Once-in-a-lifetime golf shot brings sense of peace to grieving father

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor

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Today was supposed to be the first Father’s Day Jonas Lail celebrated with his infant son, Hudson.

Fate had other plans. Hudson died on June 1.

Today will be a poignant and somber day for Jonas and his wife, Amber. But the grief of losing their first child will be tempered by an experience Jonas had five days after Hudson’s death.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon at Royal Oaks Country Club, Lail hit a once-in-a-lifetime shot. His hole-in-one on the 16th hole was remarkable not just because Lail hadn’t played golf in nine months.

Those who witnessed the shot say there were oddities that go beyond coincidence.

First, there’s the yardage of the hole. Though listed at 202 yards, Lail’s range finder showed the distance that day from tee to flag was 191 yards.

Hudson Lail was born on the 9th day of January.

Jonas Lail used a four-iron and hit a Callaway 4 golf ball. Hudson Lail lived for 4 1/2 months.

And more remarkable, according to Lail’s three playing partners that day, was the setting on the following hole.

Despite it being a crowded day on the Vancouver course, no other golfers could be seen on the adjoining 11th, 15th and 16th holes.

Jack Crosley Sr., a Royal Oaks member since 1955 who was in Lail’s foursome, remembers thinking how odd it was that no traffic could be heard on nearby Fourth Plain Boulevard.

Jack Crosley Jr., a PGA-certified golf pro who has known Lail much of his life, said he could barely compose himself on the 17th hole.

“On the next hole, it just kind of hit me,” he said.

And on that 17th hole, Lail realized a peace he didn’t have when the round began a few hours earlier.

“It was completely silent,” Lail confirmed. “As sure as I am talking to you now, that was Hudson’s way of saying ‘I’m still here.’ ”

A father’s final plea

Hudson Lail’s health problems began before he was born. Twenty weeks into Amber’s pregnancy, Hudson was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect.

One week after his birth, Hudson underwent surgery for truncus arteriosus, a rare condition where a person is born with one large artery to carry blood out of the heart instead of the normal two. It can lead to blood not reaching the lungs to be adequately oxygenated.

Jonas Lail, a 2005 Evergreen High School graduate who is a vice president for Fisher Investments in Camas, spent much of the next month at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

When Hudson went home, his parents were hopeful his health woes were behind him. Yet, at 3 months old, Hudson faced another surgery. His heart issues had caused a lack of blood flow to his intestines, which had narrowed as a result.

Again, Hudson’s parents hoped their child would be in the clear after surgery.

But on June 1, Hudson began having difficulty breathing and slipped into unconsciousness. An ambulance was called.

Unrelenting rounds of CPR kept Hudson alive until he reached a nearby hospital. But the effort only delayed the inevitable.

Hudson died shortly after arrival.

Jonas Lail was told Hudson’s heart simply gave out. In his son’s last moments of life, Jonas remembers making a plea.

“The last thing I said to him was that I needed him to come talk to me,” he said. “I needed some sign that he’s out there somewhere, because at that moment I felt completely lost.”

A good distraction, at least

For as frustrating as golf can be, Jack Crosley Sr. knows it can also be a balm for the soul. So the longtime Vancouver business owner invited Lail out for a round of golf.

Lail used to play golf regularly. He described it as his Zen and would often play a quick nine holes to clear his head before work. But he hadn’t played since September.

“We didn’t know if he’d go along with the idea,” Crosley said.

Crosley’s son works as an instructor at a golf course in Indian Wells, Calif. In town for the summer, Crosley Jr. was sore from hiking to Angels Rest in the Columbia River Gorge the previous day.

“Dad invited me to play and I said I don’t know if I can,” Crosley Jr. recalled. “He said Jonas would be there. At that point, I knew I had to be there.”

Gordon DeKraai, a relative whom Lail calls “Uncle Gordon,” rounded out the foursome, which teed off on a perfect afternoon with temperatures in the mid-80s.

“He was in a somber mood, but he was trying to make the best of it,” Crosley Sr. said of Lail.

Once in a lifetime

Most golfers, even really good ones, go their whole lives without scoring a hole-in-one.

Crosley Jr. has never had a hole-in-one despite playing competitive golf since age 12. Crosley Sr., 71, has had one ace. According to Golf Digest and the National Hole in One Association, an amateur golfer’s tee shot on a par 3 goes in the hole once every 12,750 times.

Before the 16th hole, Crosley Sr. said that day’s round had been average. A few good shots were made. Quite a few shots were missed.

But when Lail hit his tee shot on the 16th hole, there was no doubt is was going to be good.

“He pured it,” Crosley Sr. said. “You could tell right away it was tracking toward the hole.”

Lail’s shot landed short of the green and rolled toward the hole, which was about five yards from the front of the green. A slight rise at the green’s front made it difficult to see the actual hole.

“I think that (it) went in,” Crosley Sr. remembers saying.

“Jonas said ‘That didn’t happen. I’m sure the ball is over the green,’ ” Crosley Jr. said. “I rode down to check it out.”

Crosley Jr. signaled that the ball was in the hole. Lail was overcome.

“Jonas is just standing there with his hands on the back of his head,” Crosley Sr. said. “He hears my son yell that it’s in the hole. At that point, he just crouched down with his hands on his head. He was very emotional.”

Lail walked to the far side of the tee box, where he took a few solitary moments to compose himself. On the green, the group snapped pictures.

Beyond words

After the initial elation, Lail, the Crosleys and DeKraai started to realized the larger significance of that shot for a grieving father.

“On the 17th hole, I’m five yards away from my son,” Crosley Sr. said. “He’s trying to hit his second shot, but he keeps dropping his head. I can hear him sobbing.”

Crosley Jr. would later remark on Facebook, “There was something or someone else involved. On the 16th hole we were playing as a fivesome.”

Lail isn’t relying on a cliche when he says words can’t describe what he felt in that moment. Rather, he says words can’t do that moment justice.

After all, over his son’s short life, he and Hudson created an unbreakable bond without the use of words.

It’s only fitting, therefore, that Hudson would speak to his father without words.

“I felt like that was him coming to talk to me and give me peace,” Lail said. “I was seeking, searching for an answer. I think he knew that.

“And now I have some semblance of peace.”