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Chapter 5: Sacrificial Round

It was a quiet Thursday afternoon at White Lake. The morning leagues had just finished, and it was now the slowest part of the day. The middle of the day, right between the morning seniors and the after-work leagues. It was the best time of the day to play. I was sitting on the patio of the clubhouse, putting my golf shoes on, preparing to play a few holes by myself.

It was at that point that my plans changed. Al Harper and Charlie Pendyke, two of the bitterest old men I had ever met, came walking around the corner. When they walked toward me dragging their squeaky old pull-carts, they looked like the best of friends. My first impression was that these couldn’t be the same two guys I knew. The Al and Charlie I knew could have been the basis for Grumpy Old Men. Sure, they were always pleasant to me when they would come in and pay for their round, but when they returned, they were always at each other’s throats. That particular day was the day that I made the terrible mistake of playing with them.

They had regular game and a regular bet. They played for a dime a hole and allowed each other four mulligans. I later learned that the mulligans were not restricted to tee shots. They acted as though they were playing for big money. Al and Charlie were the two most competitive hackers I had ever met.

They walked past me spitting their old man banter back and forth. That day, it was something about the price of coffee at gas stations. It was usually always about the price of something.

Then, without any warning, Al turned to me and in true Al Harper fashion, being both demeaning and friendly at the same time, said, “If you don’t have anyone to play with, son, you can walk along with us.”

No one to play with, I thought. Walk along with you. I don’t walk. I couldn’t believe him. They just stood there, staring at me, waiting for a reply. I would have much rather played by myself, but for some odd reason, my curiosity got the best of me.

“Well, I was going to practice a little ’till the guys are ready to play,” I said. “But, I guess I could play a few holes for practice.”

I knew that I successfully conveyed my reluctance to play with them by the looks on their faces. I wasn’t about to let them think that they were doing me a favor. I didn’t mind Charlie that much because he would actually talk with me once in a while.

“How’s it going Charlie?” I asked.

“Haven’t made a par in six months,” he replied. It was his standard answer. I wasn’t sure if it was true or not. I certainly hoped that it wasn’t. But it would certainly explain his bitterness.

Al Harper never talked with me. He only talked to me. He appeared to me to be in his mid-to-late 70s. That day he was wearing a pair of ancient-looking white golf shoes with kilties. Those are the tassels or flap that covered the laces, and they were once in style. Beneath pressed, brown shorts he was wearing long black socks, pulled up almost to his knobby, pale white knees. He had on a faded yellow golf shirt with a flyaway collar that was so old and worn that it was nearly transparent.

Charlie Pendyke appeared to be slightly older. Maybe 80. He wore a pair of light blue pants, with a pair of rotten old brown golf shoes. He was wearing just a white undershirt that was so old that it was transparent. It was great that he dressed up for golf. The two men seemed married to each other. They were so happy together. I guess you could say they fit in with each other. They certainly didn’t fit in with anyone else.

I followed them to the first tee. As I turned and looked back towards the clubhouse, I could see Andy and Mark staring out at me in amazement. They must have thought I was insane for playing with these guys. When we arrived at the tee, Al immediately began scouring the area in front of the tee markers for broken tees. Charlie soon joined him.

“You better hurry Brian, before we get all the good ones,” said Al.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I’ve got some in my bag.”

This process continued for several minutes. I began swinging my driver to loosen up.

“Hey look, a whole one!” said Charlie excitedly.

“Now, what kind of dumb-ass would leave a perfectly good tee lying on the ground,” said Al.

I thought of all the times that I probably forgot to pick up my tee. I walked onto the tee and stood between the tee markers looking for a good spot to tee-up my ball.

“Whoa, Brian, you sure are an eager beaver,” said Al as he looked at me.

After five minutes of watching them hunt for broken tees, I guess I was growing a little impatient. I stopped and stepped away from the tee markers. I stretched a little trying not to rush them.

“Just loosening up,” I said. “Take your time.” I remember wishing someone would just shoot me. I couldn’t believe I actually told them to take their time. I was ready to hit, and these guys were still scavenging for tees.

Charlie seemed satisfied with his newfound treasure. He walked over to his bag and pulled out a driver that appeared to be a Big Bertha. When he got closer to me, I realized it was actually an imitation. I should have guessed. It was actually a “Big Brother”. Where it should say Callaway, it said Trident. The words were even spelled in the same calligraphy as on a Bertha. There was even a black dot on the bottom of the head making it appear as though the shaft was bore through like on a Callaway. It was a joke.

“What kind of driver is that?” I asked Charlie.

“Oh, it’s one of those big jobs,” he said. “Just like yours. Except, I bet you paid a lot more for yours. My friend made it in his basement for me. Only 90 bucks, and it’s graphite.”

“Sounds like a hell of a deal,” I said.

“You better believe it,” he replied.

I guess Al had finally found enough broken tees because he made his way over to his bag and unsheathed the ugliest looking wood I had ever seen. It was a swamp green laminated wood that was so old and faded that parts of it were brown. It looked as though it was rotting.

Upon closer review I determined that at one time it had been a MacGregor two wood, but that must have been 40 or 50 years ago. Now the three of us stood there waggling our clubs.

“Age before youth,” I said in an attempt to get one of them to tee off. At first, I thought that it worked because Al went over to the tee markers and teed up his ball. However, I learned that this was just the first step in an elaborate pre-shot routine, from which he never strayed.

After he had teed up his ball, he walked behind it and squatted to look at his target. I thought that I could hear his bones creak as he lowered himself. Then, he licked his lips and spit. It almost made me sick. He then slowly raised himself. Again sending a tingle up my spine, as I was almost sure I heard the creaking sound again. He stood there and began staring at a spot on the ground just in front of his ball. He laid his club down behind the ball and pointed the face toward the spot. He was lining up his club before he even got his body into position. While trying not to move his club out of the position he was holding it in, he slowly walked around and addressed the ball with his feet together. He was gripping the club with all of his might. I suppose he was being careful as not to move it off line.

I had seen children try this before, but never an adult. I don’t care how careful you are, it’s impossible to keep your clubface in the same position as you walk from behind the ball to the address position. It all seemed a little ridiculous to me, but it was entertaining. Once he was certain he hadn’t moved his club, he slowly spread his feet apart. First, the right foot. Then, the left.

It was at that point that he began staring at the ball. At first, it didn’t seem that strange, but after a full minute, I started to wonder if he had fallen asleep. I couldn’t tell if his eyes were open, since his head was practically pointed straight down. I thought that he must be OK, since Charlie didn’t seem bothered by the situation.

Now, I know that when you’re bored, time seems to go slower. However, I know from glancing at my watch that he stood there and stared at that ball for over 45 seconds.

45 seconds is a long time to stare at a golf ball by anybody’s standards.

Finally, he started to move. He picked the club up with his arms and swung the club behind his head, without using any other part of his body. He paused at the top for a moment and then he pulled the club straight down in a chopping motion. His intense concentration was evident in that on his follow through, his body didn’t move. His head remained pointed straight down at the ground. His arms swung the club up to vertical, but it stopped there. Then, he lifted his head up to see where his ball went.

“Where is it?” he asked.

“Ought to be about a hundred yards out in two seconds,” I said.

His ball finally came down about ninety yards straight out.

“Shit! I popped it up,” he yelled.

“I think you lifted your head up,” replied Charlie almost out of habit it appeared.

Al’s face started to turn red as he glared back toward

“I did not lift up my god damn head,” he spoke each word louder and slower as the sentence came out.

“You did too. I saw you. You always do,” said Charlie as he took his sickly looking wood and teed up a ball.

Al was furious. He was not going to let this die. He stomped around for a few moments like a child. Then, he positioned himself between Charlie and his ball.

“Listen Charlie,” he said. “If I would have lifted my head up I would have topped the ball, but I didn’t. I popped it up.”

“So you must have lowered your head,” answered Charlie.

“Must have,” acknowledged Al.

I thought I was going to lose it. Al backed off and Charlie addressed his ball. He took a pretty wide stance. It looked kind funny because Charlie was short and a little hefty. He immediately made a quick back swing using a lot of body turn. Then, he swung through using the same amount of speed and turn.

The ball flew straight and low for about 175 yards. Not bad for an old dude I thought.

“Right good shot,” mumbled Al.

“OK Brian, let’s see how a young whipper snapper does it,” said Charlie.

I walked back over to the tee markers and teed-up my ball. I took a couple more practice swings and then, I addressed the ball. I felt pretty good about my swing. I guess it was just one of those days when you just happen to have a pretty positive attitude. I knew that I didn’t have to do anything special to upstage these guys. I just wanted to keep it in the fairway. I swung without any other thoughts in my mind. The ball took off a little too the left but then faded back landing near the right edge of the fairway about 230 yards out and rolled about 20 yards more.

“If you would shorten that swing up, you might keep it straight,” said Al as if he was instructing me. I just smiled at him and walked over to my bag.

“Shut the hell up, would you, Al!” yelled Charlie. “At least the kid is gonna be on the green in two. You’re gonna screw him up.”

“I will not screw him up,” said Al. “I can still remember a thing or two, unlike Mr. Senility here.”

As they began bickering back and forth, I started at brisk pace toward Al’s ball. I may not have been able to make them move any faster, but I wasn’t about to let them search aimlessly for their balls. They eventually joined me at Al’s ball, about 92 yards out, in the center of the fairway.

That was when life ended, as I knew it. Al began his pre-shot routine again. My reaction was something between shock and disbelief. I turned my eyes away from him, hoping that it would ease the pain. I began scanning the nearby fairways for anyone who might be able to rescue me.

I glanced back at him. He was still crouched down behind his ball just staring ahead. I tried to focus on my next shot to get my mind off of them. I stared at the green to determine what the best angle of approach would be. The more that I looked at it; I began to think that I should use one less club than usual. The more that I thought about it, I realized that I usually always went over that green. The green is sloped up in the front but it really levels off at the mid point. Also, it seemed that the wind was almost directly behind me. I had always played to the green using the straight yardage. I suppose that it was about time that I got some sense and used less club on my approach.

My thought process was interrupted by an awful sound. It was one of those sounds where you don’t need to see the shot to know it was poor. It was the sound of a vibrating golf club and a stinging wrist.

Al’s ball went skidding along the fairway up the middle for about 100 yards.

“Well, you’re a little closer anyway,” said Charlie.

“Go to hell,” answered Al.

I refrained from saying anything and began walking toward Charlie’s ball.

“See. It was so bad that it left Brian speechless,” I heard Charlie say as I was walking away.

I turned around and said, “Well, it was straight.” I continued walking with Charlie laughing in the background.

As I led them to Charlie’s ball, I started to think more about my next shot. I became firmer in my notion to use less club than usual. I realized that there was a lot of green to work with below the flagstick. I stopped at Charlie’s ball and waited for them. I guess that it was the lack of competition, but I was feeling a hell of a lot of confidence.

I looked back to see what was keeping them. To my surprise, they were standing about 40 yards back having a conversation. I couldn’t believe it. We weren’t even to the 150 marker yet and they were holding me up. They just stood there talking to each other. They could have at least walked while they were talking. Maybe that was beyond them.

Then all of a sudden, Al started waving me away. I didn’t understand at first, but then Charlie grabbed both pull carts and started walking toward the side of the fairway. Al had a club in his hand and began walking backwards. At the same time, a foursome began walking onto the first tee. It was outrageous. There was a group on the tee and he was going back to rehit his second shot. So, for fear of my well being, I moved over behind a tree in the rough.

Then, with Charlie and I hiding in the rough and a group waiting 100 yards away on the first tee, Al began his pre shot routine. The group on the first tee was showing their frustration, while Al squatted endlessly behind his ball. I considered taking out another ball, ditching them and playing number three. The tee was open and it was only 30 yards away.

I looked back at Al. He was still squatting. One of the guys on the first tee had already teed up his ball and was making practice swings. Even a beginner should have been able to get that message. Al was still squatting. It didn’t seem to bother Charlie. He just stood there watching his friend.

I had never felt so trapped on a golf course as I did at that moment. I then knew why it was that I preferred to ride when playing. I would have given anything at that moment to have a cart to escape in. As Al slowly raised himself up off the ground, I could hear the guys on the first tee coughing and making noises to speed him up. I turned back towards the green hoping I could think about my own game. I couldn’t. Al’s pre-shot routine had me so upset that I couldn’t concentrate. All that I could think about was how embarrassing it was to be playing with him. I regretted ever agreeing to play with them.

My blood was pumping so fast that I couldn’t stand still. I knew this was going to screw up my game. My game. That was a joke. I would be lucky to make it through that round alive, let alone worry about the score. I stared at my ball and then back towards the green. I couldn’t stand wait- ing so long before I hit my second shot. It was like someone was torturing me.

The sound of clean shot startled me out of my thoughts. Al had gotten his ball off the ground. The ball flew straight for about 120 yards and then dropped into the fairway about 35 yards past Charlie’s drive.

“Wow! I got all of that one,” shouted Al.

“Yeah, a couple more of those and you might make it to the green,” replied Charlie.

“It was a good shot. Admit it you bastard,” yelled Al. They bickered back and forth all the way up to Charlie’s ball. When they arrived at Charlie’s ball, they were discussing the status of their bet.

“Well, you just used one of your mulligans. You’ve only got three left,” said Charlie.

“I can keep track of my own mulligans,” said Al.

Charlie was slow and deliberate as he prepared to swing. He took three practice swings. Normally this would bother me, but it was a relief after enduring Al’s little ritual. Again Charlie took a very wide stance and made a quick swing. He thrust his round body through, as the ball flew low and came to rest about 140 yards down the fairway.

“You keep lifting’ up,” said Al.

“Well, I am closer to the green than you are,” replied Charlie.

It was like a race between them to see who could make it to the green first. I took off for Al’s ball, hoping to keep things going. I quickly located his ball and signaled to the other two. Then, I walked to the side of the fairway and sat down on my towel. Normally, I was all for ready golf, but I was not walking anywhere in front of those two. With my butt sitting on my towel, I stretched my legs out in front of me on the grass. If I was going to wait for him to hit, I might as well be comfortable. I occupied myself with a daydream about a golf course where they shot people for playing slowly. The next thing I know, Al hit his ball up in front of the green.

It seemed like only a few seconds had gone by, but I knew better. I must have spaced out for several minutes. I set out at a brisk pace for my ball. It had been so long, I almost forgot where it was. I could hear Al and Charlie mumbling to each other in the background. I had planned this shot out so well, I didn’t have to think twice about what to do. With 160 yards to the flag stick and the wind slightly behind me, I took out a seven iron.

Al and Charlie were still coming up behind me as I swung. It was one of the first times that I didn’t have a swing thought as I began. I was just happy to finally be hitting. It wasn’t a pretty shot, but it turned out alright. The ball started out left and low, but luckily it faded back, bounced in front of the green, and rolled up stopping five feet from the hole.

Al and Charlie began yelling and carrying on about my shot. I guess it was nice to be playing with some confidence boosters for a change. I had caught the ball a little thin, but it worked out all right. I shrugged off the shot saying it wasn’t that great to the amazement of that pair. I’ll admit I was feeling pretty good as we walked toward the green. So much so that I practically walked past Charlie’s ball.

“Hold on there, young fellow. Your ball isn’t going anywhere,” said Charlie.

It was a little embarrassing to be corrected by one of these guys. At least it wasn’t Al. That would have been too much to take. I smiled back to them and waited at Charlie’s ball, about 75 yards from the hole.

They eventually joined me and continued to compliment me on my shot. Again, Charlie took his time lining up his shot, and then burst into his high speed swing. The ball flew high and seemed to move in 3 different directions before landing to the right of the green.

“That had to be one of the ugliest shots I’ve ever seen,” commented Al.

“Then, I guess you haven’t been watching your own shots today,” replied Charlie.

We ultimately made it to the green. I was so happy that I immediately marked my ball and then took a seat on the fringe, on the left side of the green.

Al dragged his pull cart almost onto the apron and took out a wedge. He started making a few hacking motions with his wrists. It seemed that he abandons his pre-shot routine for chip shots. He addressed his ball with a very open stance. His wedge was also wide open. I wasn’t sure why he was taking such a stance. It was just a straight uphill 30-foot chip shot. He didn’t need a lot of loft, or spin, or anything like that. He must have just been imitating someone he’d seen.

As is so likely to happen in short grass with an open clubface, he shanked it. The ball flew about 15 feet in the air, to the right and stopped about three feet off of the green, in front of Charlie’s ball.

“Son of a bitch,” shouted Al. “Nice shank,” said Charlie.

“It wasn’t a shank,” shouted Al. “I tried to work it, but I just missed it.”

“Work it my ass,” responded Charlie. “You shanked it.”

Al’s face was so red I thought he would explode.

Then, Charlie, who was at the bottom of the slope, made a few chops with his wedge. He addressed the ball like a putt and played the ball off of his front foot. He swung back with just his arms. I could almost hear him thinking, “be a pendulum.”

The ball spit off to the left and ended up almost exactly where Al had just chipped.

“You old fool. You’re supposed to get the ball on the green,” said Al.

“Piss off,” shouted Charlie.

Despite Al and Charlie playing chase around the green, my ball was safely five feet from the flagstick. I was content to sit on the apron and watch the spectacle. All of that waiting had worn me out. Al was now meandering around his ball, glancing at the green almost in contempt. As he stood directly across the green from me, he said, “Watch me get inside you, Brian.”

Al’s ball was about three feet off of the green, where it begins to slope down. Because of the severe slope, his right foot was about eight inches below his left foot. I was hoping that he would get inside of me, if that would move things along. I hoped he holed it.

Al situated himself into the uncomfortable position he needed to make a swing. He wiggled his hips and flexed his knees continuously, as if he were adjusting his stance. The flexing spread into his arms, wrists and head. After a moment, his entire body was wincing as if being treated to high voltage as he “loosened up” and prepared to swing. Then, he made the same chopping motion he had made on the previous chip. The club head slammed down into the top of his ball.

What had been a 20-foot chip shot suddenly became a 40-foot skull. I was relaxed, leaning back with both hands on the ground to support my upper body. I was not prepared to move.

When I saw Al’s ball flying toward me, I could only think, “not in the face.” I closed my eyes and tried to raise my hands in time. I immediately felt a sharp pain in my chest and his mangled old Spalding 3 fell into my lap. It stung like hell as I rolled onto my side silently absorbing the pain. It caught me so off guard that the shock distracted me from the pain for a moment. However, as I leaned back up to a sitting position, I felt the bruising sharp pain set in. I had to be in hell, I thought. Surely, I was being punished for something I did wrong. There was no other explanation. One bad decision to play golf with the wrong people led to the worst moment of my life.

“Good thing you’re a young fellow. You can take that sort of thing,” said Al, as he walked across the green toward me.

“Good thing?” I thought to myself. What are you, Nuts? No “sorry” or perhaps an “are you OK?”

As he walked passed the hole he stepped right on my line. It appeared as though he was dragging his feet as he moved.

That was it. It was insult to injury, literally, and I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I was in too much pain and too angry to wait another moment on a green with Al. I didn’t say a word to him. I walked over to my ball marker and replaced my ball. They were both still well outside of me, but I didn’t give a crap. As I bent over to putt the ball, I could feel the bruise on my chest. Looking down at the ball, I could see where he ripped the green with his spikes.

I took a nice relaxed stroke and just missed the five-foot putt, by an inch. I walked over and tapped the ball in. Then I scooped the ball out of the cup with the back of my Ping putter, so I wouldn’t have to bend over again.

Al and Charlie were still standing by their balls, staring at me, with confused looks on their faces. I walked off of the green and stood behind it, giving Al and Charlie room to fire at each other. I needed to escape. I was prepared to sprint into the woods if I had to.

As I stood there, pondering my next move, I heard a whistle. I looked to my left and saw Nate and John walking off of four’s green. They motioned to me to join them. I looked back to see if Al and Charlie had noticed, but they were in their own world.

I waved back to Nate and John and I pointed to the fifth tee, which was about 40 yards directly behind the first green through some trees. I was saved. I grabbed my bag and headed to five’s tee without looking back. That was the most brutal hole I had ever faced and I had the bruise to prove it.

Nate and John were waiting for me in their cart, by the time I got to the tee.

“What the hell did you do, Brian? Lose a bet?” asked Nate.

“No,” I said in embarrassment. “They asked me.”

“And you said yes?” John asked.

“Believe it or not, I actually did.”

The two of them burst out laughing. I felt like the world’s biggest idiot. There wasn’t much I could say to defend myself, so I figured I might as well laugh too. As soon as they paused, I gave them the punch line.

“Al hit me with his ball,” I volunteered. They broke into laughter again and I joined them. Once I caught my breath, I continued. “He had a 20-foot chip and he skulled it into my chest.” They kept right on laughing and I felt a little better. I looked back to the first green Al and Charlie were still putting. They hadn’t even noticed that I was missing.

“Does it hurt?” asked John.

“Yeah, when I move around or bend over.”

“You want to play for ten bucks a hole?” asked Nate.

“Yeah…screw you,” I replied.

Nate laughed. He got a kick out of that. He was always looking for a sucker bet.

“I believe I got you two down,” John said to Nate as he took out his old small headed Firestick three wood and stepped onto the tee.

“I think I’ll press,” said Nate.

“What, already?” John responded.

“I’m gonna pull the old hoochie coochie on him, Bri,” said Nate.

What Nathan lacked in golf ability, he made up for with his wagering senses. He could feel which way a bet was going to go.

“Should I go for the green or play it safe, Bri,” asked John.

“You should probably play it safe, but I’d like to see you go for the green.”

“I got twenty that says you don’t get there,” said Nate.

“I’ve made it before,” John answered.

“Yeah, with the wind,” responded Nate.

“You got the distance, but those trees make it tough,” I said.

“Yeah. It’s not worth twenty,” said John.

“A beer then,” said Nate.

“A beer a ball,” answered John.

“I’ll take that all day,” said Nate. “And don’t forget I’m pressing.”

Nate had a grin from ear to ear. He was like a little kid, who couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next.

John walked back to the cart and put away his three-wood. He pulled out his Titleist 905 driver. He smiled as he walked onto the tee box. He used every bit of his long tee to elevate the ball as much as possible. He had a slow and effortless rhythm to his motions. He embodied the grace that all good players carry with them. Number five is a slight dogleg right. To reach the green, he would have to fade the ball around a tree

Once he was in position over the ball, he didn’t hesitate. John immediately began his smooth and powerful swing. His club made impact with the usual force. The sound made at impact was that special one associated with the moment when a good player strikes the ball. It is one of the greatest sounds in golf. It wasn’t the sweet spot of a nice persimmon, but it was the modern day version of pure. I looked forward to it every time John addressed a ball.

The ball took off sailing straight down the right side of the fairway. As it neared the dogleg the ball began to fade. Suddenly, it became apparent that the fade began too soon.

“Get through there, damn it!” yelled John.

The ball clipped a branch and veered slightly left into the high grass. It was about 50 yards short of the green.

“That’s one beer,” said Nate.

“Don’t drink it just yet,” answered John calmly.

I knew he could do it. I’ve seen him put a drive on the green before. He had hit that ball well. If it weren’t for catching the tree, I think he would have made it. I looked back at the first green and Al and Charlie were still standing on the side of it going over their scorecard. The group behind them was now about 100 yards out waving and shouting at them. I could see two balls just in front of the green and one over it. I guess the fourth had decided to wait for them.

“They still haven’t noticed that I’m gone,” I said.

“Shut up,” said John in disbelief.

“No, I’m serious,” I replied.

“You mean they don’t know you’re over here yet,” asked Nate.

“Apparently not,” I answered.

“I guess it’s not surprising,” said John. “Hell, they don’t even see the group behind them.”

“I couldn’t wait for someone to add up their score beside the green,” said Nate. “I would have to hit into ’em.”

“They wouldn’t notice. Unless, you hit them on the head,” I said.

John stared out at the hole. “I can’t believe a little branch like that stopped the ball,” he said.

“That was no branch,” said Nate. “That was a leaf that stopped your weak little drive.”

“Go to hell,” replied John.

John teed up another ball. He was determined to reach the green.

“Going out of turn, now are we, John?” asked Nate. “Hey, if you were ready,” answered John. “You could

have gone, but you’re too busy watching Al and Charlie. He addressed the ball with the same smooth motions that he always displayed. Then he swung with a picture perfect swing. The ball flew high and straight down the middle. It made it past the tree on the dogleg and then began to fade.

This ball had the distance, but it didn’t quite fade enough. It ended up behind the left side of the green.

“That’s two beers,” said Nate.

“Fucking tree,” said John as he picked up his tee and walked back to the cart.

I looked back and saw Al and Charlie finally making their way toward two’s tee. I imagine that they had forgotten all about me by now.

“Now that the stage is set, allow me boys,” said Nate.

He took his driver and stepped onto the tee. He had a quick and awkward way about his address. It was as though he were dealing cards and trying to hide something. Immediately, he made his swing. It was flat and abrupt as usual. The ball sailed down the left side of the fairway and sliced back into the middle. The ball looked to be about 50 yards short of the green. Not bad considering it was a lucky slice.

“Good thing it sliced,” said John.

“Slice? What the hell are you talking about? It faded just the way I wanted it to,” said Nate.

“It was a slice,” I said.

“You’re full of shit too,” said Nate. “It was a fade.”

“When the ball starts out heading for the left rough and comes back to the middle of the fairway, it’s a slice,” said John.

“Either way, it’s in the fairway,” I said.

“Yeah, sitting pretty,” said Nate.

“And you’re pressing,” I said.

“Hoochie coochie,” recited Nate in a high a pitched squeal. Nate was obsessed with betting. He thrived on it.

“You gonna hit, Bri, or are you still in pain?” asked John.

“My chest is still sore, but I’ll give it a shot,” I replied.

“If you want to sue Al, I’m available,” said Nate.

“For what? His gold tooth,” said John.

“Yeah, really,” I said as I grabbed my driver and walked onto the tee. As, I bent over to tee up the ball, I could feel the bruise on my chest. I straightened up and stepped back a little bit. I took a few practice swings to see what it would feel like. I felt some pain at the top of my backswing, but I was pretty sure that I could handle it. I addressed the ball and relaxed. I didn’t have any swing thoughts in mind. I was just worried about being able to swing.

As I took the club back, I decided to try to shorten up my swing. Besides the fact that I usually over swing, I was hoping to keep it as painless as possible. It was one of those shots, where I could feel that it was solid, but I never saw the ball.

“Where’d it go?” I asked.

“Ought to be about ten yards short of mine, Bri,” said Nate.

“Didn’t hurt too badly,” I said. “Next time I won’t hold back.”

They both laughed at me.

“One more shot at the green, Nathan,” said John. “Double or nothing.”

“That’s fine,” said Nate. “I am pretty thirsty.”

“So am I,” said John as he walked onto the tee one more time. He bent over and attempted to tee his ball up on the end of a pencil. I’ve done it before, when I was goofing around. I had a feeling he was about to try something new though.

He finally got his ball to balance on the pencil. It was about an inch or so higher than a normal tee.

“What the hell are you doing?” asked Nate. “I’m going over the tree,” said John.

The tree that guarded the dogleg was wide, but not exceptionally tall. I couldn’t fly it, but John sure had the power to. It looked funny to see the ball teed up so high. Part of his difficulty would be simply getting the clubface to meet the ball at such an odd height. John took his usual address, but stood a little farther away from the ball. I also noticed that he had choked up just a hair on his driver. He swung as smoothly as ever and the ball soared high up into the air. It headed straight toward the tree.

“It’s over,” said John.

“It sure is,” I replied as the ball cleared the tree with about 25 feet to spare. I had never seen a drive that high before. It had the distance as well. John’s ball hit in front of the green and rolled up onto the right side.

“Holy shit,” gasped Nate.

“I guess we’re even on the beers now, huh?” said John.

“That’s all right. You earned it,” answered Nate.

We all walked off the tee and I strapped my bag onto the back of their cart. We looked like a bunch of hillbillies with three bags on our cart. Their cart did not have a windshield so I took a seat on the front ledge of the cart in front of Nate. I rested my feet on the bumper and grabbed the steering column with my left hand and the right roof support with my right hand.

“Hang on Bri,” said John as he gassed the cart.

Where is the seventh tee?

I tightened my grip on the cart and hoped for the best, as we headed for John’s first ball. It was somewhere in the high grass on the left.

“It should be a little short of mine,” said Nate.

“We’ll see,” said John as he steered the cart into the rough.

We were driving slowly through the tall stuff. I had a pretty good view, sitting on the front of the cart. The thick grass and weeds could easily swallow a ball. I had let go of the steering column and roof support to get a better view. I was hunched over staring at the ground as we rolled through the tall grass.

Then, without warning, John slammed on the brakes. I fell off the front of the cart and tumbled onto the ground.

“I found it,” said John.

I pulled myself to my hands and knees and spit out some grass.

“Thanks for the warning,” I said.

“Sorry man,” replied John.

“You Okay, Bri?” asked Nate.

“Well, now I’ve got a sprained wrist to go with my bruised chest,” I answered.

John backed the cart out of his way and I managed to climb to my feet. That was when I noticed a cart about 30 yards to the right of the green, but I didn’t see anybody in it.

“Hey guys, what’s with that cart up there by the green?” I asked.

John stopped looking into his bag and Nate looked up from his beer.

“That wasn’t there when we teed off was it?” asked Nate in a confused tone.

“I certainly didn’t see it,” said John who was now less certain than normal.

“I think I see someone,” I said as a person came walking out of the woods. He was wearing a tank top and athletic shorts.

“Looks like one of the maintenance guys,” said Nate.

“I don’t recognize him. Do you, John?” I asked.

“No, he doesn’t look familiar,” John responded.

“What? You two know all the maintenance workers?” asked Nate.

“Yeah, I think we do,” answered John.

Then, a second person came out of the woods carrying a club. He was wearing a tee shirt and denim shorts.

“Looks like they’re playing,” I said.

They got in their cart, which was facing towards us. When they turned around, it revealed that they had only one bag strapped on the back of the cart. They then drove to the complete opposite side of the green and parked. They certainly weren’t playing ready golf.

“Oh this is just great,” said Nate.

“I can’t believe someone let them on the course with only one set of clubs,” said John. “Who’s the starter, Brian?”

“I think it’s Mort,” I said.

“That figures,” he replied.

John’s ball was sitting up somewhat. It certainly could have been worse considering where he was. The two guys in front of us were still standing on the left side of the green. Then, the one in the tank top seemed to make a flailing motion with his arms. At first I thought he was waving us through, but then I saw a ball go skipping across the green.

“Damn, we’re gonna be here all day,” said Nate.

After the tank top hit his chip shot, they both got back into their cart and began driving back toward us.

“Maybe they’re going to let us play through,” I said. However, they stopped about 30 yards in front of the green. The guy in Denim shorts got out and began making practice swings.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” said Nate.

“It’s never a good sign when you see the group in front of you heading back toward you,” I commented.

“Yeah, you just can’t get a decent round of golf in anymore,” said John. “I bet they pick my ball up too.”

“Oh, I hope so,” said Nate.

After each of them hit a couple of more times, they appeared to be on the green. They batted their balls around on the green for a while like it was a hockey rink. Finally, they got them in the hole. They put the flag back in the hole and began walking back to their cart which was still parked 30 yards in front of the green.

“I wish I had my camcorder with me,” said John as he grabbed his wedge out of his bag.

“Yeah, it probably would make America’s Funniest Home Videos,” I said.

We settled down and John tried to regain his composure. After going through his normal routine, John hit a nice wedge onto the green. It stopped about two feet short of the hole.

“Good shot,” Nate and I said in unison. I climbed back onto the front of the cart and held on as we rode on to John’s other balls. We picked them up and headed to Nate’s drive and mine. Nate had gotten past me by about nine or ten feet. I was pretty satisfied just being in the middle of the fairway though.

We both managed to hit the green. I was about 20 feet from the hole and Nate was about 25. In a brief demonstration of putting skill, Nate and I each two putted for par. John sank his two-footer for birdie. As we were walking off of the green, we were surprised to see that the twosome in front of us was already off the tee.

“At least they’ve picked it up a little,” I said.

“We’re still going to have to wait,” said John.

Nate tossed his ball onto the ground in front of the cart.

“Closest to the left tee marker for a dollar,” he suggested. He couldn’t go ten minutes without betting on something.

“Why not? We’re not going anywhere,” said John.

“Which set of tee markers?” I asked.

“Which set are we playing from?” asked Nate sarcastically.

“The blue,” I answered.

“Well then,” urged Nate.

“Yeah, OK,” I said.

It was about 25 yards from where Nate had dropped his ball to the sixth tee. Nate pulled out his sand wedge and lined up his shot. He made a nice easy swing and his ball flew high into the air. It came down to the right of the tee and hit the cart path. Then, it took a huge bounce and flew 20 yards past the tee.

“I thought you said we were going for the blue tees,” I said to Nate.

“He’s just partial to the ladies’ tees,” said John.

“Funny,” replied Nate.

I dropped my ball where Nate had hit from and made a practice swing with my sand wedge. I felt pretty good about the practice swing so I went ahead and swung without any further thought. I hit a nice floater that landed next to the right tee marker and bounced immediately to the left a few feet.

“Good kick,” said Nate.

“Say it with some feeling,” I replied.

John dropped a ball and pulled out his 58-degree wedge. Without making a practice swing, he hit a little knockdown shot that stopped about five feet short of the left tee marker.

“Short!” shouted Nate in excitement.

“Good line,” I said.

“Yeah, you don’t get much roll on the tees,” said John.

“They are a little hairier than the greens,” I replied.

I was pretty satisfied with my shot and so began walking toward the tee. Nate and John rode past me in the cart. After they passed, I heard another cart coming up behind me.

I turned around and saw that it was old Paul coming down the path. Paul never liked to miss out on a round of golf. He pulled up next to me and stopped.

“Looks like you could use a ride,” he said.

“Hey, thanks old man,” I answered. I walked around and hopped in the cart with him.

“How did you get stuck walking?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s a long story,” I answered.

He seemed satisfied with that answer. That’s what I liked about Paul; he knew when to back off. Except of course, when it came to women. Being a widower, he was sometimes starved for attention. We pulled up to the sixth tee and met Nate and John.

“What do you say there, Pauly?” asked Nate.

“Just following my nose,” answered Paul. “I thought I smelled someone being hustled, but I must have been mistaken.”

“No. You were right, but I’m the one getting hustled,” responded Nate.

“That’s a switch,” said Paul.

“Isn’t it though?” commented John.

“A welcome change,” I added.

Nate walked toward his ball with a sand wedge in hand. John and I walked onto the tee to compare our shots. It appeared to both of us that I was closest.

“Brian got me,” announced John.

“Good. I can’t stand losing to you,” said Nate as he knocked his ball back towards us with his wedge.

“You ought to be used to it by now,” said John.

“What’s the game?” asked Paul.

“Well John and I had a game, but I’m up for something new,” said Nate.

“I’ll bet you are,” said John.

“I’ve got a game,” said Paul. “How about if we play a three-man scramble straight up against John,” he said.

“That’s fine with me,” said John.

“Sounds good to me,” said Nate. “A dollar a hole.”

“John pays each of us?” I asked.

“Or the three of you pay me,” he said.

“That’s cool,” I said.

It sounded like a fair bet to me. We were decent enough players that we ought to be able to beat him in a scramble I thought. The twosome in front of us was about 150 yards out. We stood on the tee and watched them zig- zag back and forth across the fairway. They weren’t moving quickly. Finally, they were out of range.

“Mr. closest to the tee marker, you’re up,” said Nate.

I felt pretty good as I grabbed my driver. There wasn’t much pressure in going first in a scramble. Number six is a par 4 that is almost identical to number five. It’s another dogleg right, but slightly downhill and a little longer at 385 yards. I teed up my ball and took a practice swing. There was a little pain from my bruised chest, but nothing serious. I was more worried about my wrist pain.

I addressed the ball and began my swing. As I took the club back, I suddenly got one of those mid-swing thoughts that you should never listen to. For some reason, I worried that I was lined up too far to the left. As a result, I attempted to compensate on my downswing by following through a little to the right.

Naturally, my thoughts sparked disaster. It was one of the most wicked slices I had ever seen. My ball flew deep into the woods. Judging by the sounds we heard, it bounced off of a half dozen trees. I could feel the bruise on my chest throbbing now.

“What the hell was that?” asked Nate.

“That’s what you call a slice,” I answered.

“Yeah, you ought to know all about those, Nate,” said John.

“That’s OK,” said Paul. “We only need one good one.”

“I felt a little more pain on that one,” I said as I felt my chest.

“What from?” asked Paul.

“First, Al Harper hit me with a ball and then I sprained my wrist when John slammed on the brakes.”

“I hope you hit Al back,” said Paul.

“I felt like it.”

“Go ahead Paul. You’re Mr. Automatic,” said Nate.

Paul was one of the most consistent golfers I knew. He didn’t hit the ball far, but he usually hit it straight.

He grabbed his homemade Golfsmith driver and settled in on the tee. He had a lot of funny quirks about his movements. He wiggled his hips a little and stretched his arms way out to the ball. Because of his belly, Paul stood kind of far from the ball.

“Come on now babe, let’s go straight for old Paul now,” he said to the ball.

He took the club back with his entire body and swung through almost spinning on his feet. The ball flew straight for about 180 yards and then rolled for another 20.

“Good thing you don’t wear soft spikes,” said John. “You would have fallen on your ass.”

“Soft spikes are for pansies,” said Paul.

We all laughed. Paul was one of the only guys I knew who still wore metal spikes. Sure, a lot of the birdie hunters wore them, but I never thought of Paul as one of them. He kept a pair of shoes with soft spikes for the rare occasion that he played somewhere else, but at White Lake he wore metal spikes.

“Not bad Pauly,” said Nate as he walked onto the tee with his driver.

“Yeah, now you can really go for it,” said Paul.

Nate addressed the ball and made his usual quick swing. His ball was hit hard. It flew straight and high toward the corner of the dog leg. It narrowly missed a large tree, but caught some leaves of another one.

“Looked like it got through,” I said.

“Think so?” asked Nate.

“Yeah, it got through, but you might not have a shot,” said Paul.

The fairway sloped downward toward the right side of the fairway. His ball looked like it went into the gully just before the woods.

John walked over and teed up a ball. He hit an impressive drive down the middle. His ball stopped about 50 or 60 yards short of the green.

“Nice shot,” I told him.

“Thanks,” he answered.

I never had a problem being intimidated by John. We were too close for that.

“Onward boys,” said Nate.

We hopped in our carts and sped off toward our balls. Paul began asking me about my bruise as we were riding. So, I proceeded to tell him about my experience playing with Al and Charlie.

“I learned a long time ago not to go near those two on a golf course,” said Paul. “I thought I told you that.”

“You did. I never thought to listen to you though.”

“I’ve learned a few things over my many years, Brian,” he said.

“Yeah, I guess maybe you have.”

Nate and John headed for Paul’s ball and we made a pass by the woods to look for mine. We looked for about 15 seconds before I declared it impossible.

“Don’t worry about it. It’s no big loss,” I said.

“They’ll make more,” Paul replied.

We headed out to Paul’s ball, where John and Nate were waiting for us.

Nate’s ball was a lot farther, but it would be a much more difficult shot.

“Is your ball playable, Nathan?” asked Paul.

“Yeah, but I think we oughta go with yours.”

“It’s about 200 from here. Don’t you think we’d have a better chance at the green from closer up?” I asked.

“I think we probably would,” said Paul.

“All right, but I don’t want to hear any complaints about my tee shot,” said Nate.

With that, we picked up Paul’s ball and headed toward Nate’s.

“Don’t feel bad old man, it was a good drive,” I said to Paul as we were riding in the cart.

“Compared to yours it was,” said Paul.

“That’s the last time I try to make you feel better,” I

responded.

“It’s not looking good for us on this hole,” said Paul. “With your short game, we’ve always got a chance.”

“I thought you weren’t gonna try to make me feel better anymore,” he said.

“I can’t help it; I’ve got a soft spot for ya old man.”

We arrived at Nate’s ball as he was surveying the situation. His ball had gotten through the trees, but we had an uphill lie because of the gully. We could just barely see the top of the flag stick.

“Oh, yeah. This is a much better position for you guys to be in,” said John.

“Screw you. I suggested we use Paul’s ball,” said Nate.

The twosome was on the green by now, knocking their balls around. We waited patiently, but it was frustrating. John walked up the hill, to the middle of the fairway, to get a better view.

“How far do you think we are?” I asked. “I’d say about 120,” said Nate.

“Sounds like an eight iron for me,” said Paul.

Nathan and I began rummaging through our bags trying to decide what to hit. Paul was always more decisive. He stuck a tee in the ground next to Nate’s ball and flipped it back to him.

We waited a few minutes. Paul moved his feet around trying to get a good stance on the uphill lie.

Then, John yelled down that it was all clear.

Paul addressed his ball and gave it some words of encouragement. He made his trademark swing, flinging his body towards the target. His ball took off like a rocket.

“Be the one baby,” yelled Nate as the ball sailed toward the flag stick.

“You’re on,” declared John who was standing at the top of the hill as a lookout.

“Good shot Pauly,” said Nate.

“Yeah, not bad old man,” I said.

“Thanks guys,” replied Paul modestly.

“How close is he?” yelled Nate.

“He’s on the back of the green,” answered John.

“All right. Let’s see if I can get a little closer,” said Nate.

I doubted it, but I didn’t say anything. I knew better than to try to argue with Nate.

He dropped his ball next to the tee and adjusted his feet to the slope. Then he made his typical spastic swing. It sounded awful when he made contact. The ball flew low and sliced hard.

“Man, that hurt me just listening to it,” said Paul.

“Believe me, it hurt,” said Nate.

“Shanks usually do,” I said.

“That was not a shank,” said Nate defensively.

“Hey John, would you call that a shank?” I asked.

“I don’t know what else you would call it,” he said.

“Whatever,” mumbled Nate.

He wasn’t one to admit to a shank or anything else. It wasn’t that he was cocky; I think he just liked to argue.

I took my eight-iron and dropped a ball. As I addressed the ball I couldn’t seem to get comfortable on the hill. I put the ball towards the front of my stance and took some practice swings.

I kept stubbing the club into the ground behind the ball. So, I tried opening my stance and playing the ball off of my front foot.

Now, I was able to brush the grass. I moved forward to the ball and prepared to swing. As I took the club back, I felt my body fall back away from the ball.

My club barely caught the top of the ball. It went skipping over the hill. I fell backwards down the hill and almost fell over.

“Shit,” I said.

“That’s OK Bri. We’ve got one on the green,” said Nate. We got in our carts and rode up to John’s ball. He was already standing behind his ball surveying his shot.

He had about 63 yards to the green. It was slightly downhill. He pulled out a sand wedge and made a practice swing. I loved to watch his swing. With ease John put his ball five feet to the left of the pin.

“Well, it took a pro to get inside me,” said Paul. We all laughed as we got back in our carts.

When we got to the green, it was obvious we had a tough putt ahead of us.

Paul’s ball was at the very back of the green. The hole was some 30 feet away, in the front center. There appeared to be two different breaks between the ball and the hole.

John, on the other hand, had a simple straight away five-footer.

We elected Paul to go last since he was the best putter in the group. He’d been putting on those greens for 40 years. Hopefully he would learn something from our putts.

Nate went first. He had a simple shoulder oriented putting stroke that usually worked. He had the right distance but the second break was more than he had allowed for. His ball ended up six feet to the right.

“You guys are gonna have to do better than that,” said John.

I lined up, taking into account the severity of the second break. Unfortunately, I paid less attention to the distance. I knew that it was 30 feet, but I ignored the downhill factor. My ball rolled two inches to the right of the hole and kept on going. It stopped about 10 feet past the hole.

“If I could just combine your two putts,” said Paul. “Show him what experience can do,” said Nate.

Paul lined up his putt and made a practice swing. His putting motion was an old fashioned all wrist movement.

He struck the ball and it rolled perfectly through the breaks. It first moved left and then back to the right stopping three inches short of the hole.

“Nice putt,” I said.

“Too bad. You guys almost got me,” said John.

He replaced his ball as Paul tapped in his. John took a second to line up his putt and then addressed the ball. He made a smooth stroke and rolled the ball straight into the hole.

“I save us a par and he has to birdie the damn hole,” said Paul.

“That’s life,” said John.

“We can’t even beat him in a scramble,” I said in frustration.

“It’s not over yet,” said Nate.

“Really. You guys lose one hole and you’re ready to throw in the towel,” said John.

He was right. We still had a chance to beat him. After all, it was three against one.

“What the hell are those idiots doing?” asked Paul suddenly.

I looked over and saw the twosome riding back towards us from the woods. Number seven, the next hole, was to the left, but they were riding all over directly behind six green.

“Looks like they’re joy riding,” said John.

“Yeah, they are,” said Nate.

They drove up close to us and kind of looked all over the place. We were pretty puzzled.

Then, one of them pointed toward the fourth tee and they drove in that direction. They stopped about halfway to the tee.

“Maybe they lost a club,” suggested John.

“Hell, at their pace they could at least be halfway to seven green by now,” said Nate. “This is bull shit.”

“Maybe they’ll let us play through,” said Paul.

“They wouldn’t even know what that means,” said John.

“Maybe we could find another hole to go to,” I suggested.

“The course looked pretty full to me,” said Paul.

It was then that it dawned on me what they were doing. They began driving toward the fourth tee again.

“They’re lost,” I said.

“You’re right, they are lost,” said John.

“Good call, Bri,” said Nate.

When they reached four’s tee, they got out and prepared to tee off.

“They’re playing the wrong hole,” said Paul.

“What morons,” said Nate. “They already played that hole.”

“This is perfect,” I said. “We’ve got an open hole now.”

“It’s too perfect,” said John.

“Don’t question miracles, John,” said Paul.

We all agreed to accept our good fortune and headed toward number seven.

I’ll admit that the seventh tee isn’t the easiest to find. There’s a tree line that hides the hole. You can’t see the tee from the sixth green, but they already played number four. It should have looked a little familiar to them. I wasn’t going to complain though. It was nice to have them out of the way. We reached the seventh tee, and the hole was completely empty.

“This is what the game is all about,” said Paul.

“It is a beautiful sight,” I added.

“However, I could go for a drink of water,” said Paul who was now staring at what used to be a drinking fountain.

“That is a shame to lose those nice fountains,” commented John.

“It’s criminal and stupid,” replied Paul. “That Cunningham has finally pushed things too far.”

“Yeah, he’s gone from an annoying nuisance to a sinister villain,” I replied.

“He is a villain,” added Mark. “He’s the evil mastermind out to destroy municipal golf as we know it.”

“Somebody has to stop him,” continued Paul.

“Have a beer Pauly,” said Nate.

“Not while playing,” answered Paul. “But I will grab some ice cubes from your cooler.”

Paul never drank on the golf course. I suppose that was why he always played so consistently. He did however enjoy a glass of wine from his stash in the clubhouse.

“I’m just glad we got around that twosome,” I said.

“They’re gonna be stuck in a loop,” said John. “They’ll be playing four, five and six all day.”

“I always wondered why caddies called a round a loop,” said Nate.

“You really had to wonder about that?” asked John.

“A round, a loop, out, in,” I asked. “None of that reminds you of a loop?”

“A looper,” commented John. “A pro jock.”

“Big hitter that Lama,” I added.

“They use Lama’s to carry your bags down under,” commented Paul who never got our Caddy Shack references.

“Time is a wasting boys,” said Nate.

“I’ll give you all something to shoot for,” said John.

The seventh hole is a straight-away 460-yard par five. A good chance for us to make birdie.

John hit his usual impressive drive and was on in two. We ended up using a nice drive by Nate and my second shot, which was about ten feet short of the green. Paul chipped up five inches from the cup. We let him tap it in for our birdie.

John two-putted from 15 feet for birdie as well. With our three-man scramble team down by a stroke, we moved on to number eight.

Number eight is a 394-yard par four. There wasn’t anything difficult about it.

John made a solid par. We pulled out a birdie, with a beautiful one-putt by Paul. We moved on to the ninth hole even with John.

“I think I’ll play this hole Moe Norman style,” said John. Moe Norman was a legendary Canadian professional who is said to have been the greatest ball striker that ever lived. He reportedly had played holes by teeing off with a wedge and hitting a driver on his second shot.

“What are you gonna tee off with?” I asked.

“Well, this is kind of a long par four,” he said. “I think

I’ll try a nine iron.”

Number nine is a 410-yard par four that runs in along the driving range and bends a little right toward the clubhouse.

“Let’s double the bet between us,” said Nate.

He couldn’t resist the opportunity to increase the stakes.

“That’s fine,” said John as he walked onto the tee with his nine-iron.

He dropped his ball onto the ground and addressed it. With a picture perfect short-iron swing, he knocked the ball 150 yards straight down the middle.

“Not a bad little shot,” said Nathan.

“I’m gonna quit this game if you beat us on this hole,” said Paul as he walked onto the tee with his driver.

He hit a simple drive about 200 yards down the middle.

Nate and I hit similar drives cutting the corner down the right side of the fairway and well past Paul.

“I think I might have gotten you on that one, Nate,” I said.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, young Brian,” he replied.

“Well, I know it’s the first time I’ve ever out-driven John on a hole,” said Paul.

“You sure did,” said John.

Paul really did play well for a 72-year-old man. He deserved some encouragement.

We got in our carts and headed down the fairway. The driving range, on our left, was beginning to fill up. I could see Harley out in the Jeep picking balls and Andy giving a lesson on the grass tee.

We arrived at John’s ball. After his 150-yard nine iron, he had 260 yards left to the green. He took out his driver and made a few practice swings.

Then, in his usual manner, he struck the ball with tremendous force. The ball flew straight and low. It bounced about 35 or 40 yards in front of the green and rolled all the way up and on. The ball appeared to stop about ten feet from the hole.

“Eat your heart out, Moe Norman,” said John.

“I think you rotate too much to swing like Moe Norman,” said Paul.

I was amazed at how well he hit a 460cc driver off the ground. I had enough trouble hitting my Bertha three- wood with a War Bird sole plate off the ground. I couldn’t believe he got it on the green, let alone off the fairway.

We rode on to Paul’s ball. I hated to see him pick up such a nice drive.

“Why don’t you play this ball just for fun,” I suggested.

“No. I don’t want to mess around when there’s money involved,” he responded.

Paul picked up his ball, and we headed toward mine and Nate’s balls. As it turned out, I out-drove him by seven yards or so.

Because my ball had luckily stayed in the fairway as it cut the corner, it was only 160 yards to the green.

As so frequently happens after I hit a good drive, I screwed up the next shot. It was a chunk that went only 20 yards. The divot went 30.

“That’s OK, Bri,” said Nate. “You got us this far. I’ll get us on and Paul will sink the putt.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

Ironically, Nate pushed his shot way right and Paul hit the green with one of his homemade seven woods.

Nate stormed off to his cart mumbling about his shot. I thought we were doing pretty well, but he always beat himself up over his bad shots.

Paul and I followed them in our cart towards the green. He was feeling pretty good about himself.

“Not bad for an old man,” I kidded him.

“I’ve always had a lot of luck with that club,” he said. “I’ll have to make one for you.”

“That would be great,” I said.

I couldn’t turn down his generosity. I still had some room at home with all the other clubs he had made me.

We picked up all of our stray balls and arrived at the green. John was seven or eight feet to the right of the hole and Paul’s ball was ten feet short.

“You better putt first, Nate,” said Paul. “You’re getting kind of wild on us.”

“Wild?” he whined. “I am not getting wild, am I Brian?” “

No way,” I answered. “But maybe you oughta go first just the same.”

Nate rolled his ball within three feet. “Good try,” I said.

“Wasn’t too wild for you was it?” he responded.

I, on the other hand, left my putt a good five feet short.

“Hike up that skirt next time, OK Brian,” said Paul.

I swatted my ball out of the way and shrugged it off. Paul lined up his putt and begged his ball for help. “Come on babe. Go in one time for old Paul.”

He rolled the ball to just three inches right of the hole.

“Not too shabby from that distance,” said John.

We let Paul tap it in for our par. John picked up his ball marker and set down his ball. He took a moment or two to get his line. Then slowly he addressed the ball.

He hit the putt a little hard, but it caught the center of the hole and dropped in.

“Slam dunk,” said Nate.

“Good putt. You earned that birdie,” I said.

Even though we lost to John, I had a lot of fun. I still had my bruised chest and a sore wrist, but that would get better. I wasn’t as confident in my swing.

As we pulled up to the clubhouse to settle our bets, Leo, the ranger, came over.

“You guys will get a kick out of this,” Leo said.

“What happened?” asked Paul.

“I was out riding around, checking on things,” he explained. “I got to number five’s tee and noticed that there were six people on the tee.”

“A sixsome?” I asked.

“No, it turned out that a twosome in a cart, with one bag mind you, cut in front of the foursome on number four,” he continued. “Not only did they cut in front of the foursome, but they held them up the entire hole. But the funny part was that one of the fellows claimed that the guys in the foursome had hit into them on number five while they were approaching the green.”

I looked at John and Nate, who were trying not to laugh as Leo continued the story.

“So I asked them, if they were hit into while approaching the fifth green, what were they doing on five’s tee?”

The four of us burst into laughter, but we urged Leo to go on.

“As it turned out, they thought they were standing on the eighth tee. I finally figured out that they missed the turn off to number seven and accidentally got onto four instead. Obviously, the group behind them got pissed and must have hit into them. So I escorted them over to seven and suggested they try the par-three course next time.”

“You’re a hell of a man, Leo,” said John.

“They were clueless,” said Leo. “But it was strange, they were convinced that someone had hit into them the first time they played number five. What’s even funnier is that they claim the guy hit into them from five’s tee as they approached the green. That’s too big a poke for anyone around here. I guess they’re just nuts.”

“Must be,” said John.

Leo was about to drive away, but then he stopped and turned back to us.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot the big news,” said Leo. “There was a gator sighting.”

“Someone saw Vader?” I asked.

“Yeah, and you know I might have as well,” answered Leo.

“Where was he?” asked John.

“Well, while I was watching those yahoos on four, I was parked by the edge of the woods next to number five,” said Leo. “A group on five approached me and said they saw him while they were on number four. They claim that while they walked toward the woods to look for a ball, what they thought was a log on the ground began crawling into the woods. I tried to find out more but they apparently didn’t stick around to see where he went.”

“I don’t blame them,” said Paul. “Were they drinking?” asked Nate.

“No, it was two married couples,” answered Leo. “They seemed pretty credible.”

“I still don’t believe it,” responded Nate.

“What did you mean when you said that you might have seen Vader as well?” asked John.

“Well, before I stumbled across those yahoos, I was looking for balls from the maintenance path that goes through the woods,” said Leo.

It was more like he was taking a nap back there, I thought to myself. Leo was notorious for taking naps while on duty.

“So, I see what looks like a bright, shiny Nike lying on top of some leaves,” he continued. “I get out of the cart and walk passed a couple of trees to take a look at it. As I get closer, all of a sudden, a wild turkey springs out of the brush and starts carrying on and squawked at me. I figured that I was a little too close to its nest and trying to defend its eggs, but that Nike looked unblemished. So I quickly stepped forward, bent down and grabbed the ball. As soon as I did, the thing charged me. I haven’t run that fast since I saw 50,000 Chinese coming over the hill in Korea.”

We all broke into laughter, but then John tried to get back to the point.

“What about Vader,” he asked.

“When I got back to the cart, I turned back to see if the turkey was still chasing me. But it had stopped after a few feet and seemed to be flapping and squawking at a log on the ground. I didn’t think anything of it until those folks on five told me about the log that crawled away.”

“I guess that turkey was more worried about the gator than it was you,” said Paul.

“Yeah, you were lucky,” I said.

“More like bad luck,” said Leo. “The Nike had a big cut on it.”

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