Jerry Flanagan was wearing his green Erskine Golf Course sweater with a golf tee placed in one hand and an ancient pocket watch in the other.
He looked peaceful in his casket as friends and family spoke softly around him. Still, I half-expected him to rise up and start a conversation.
I had never seen Jerry when he wasn’t talking — always cheerful, always encouraging, always sharing his stories about his biggest fish, his best batting average and his total number of golf shots he had taken during his recent round … for the season … or over his career.
Jerry was a chatterbox, except, of course, when somebody was ready to tee off. That was his moment of silence. Then he was back to preaching how to make par, even if he was sometimes the only one listening.
I ran into him many times at Erskine and Studebaker and occasionally played with him. He especially liked when my wife was with me at Studebaker and he could help her out with her swing. He was a much better instructor for her than I was.
Jerry could still shoot his age while shooting the breeze with anyone within a chip shot of him.
I saw him a few times earlier in the year at Studebaker, playing two balls and walking. I never imagined he wasn’t going to make it past September. But his wife Sharon said he had a heart valve problem and he procrastinated in seeing about it.
He died on Sept. 25 at the age of 85.
He was an admirable guy — a 1954 Adams graduate who played baseball at I.U. after serving for four years in the Navy. After starting his teaching career at Danville, he returned to his hometown of South Bend and taught and coached golf at both Adams and Riley. His 1998 Eagles were runners-up in the state.
Jerry leaves behind his wife Sharon, three children, seven grandchildren and a lot of playing partners who may have sometimes resorted to cotton in their ears by the back nine.
Oh, he loved his numbers. He could tell you that he had taken 814,417 shots since he took up golf while in the Navy and he could produce most of his scorecards from over the years and a little black book with all his rounds recorded.
I did a story on Jerry a year ago for the Tribune. That’s when he admitted that the best number is his life was 57. That’s the number of years he had been married to Sharon. “She’s a good woman and very understanding of my golf,” he said. “She used to play with me until the kids and grandkids started coming.”
He didn’t consider her a golf widow. “She always knows where I am — out on the course — and I’m not going to any bar afterwards,” he added.
Last week, God called Jerry’s number.
He said last year he wanted to die out on the golf course — he didn’t. Yet he’ll probably always be a presence on the fairways and around the greens for his golf buddies.