh, I used to help
Bobby with his chemistry,” he said.
“Really. What are you, a chemist?”
He said, “I got my PhD at MIT, and worked
In missiles and nuclear stuff for my career.”
It turned out that he holds several important
Patents and probably made a ton of money.
I found this interesting. And then he told
Me about his Dad who died of Black Lung
Disease in the mines of West Virginia,
And how after watching him drain away
With coughing and emphysema he
Decided that chemistry was for him.
“Forty years of research,” he said.
“That was enough for me.” In
Retirement, he began to golf.
“My father hated golf,” he said,
“And he always told me that golf was a
Rich man’s game, and ‘you are not
A rich man’s son.’”

We walked along, carrying out bags, playing
The course one shot at a time, together. I found
I loved this guy who didn’t know anything
On the phone. Every time I played after that
I always looked for him. We became golfing
Pals. Now when I call I don’t care what
He knows, it’s John and we talk.
I see him in the clubhouse and it
Makes me happy. I admire him, more for
His Dad and his long career of pursuing
Knowledge than for anything else. And
I really like playing golf with him.
The way I got to know him,
And what I learned about him,
And about myself,
Made the whole thing a richer
Experience. If someone asked
John Stemniski how he knew me,
I hope he will say, “Oh, I used to help
Bill with his chemistry,” and
How true that would be.

— Bill Purdin | 31194