It’s Too Quiet on the Tee
Saying goodbye far too soon to a couple of colorful golf friends
By Mark Godich
Nearing retirement and looking to play more golf, I joined Hackberry Creek Country Club in suburban Dallas in the spring of 2021. I knew exactly one member but not much else about the place, other than the course was a Byron Nelson design with suitable practice facilities.
For the first couple of months, I simply showed up looking for a game, occasionally throwing my name on an empty tee-time slot. Then one weekday evening, I saw an open spot for the following day at 8:26. I grabbed it. About five minutes before my appointed time, I pulled up to the 1st tee to find a half-dozen or so players standing around. “Are you Mark?” one of them asked. I nodded. Quick introductions were exchanged, and with that we were off, the second foursome following us off. After we finished, Andy Augustine, the ringleader of the group, asked for my cell number so I could be added to the group text. I had passed the test. I had found my gang.
Sometime during that inaugural round, John Bryan asked where I lived. When I mentioned I had grown up in suburban Richardson but upon returning home in the summer of 2015 had settled in the Kessler Park neighborhood of Oak Cliff, John said, “You need to meet Oak Cliff Larry.”
Oak Cliff Larry, or OCL, was Larry Redden, Dallas raised and Texan through and through. Though he eventually relocated to the suburbs, he had grown up in Oak Cliff. We would meet soon enough, and OCL was everything as advertised. And then some. He was a nonstop talker, often offering play-by-play as he was addressing the ball. “Quiet on the tee, please. Larry Redden playing.” Or, “I’m gonna try and play a baby draw here.” He liked to call everyone “big ’un.” Good shots prompted the comment: “That’s a Sunday ball, big ’un,” or “You tatered that one, big ’un.” He talked so much that in the 30 steps it took to get from the cart to the 2nd green, it wasn’t unusual for him to assess the state of his game, your game, his beloved Dallas Cowboys and his days as a civil engineer. His wardrobe was as colorful as his commentary.
He talked so much that on countless occasions over the past two years, I said I was going to bring along my recorder so I could document his every word during a round for what would certainly be an entertaining piece. “Should’ve brought the recorder,” I would whisper to other players in the group as OCL was getting warmed up early in a round. In fact, I uttered those words so often that other players in the group began to say, “Would’ve been a good day to bring the recorder, Mark!”
I never brought the recorder and now, sadly, I feel myself needing to write about OCL. That’s because we lost Larry Redden on Thursday. This is what we know. Larry’s wife, Linda, was in Florida, and when he didn’t respond to her calls, she sent the golf group an email. She wanted to know if Larry had played golf that morning, then called the situation an “emergency” while saying she was trying to piece together his day. A few minutes later, she wrote that she had sent the couple’s son to the house to check on Larry. He found his father in the backyard. “He’s gone,” Linda wrote.
Gone. A couple of months shy of his 69th birthday.
Larry was on the tee sheet that morning, but he was a late cancellation, saying he had other things to do. I had already bailed, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. In a Tuesday night text, I cited the oppressive Texas heat. I awoke the next morning to a text from Larry: “Smart move, Mark.”
We had last played together the previous Friday, going off as a fivesome: OCL, Andy, Leon Johnson (aka, the General), Bob Denton and me. It would have been another good day to bring the recorder. Larry was Larry. Bob is playing again regularly after rehabbing a foot injury for the better part of a year. OCL was complimentary of his fluid swing, saying he could see that Bob’s game was coming back. He mentioned the two would make a dangerous duo in Hackberry team events. Then he was quick to add, “Gotta get the handicap right first, though.”
As we reached the 9th tee, ominous clouds were blowing in. They were accompanied by the occasional rumble of thunder. It was almost lunch time, so after we finished the hole, we agreed to pause our round and grab something to eat. Four of us, all retired, headed to the grill room. OCL, still working, headed to his car. He was a busy man, having transitioned into a career as an actor, picking up bit parts here and there and hawking this product and that on infomercials and the like. He didn’t have time to sit around. Somebody might be reaching out about an audition. (Larry also had taken up Pickleball, and he and others in our group competed in a weekly bowling league. Wally Theiss tells the story of being at the bowling alley one night and teasing Larry about recent plastic surgery on his neck. “Wally, one thing I admire about you is that you don’t care about your looks,” OCL said, to Wally’s delight. “He meant it as a compliment,” Wally says.)
The storm never materialized, and we were back on the course within the hour. We hadn’t played two holes before Andy quipped, “It sure got a lot more quiet out here.”
We were all still trying to process the loss of John Bryan when the news of Larry’s death hit. Johnny and I became fast friends upon my arrival at Hackberry. Cart mates too. He was an LSU grad and I’m a Mizzou alum, so we talked about all things SEC. He sported an LSU-logoed bag, LSU-logoed headcovers and the occasional LSU-logoed golf ball. Like my wife, he was a cancer survivor, so we had stories to share on that front. Then at dinner one night last summer, John told Leigh and me the cancer had returned. More energy-sapping treatment. He understandably cut back on the golf, but when I saw him at our golf group holiday dinner in early January, he looked like the picture of health. A month or so later, he was back in the hospital. He never came home.
John Bryan died on April 15, nine days after his 69th birthday, due to complications from treatment for Graft Versus Host Disease. His obituary read in part: “He loved good wine, delicious food and traveling, especially to visit his daughter in New York City. A natural storyteller and comedian, John had an effortless ability to entertain and charm people.”
The memorial service was moving with just the right touch of humor, and at the reception that followed, the drink of choice was Johnny’s go-to refreshment: a good-old old-fashioned. Many of us from the golf gang were there, including Larry. Without a hat and in his Sunday best, OCL was so unrecognizable that I did a double-take as he walked across the room. Straight out of Hollywood casting. (I also happened upon a couple of friends from long ago—fellow Richardson High School Class of ’75 alums Gloria and Tom Curtis. Years ago, they had struck up a friendship with John and his wife, Suzette. The couples had traveled together. Talk about a small world.)
About 20 of us honored Johnny on the last Wednesday in May the way we knew best—with golf and an old-fashioned toast next to the 18th green. The pin was adorned with an LSU flag, which we all signed and presented to Suzette. At one point during the festivities, one of the guys flashed a ball he found during the round. It was pristine, stamped with an LSU logo. Coincidence? I think not. Johnny despised the borderline unfair, par-5 home hole, so in unison we all pumped shots into the expansive creek that guards the green, then hollered, “I hate this hole.” A couple of guys brought along old clubs that they hurled into the moat. I’m not suggesting I ever saw Johnny toss a club, but he would’ve liked that.
Johnny attended the SEC football championship game in Atlanta in December—a surprise Christmas gift from Suzette—and I thought about him a lot as I watched LSU win the national championship in baseball last Monday. In an eloquent Instagram post, Ben Bryan said his father had made plans to be in Omaha, had even booked a hotel in January, back when the Tigers were No. 1 in the land and he was that picture of health. He talked about how his father had turned him into an LSU fan, about what he did to help him succeed as a youth baseball player. “Back then, I didn’t fully appreciate all he did for me, as children often do, not really understanding the lengths parents will go to for their kids,” Ben wrote. “But looking back on it now, they’re some of the fondest memories I have, and helped shape me as the person I am today.”
A week or so after the round in celebration of his life, Johnny’s name came up. Wally mentioned what a special day it had been, before adding, “Let’s hope we don’t have to do that again anytime soon.”
And yet here we are, not a month later.
Just as we did with John Bryan, we will find the best way to celebrate the life of Larry Redden. I’d venture to guess it will be quiet on the tee. Eerily quiet.
Mark has enjoyed a career in sports journalism that has spanned more than 40 years. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent more than a decade in the newspaper world before transitioning into magazines, working at Golf Digest and then spending 22 years as a senior editor at Sports Illustrated. He also worked as a college basketball and golf editor at The Athletic. Mark is the author of the 2013 college football book Tigers vs. Jayhawks: From the Civil War to the Battle for No. 1. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Leigh.