As they made the 55-foot walk from where his last shot landed, MacLeod studied the surface with his feet. Without any sight, he figured the lay of the land beneath his shoes and offered up his thoughts.
“I think it breaks a little left.”
Sutherland, Mountain Golf Club’s course superintendent with a life’s worth of experience on the same green, wasn’t so sure. But MacLeod was adamant as he stepped up to putt.
“And wouldn’t you know it – right in the heart of the hole,” Sutherland recalled with a laugh.
MacLeod, the phenomenal blind golfer, had for years urged his friend, ‘Stumpy’ Sutherland, to caddy for him. They’d never gotten around to it.
“I regret not doing it now,” Sutherland said.
On Friday, MacLeod passed away from cancer at the age of 56.
He leaves behind a wife, Joanne, daughter, Sarah, and a legacy as the best blind golfer in the world.
That title used to belong to Gerry Nelson, of Saskatoon, until he invited MacLeod to the 1997 Canadian Open. It was soon obvious there was a new Gretzky in town.
“He could read greens like no other,” Nelson recalled. “And I include sighted people in that. When he was on a roll, he could just putt the lights out.”
The two dominated the sport together from 1997 to 2000, when Nelson took a hiatus. MacLeod lured him back in 2005 when he started the Nova Scotia Open in Truro. Together, they formed Blind Golf Canada and became best friends.
MacLeod wasn’t just a great golfer, but a great character, too. He’d spend hours on the phone with Nelson, with the conversations straying from golf to hockey and on to their personal lives. They were always talking about the future – conversations that became harder as his condition deteriorated.
“It’s still really fresh and surreal,” Nelson said. “I’ve been walking around with my head in the clouds. I’ll miss him a tonne.”
The two will never walk the fairways together again, but Nelson has a lifetime of comical stories from their 18 years as friends. There’s one memory he can’t stop thinking about. They were at a tournament in California, where they played a hole surrounded by tall houses. MacLeod duffed a shot and tore a chunk out of the fairway, yelling a curse word after he missed. The expletive echoed off the houses the entire way down the course. As people turned to stare at him, he cracked up laughing.
“He must have thought it was pretty funny, so he yelled ‘(expletive)’ again and listened to it echo,” Nelson laughed.
Before his death, MacLeod had discussions about hosting another tournament at the Mountain in 2016. Sutherland and Nelson both said they’d love to see his tournament continue on and his legacy continue to inspire.
“I hope golfers take it as a challenge to be half as good as Brian MacLeod, to give half as much back to the game,” Nelson said.
Sutherland will never forget the 55-foot putt, or the first time he saw MacLeod hit a golf ball. It was a 200-yard drive, right down the gully. He stared at him, bewildered.
“Are you serious?”
“I don’t know, I feel like it was about 10 yards left,” MacLeod answered.
The reply left Sutherland even more astonished. It was, in fact, 10 yards left of centre – a near perfect shot for any golfer, but not quite good enough for the best in blind golf.
A funeral service for MacLeod was held on Monday at St. James Presbyterian Church in Truro. Along with his wife and daughter, he was survived by three brothers – Allan, Doug and James.
He always hoped to play 100 tournaments before walking away from the sport, and reached his milestone last July. His 100th start was his 67th win, and it came at his own tournament on his home course. Fittingly, he beat out his old friend, Gerry Nelson, for the championship.
“Someone like that comes along once in a lifetime,” Nelson said. “It’s going to be a long time until someone can fill that void.”