David Lauderdale

Hilton Head man collected thousands of examples of golf's challenges

John E. Stamp Sr. of Hilton Head Island was a great American.

He was reared on a farm with no electricity or running water; served in World War II with the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal; never owned a car not made in America; visited all 50 states with the girl he married 68 years ago; and worked his way up in 37 years with the phone company from lineman to the man in charge of buried lines in all of northern Virginia.

He did it all with a sense of humor. Following his death Feb. 22 at 90, his daughter went into his files to see how he wanted them to handle the arrangements. Jerri Witten said her somber moment was interrupted by her father's first directive: "Jerri, please make sure I'm really dead."

There's something else about John Stamp's life that should make him a household name. Indeed, he should be sainted. He should be the patron saint of all hackers on the golf course.

Stamp lived on Hilton Head for 12 years. He and Doris moved in with Jerri and David Witten along the fairway of the sixth hole on the Robert Trent Jones course in Palmetto Dunes. It's a par-4 hole, their house tucked in a spot it would take a contortionist to reach with a golf ball.

But in 12 years, Stamp collected more than 12,600 golf balls that hackers hit into his yard or a neighbor's yard, or pool, or porch or flower bed. Stamp kept a daily log to document his addiction. In the summer, he could find four dozen balls in a day. Coming home with so many stuffed in his pockets, his pants were falling down.

He cleaned and sorted the golf balls by brand and grade: A-balls, B-balls and C-balls. He gave logo balls -- he called them "designer balls" -- to a neighbor. That collection included balls from the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, speaking of hackers.

Charities got most of his golf balls. Last year, he donated 70 dozen to be sold at the Fall Festival at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church.

My friend Wim van der Graaf also collects errant golf balls. So far he's found about half as many as Stamp did. Wim also sells them for charity.

We tend to think life should be perfect, and we're disappointed when it's not. On the golf course -- where South Carolina rakes in an annual economic impact of $1.5 billion -- we can be brutal on ourselves. We think we should be able to do what PGA Tour golfer Phil Mickelson does, even as we shoot 120, day in and day out.

John Stamp -- who never played golf -- leaves us 12,600 reasons to quit worrying. He now stands over the fray like Moses with a 1-iron saying: "Don't beat yourself up, my friend. Everybody's a hacker."