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VOL. 45 | NO. 7 | Friday, February 12, 2021

You never know where that extended right hand has been

By Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

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I began to question the practice of shaking hands long before COVID-19. But like most of us, I never acted on my disdain for the practice. Maybe now I will.

It was 1988 at a Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour) event in Melbourne, Florida, where I was working as a sports writer covering the event for the local newspaper.

Senior Tour events were full of colorful characters 50 and older with great stories to tell. Most were former PGA Tour players, while others were former professional athletes from other sports. I loved listening to John Brodie talk about quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers and Ralph Terry spin tales of pitching with the New York Yankees of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Billy Martin.

Nearly all were engaging and looking for an audience to share their memories.

One of the participants was the late Miller Barber, then 57, who had won 11 PGA Tour events. He was even more successful on the Senior Tour with 21 wins – including five majors – in seven years going into this particular tournament. He would win his 24th and final championship the following March.

Barber was a skilled and successful golfer. He was not, however, one of the Tour’s more gregarious personalities.

So when the leaderboard showed Barber at the top after the first round, those of us covering the event groaned. Barber was, in a word, dull. We needed colorful quotes to make our jobs easier, and he wasn’t one to provide them.

Barber held the lead through two rounds – agony – and then through three, winning the championship.

Hoping for more (anything) following the winner’s press conference, I followed Barber into the locker room to ask a few more questions as he got dressed and cleaned out his locker. It was not an unusual practice in those days, and he answered my queries with his usual stoic, courteous demeanor.

He rose while answering my final question, made his way to the nearby urinal and used it for its intended purpose.

I thanked him for his time, both that day and during the week. After zipping his pants, he turned to me and extended his right hand. Thinking quickly, from about 10 feet away, I raised both hands halfway and simply said “no thanks.”

He grinned slyly, letting me in on the joke.

Miller Barber, the mystery many dubbed “Mr. X” by his peers, had made a joke. And I was the only one there to witness it.

It was funny because both of us knew I was not going to accept his offer to shake hands. Truth is, I would have made my exit without a handshake even if he had completed singing “Happy Birthday” while washing his hands with Boraxo.

So the point of this meandering tale is this: We don’t know what someone was doing with their hand five minutes or five seconds before they extend it to us in friendship. Shaking hands is a habit that needs to end, though I’ve yet to hear a good alternative.

The flip side of the COVID-19 pandemic is I’ve never been healthier. Thanks to masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing and a refusal to shake hands, I haven’t had so much as a common cold in the past year.

Of course, millions worldwide haven’t shared my good fortune. They can’t work from home and avoid risky circumstances. And we owe it to them to be as careful as possible and support them in any way we can.

For me, that will include not offering to shake hands. Please don’t be offended. Or take it as a sign that I’ve just left the locker room.

Lyle Graves is associate publisher and executive editor of the Nashville Ledger, Knoxville Ledger and Hamilton County Herald.

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