It looked difficult, but not impossible. It would have been impossible four years ago. You can learn a lot in that time if you put your mind to it and work hard and maybe just have a little bit of natural talent and a whole lot of desire and heart.
I had that. And I’d had an awful lot of help, too. No way I’d ever forget that.
I had a decent lie, even if it wasn’t on grass but on pine straw. The only problem the lie created would be I wouldn’t be able to get much backspin on the ball when I hit it, meaning if I could hit it to the green, it wouldn’t bite and stop. This was the thing about golf: there were so many things to consider with almost every shot you took. This time, I’d have to hit short of the green and let the ball roll on; striking the ball just hard enough that it would roll near the pin and stop was a main consideration here. Hitting it just hard enough.
Well, one of several main considerations. They all had to be executed correctly.
I needed to be in the hole in only two shots from where I lay now, which was in the trees about 160 yards from the pin. Difficult, quite unlikely even, but not impossible. And I was young; young people have an innate optimism. Even when they have no reason to.
Golf is a game where the unlikely occurs all the time. I had to hope this was one of those times.
No, that wasn’t quite right. I had to make this one of those times.
I could see the green from where I stood behind my ball. There was an opening between the trees. However, the trees here were a mix of conifers—hence the pine straw—and deciduous, and there was a large oak with spreading branches and a ton of leaves causing me grief. It was tall and leafy, and its branches framed the top of the opening I had to shoot through to reach the green.
Golfing wisdom says that trees are 90% air, even leafy ones, and so shooting through them was the best way to manage a situation like mine. But I’d never found that to be the case. I’m a bit dogged about most things I do, and after trying to hit a couple of balls through trees unsuccessfully when playing a round, I decided to make a better study of it. I set out one day to see what was what.
I purposely went to a park with many trees and tried hitting 20 balls through each of five different types of trees. A 90% success rate would have verified what golfers are told to believe. The results? I didn’t come close to equaling that. Some balls did go through, but not all that many, and even most of the ones that did were still affected by branches or leaves. Some trees were worse than others. I had my best luck with oak trees, but even then, my shot was successful less than 35% of the time.
So, with the need to hole out in two shots from where I lay and so get at least a tie for the round, assuming my opponent pars the hole, I didn’t even consider trying to hit through the oak in front of me. I had to go under those branches.
This meant hitting a less-than-160-yard shot while keeping the ball low, at least for the first 20 yards, and neither hitting it 140 yards or 180. The more I considered this, the more unlikely it became that I’d pull this off.
It wan’t enough that hitting just the right distance was intimidating. I could eat 150-yard approaches to the middle of the green for breakfast. But that was from the fairway on a clean surface with nothing obstructing the shot. This wasn’t what I was facing here. Here, I also had to contend with a creek running down the left side of the fairway. I was on the left side, too. My ball had bounced over the creek on its way to finding a resting place in the woods. Why I’d hit such a terrible tee shot on the most critical hole of the match is something for later.
The small opening I had to hit through to get the ball to the green wasn’t in a direct line to the green. The view I had gave me just a peek at the left side of the green; I could see more of the middle of the creek than the middle of the green. In golf terms, this meant I had to hit a controlled slice. My ball had to curve to the right in flight, but not too little and not too much.
So, what I was looking at was a soft slice shot, low, with just the right amount of bend over a creek, and it had to hit about 10 to 15 yards short of the green and then bounce and roll close to the pin and stop, all this from a spongy lie on pine straw under overhanging trees.
Not impossible, I kept telling myself. Not impossible. I'd faced adversity before. I would again. Time to suck it up. I pulled a three-iron from my bag, then put it back and took my two-iron out instead. Not my favorite club, but I had to stay under those spreading branches. Using the two-iron would give me less loft than the three. More difficult to judge distance with it, but staying below the branches was the first thing I had to consider.
I was walking up to my ball, still thinking things through, when I heard a click and turned to look at my opponent. He had driven farther than me and so was closer to the green. And now, he had taken his second shot. He had no business hitting before I did, but golfing etiquette wasn’t one of the things he carried in his bag. He’d been trying to get in my head all day. This was simply more of that. He was making a point that I was taking my time figuring out what to do, or that I was in the woods and had little chance of pulling the shot off, so he saw no reason to wait any long and . . . fuck you. Especially that. That was clear in the contemptuous, sneering look he threw at me as he met my gaze.
He probably had another ulterior motive as well. He was a fine golfer and had a routine shot to the green. His drive had been far enough for him to see the green. If his second shot put his ball in the middle of it—or anywhere on it, actually—it would put just that much more pressure on me to reach the green from where I lay. He had a good chance of hitting his ball close to the pin from where his drive had landed. He could be pretty confident of making his shot, it was quite routine, and so he took it early, hoping it would intimidate me. Not polite, not consistent with the way the game was played, decidedly rude, but then, he was Gray Stimson, and courtesy and honor and fair play meant nothing to him. He was all about showing the world just how glorious Gray Stimson was.
I have to ignore him. I watch his ball fly, though, having to move a bit to the side so I can see it through a different gap through the trees. His ball hits a little past the pin and skips forward, then keeps rolling, slowing as it trickles uphill to the top of the green and then over. It only runs a few feet on the down slope that’s over the crown at the back of the green before stopping. But I can feel my heart slowing, and the deep breath I take is the first relaxing I’ve done since I hit my tee shot. From where his ball has stopped rolling, he’ll have a hard time chipping close to the pin as there’s a downhill roll to the pin, making it a very delicate chip. He needs to chip close to get a par; he hasn’t made a lengthy putt all day. But from where his ball is, it’s much more likely he’ll chip onto the green and then two-putt for a bogie.
I laid one. The smart move now would be for me to just pop my ball out onto the fairway, then use a medium iron to reach the green in three with a decent chance for a par and an almost bogie. His poor shot, taken in haste to rattle me, had left me with a chance to at least tie the match, a better one than I’d had before he shot. If I managed a par on this hole, I’d very likely win.
He’d made a bad error in trying to intimidate me, or psych me out, or maybe humiliate me, or maybe just being impulsive, but in fact by making it successfully, forcing me to try something I was probably not capable of pulling off. His arrogance had quite possibly done him in this time.
I told myself to stop thinking of him. It was up to me now, not him, and I could win this if I just concentrated on the task ahead.
I wanted to win. The truth was, I needed to win. And now there was a better than even chance I could.
I took a couple of practice swings with the two-iron, my spirits a little higher now, some confidence returning, then moved to address the ball. I needed 100% concentration now, a firm commitment to how I wanted to hit the ball. Yet my mind was having trouble focusing. Too many thoughts were running through it. Why take a chance with a shot I no longer must take? Why go for the green with the chances of a major screw up much higher than if I play it safe? Punch the ball out onto the fairway; accept that it’ll probably mean bogies for both of us and the match will be a tie. That was the safe route. The smart one, too.
It was a tough decision, but I’d faced many of those before.
We were in the pro shop at Antilles. Why they named this private country club Antilles, I had no idea. Maybe that’s where the owners stashed all their money. But it was an exclusive golf club, a top-tier operation. Cost $175,000 to join as a member, and then there was a yearly fee on top of that and a requirement to spend $2,000 a month in the dining room. They had a good- sized membership because the sort of people that were well-heeled enough to join liked to be with their peers or maybe liked to show off that they’d made it in life. Being able to get a tee time whenever you wanted probably didn’t have much to do with joining. It was a social club as much as a golfing one, even if it did feature a spectacular golf course.
For the few years I’d been at the club, I’d worked in all areas of the place. Right now I was in the pro shop with the club pro, Gil Spenser, though I wasn’t working. We’d just finished a round together. I’d won. Maybe he’d let me win to build my confidence. He did that sort of thing. But by now, beating him wasn’t that unusual.
I first came to Antilles when I was 13. My best friend at the time was Lucas Hanover. His dad was the head chef at Antilles. Lucas was all personality and shenanigans, fun and adventure, the exact opposite of me, but when you’re that age, personalities that don’t fit at all sometimes click; we fit as friends. We did back then at least—he leading the way, me following. A couple of years later, Lucas got in with a bad crowd, and when he started with weed and pills, that was it for me.
But at 13, he thought caddying would be fun; we had nothing going on that summer, and caddying would give us something to do every day, and maybe we’d make a little coin, too. I tagged along as usual. I didn’t know anything about golf when we started, but I was a fast learner, and something about the place—the outdoor setting on manicured grounds, the difficulty of the game itself, how structured it was, how I felt so free out on that beautiful layout, so problem-free—it all spoke to me. I don’t know exactly what it was, but within a few rounds of caddying for men and sometimes women, I started feeling really at home on the course, and the entirety of the setting, the game itself, the ambience, it all seemed to seep into my soul. It gave me a feeling of peace and of being in the place that was right for me like nothing else I’d ever experienced.
For a boy like me, going to Antilles was like Dorothy going to Oz. The entire place was beyond my imagination. To begin with, because Lucas was the son of the chef, a man who was a big deal at the club, he got to eat free. So I did, too, when we were together. We’d eat, he’d be given a check for the meal, and he’d sign it. I’d never seen anything like that. As a boy whose meals had been a problem for years, seeing the food we could and did get with no more than a signature, it blew my mind. Lots of things at the club would do that until I got used to the place.
Lucas and I had had lunch in the coffee shop. We did that often as we didn’t have to pay. Instead, when they brought the check, Lucas just signed it.
The second time he did that, the second time we’d scrounged a free lunch, the server picked up the check, glanced at it, then gave Lucas a look.
“What?” he asked, uncomfortable with the look. Lucas was always sort of a wiseass. It was one of the things I liked about him. I was never that way. I couldn’t afford to be. My early years had taught me how to act several different ways, and invisible was one of them; sassy or rude or arrogant or confident was none of them. One way not to be noticed was not to smile or laugh. People see that and see a person who’s happy. I’d developed the capacity to rarely smile and never laugh. Being a wiseass was something I’d never be. You had to be sure of yourself to do that and/or willing to suffer the consequences. I wasn’t either of those. Wiseass-ery requires self-confidence. That was something else I lacked.
Lucas didn’t and never would. The waiter hesitated just a moment, then said, “Some people add a tip to the check. Then the lower-than-minimum-wage they pay me here doesn’t hurt quite so much.”
The guy looked like a college student to me. Young, but old enough to stand up for himself. I liked that.
Lucas could have reacted several ways. I was impressed by the one he chose, which wasn’t typical of him at all. “Oh, sorry. I haven’t signed one of these much. Let me have it back.” He got the check and wrote in a tip amount. The waiter looked at it, smiled, and said, “Hey, thanks! I’ll look for you guys in here again.”
It was after that that Lucas said he needed to stop to take a leak, and we went into the men’s locker room. I was shocked. The men’s locker room was just another example of a luxurious lifestyle I hadn’t known existed.
The club catered to the wealthiest townspeople, and it did everything first-class. Evidently that came to pissing as well. Directly in front of us as we entered was the bathroom. Off to the right were the lockers and past them the showers. There was also a room on the side where I learned that cards were played, and there was a bar in that room as well.
But the bathroom we entered was all tiled, there were cubicles for, well, crapping, and they didn’t have just ordinary toilet tissue but also wet wipes and reading material and spray cans of scent to cover the natural odors that occurred there. There was a row of six urinals, all divided by shoulder-high partitions. The lavatory sinks had a shelf over them with aftershave lotions and colognes, a few jars with Barbicide in them and combs for communal use, hair spray, hair gel and hand towels.
There were paper towels, too, and a warm-air machine to dry your hands with as well. The place looked to me like one that should have an admission price.
The locker room had a thick carpet. Lucas showed me around. There were two men at lockers near each other. Both were nude and sitting on a bench, just talking to each other. Weird, I thought. No one in middle school would do that.
But being in that locker room made me acutely aware of the money factor in this club. This place was far away from what I’d ever known, but seeing these facilities brought it home in a way that hadn’t struck me before. This was the big time, baby. And I was standing in one little part of it. Me. A boy from the slums.
During the summer, the weekdays didn’t have many players on the course. The weekends were busier with quite a few foursomes going out, mostly men. Women were encouraged to play during the other five days; the men felt women slowed down play on the course and didn’t like them there on the two days they were able to get away. Sexist attitudes were alive and well at the club.
But during the weekdays, there wasn’t much call for caddies, and so only a few boys showed up. We had lots of caddies on the weekends, but I never even got to know most of them. On Monday through Friday, however, there were routinely only six of us boys there, and we’d be lucky to be needed for even one round of golf a day. We would get called on for chores we were capable of doing, like unloading cases of beer from trucks and hauling them inside to the large cooler, or fishing balls out of the several water hazards on the course, but mostly we had a whole lot of free time.
With nothing much to do, the six of us spent a lot of time together, simply bullshitting the way young boys will. Well, that was how it was for the other five. Right away, I decided to try to learn the game. It fascinated me. We were allowed to play as long as we didn’t get in the way of any of the club members. I think we were given that privilege so we’d show up. Heaven knows, they weren’t paying us to be there. We were private contractors. Pay was negotiated between us and the ones whose bags we’d be carrying.
I learned right away how heavy a bag could be when full of clubs, extra balls, a couple of bottles of water, an umbrella and jacket—maybe some beer cans, too. By the end of nine holes, I’d be really dragging, and we still had another nine to go. I quickly hit on a good scheme: I had two rates, one for carrying the bag, another for using a pushcart. I could do 18 holes easily with the clubs in a pushcart.
But I need to say just a little about the other caddies, as they were part of my first summer.
Lucas and I were regulars during the week. The other four were Carl, Chuck, Casey and Pete. Lucas gave them the moniker ‘the three Cs and a P’. We didn’t use it when they were around to hear. In our juvenile way, a P could be given another meaning, one I think you had to be our age to get such a kick out of.
We got to know each other pretty well as we had so much time on our hands. This was before I learned I could play on the course. After that, I didn’t spend much time in the caddy shack. I was on the putting green a lot and eventually out on the course.
But initially, we were all in the shack together.
Any idea what six boys, ages 13 and 14, thrown together with no supervision, might get up to?
Let me give a less than graphic account. Young boys love lewd subjects. They also are hormonal. They don’t have a lot of limits, either. Especially Lucas. So after several afternoons of talk that tended to get racier as time passed, talking about sex finally turned into wanting to do more than talk. We knew the course well, and so knew where we could go so we wouldn’t be found. That’s where the dares, the contests and comparisons took place.
It started with seeing who could piss the farthest. That quickly led to talk about our equipment and what we were capable of. I was second youngest, so my development didn’t match the others’. But it wasn’t long before we were comparing boners, which was when I learned how much I didn’t stack up to the other caddies. Even the boy who was younger than I was, Chuck, had me beat by a good quarter of an inch. Not much, I know, but he made a big deal about it. Wanted to check every day to make sure there’d been no change. That was the reason he gave at least.
Once boners were checked out, it wasn’t long before who could piss the farthest became who could do other things the fastest, or slowest, or even farthest again, with the off-hand only, or being helped by someone else’s hand. We were imaginative, and other things were soon suggested, dared and done.
Then we started daring each other to do things. I didn’t think anyone would accept the dare to strip naked and run into the middle of the fourth fairway and back. Chuck did, though. He did it, and the gleam in his eyes told me he’d loved doing it.
While this continued with them off and on all summer, I was with them doing this stuff only twice. Lucas would tell me what I was missing when we left the club in the late afternoons. He said he thought Chuck might be gay because he was really into all of it and would strip at the drop of a hat. The others were enjoying themselves with the sex stuff, too, but weren’t as eager as Chuck was. Lucas would get excited telling me all the things they’d done that day, and I’d get excited just hearing about it.
So, why wasn’t I joining them?
It was because the next day after that second time I’d been with them, a volunteer was requested to help out in the pro shop sorting out and setting up displays of some new merchandise that had just arrived. The others didn’t volunteer, but I said sure. I liked everything I knew about the club, which was very little because I was so new, and I wanted to learn more. This was an opportunity to see what the pro shop was all about.
I went to the pro shop and met the club pro.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Gil Spenser.” He was a young man, I guessed, although anyone over 25 was fully an adult to me, and he was older than that. Middle 30s, probably. But that he was slim and athletic looking and had an easy-going way of doing things made him seem younger than he was. I told him my name and we worked together organizing things on shelves. There were windows in the shop, and both the first- and tenth-hole tee boxes were visible from there as well as the putting green.
I don’t know where the courage came from as I didn’t talk much with anyone, not even kids my age, and never with adults, but he made it easy to talk to him, and somehow I got the nerve to ask if it was okay for me to try putting sometime when no one else was on the putting green.
He gave me his broad smile, one I’d already seen a lot of. “Sure, Adam. Glad to see you’re interested. Just come in and I’ll give you a putter and balls to use when you want to try it out.”
That was Gil. I took a liking to him right from when I first met him. He was so easy to know and like. I was shy with him at first and until, well I’m coming to that. I eventually learned he was married and had two young kids, both daughters. I sometimes wondered if that was why he was always so nice to me, being a boy and all.
I really started getting to know him when I was on the putting green one day. I was hooked. Which was why, when the other caddies went off to conduct their young-adolescent, very private business, I was the one who’d be on the putting green. I was charged with coming to get them if a caddying job was available. As that wasn’t very often, I spent a great deal of time learning how to putt.
I’m not sure why I was so terrible putting, but I’d known quite a bit of frustration in my life and knew how not to let it get me down. This was a challenge, and I liked overcoming challenges. I liked how I felt when I’d conquer one.
The putting green was something brand new for me, and I took to it like a duck to water. Well, maybe like a duck likes water, but even the brand new ducks could swim in their element better than I could putt on that green. I was terrible. I was able to sink the ball sometimes if it was within four feet of the hole, but that was about it. The thing was, this was a challenge, and it looked like one I could overcome, and that was the sort of person I was. I like figuring out just where the difficult part of the challenge was, then working on the physical aspect of it till I’d broken its back.
I didn’t mind the hard work of it. But with putting, the more I worked, the better I didn’t get. That’s when frustration started in, and every day I had to stop for a bit to calm down. Still, I was out there every day, working on it.
Then one day, one very frustrating day because I was now missing even many of the four-foot putts and felt like throwing the putter halfway to the next county but stopped because it wasn’t my putter—I’d got it from Gil like usual—I felt a presence and turned around. Gil was watching me from the far edge of the green. I hadn’t seen him walk up.
“Hey,” he said.
I nodded to him. I was mad enough at myself and the cruelty of this putting business that I was afraid I’d growl if I spoke, and this was a guy I liked. Too, I was never rude to adults.
“I’ve been watching you out here practicing, Adam. I wouldn’t normally interrupt, but I finally got a little annoyed seeing how the green is treating you. If you want, and it’s entirely up to you, I could give you some pointers. Might make it a little bit more fun for you.”
“I’d like that a lot,” I said and didn’t worry about my voice. I was delighted to get some help.
“You know,” he said, and by his tone of voice, I knew he was going to be kidding and so was prepared to take what he said in that vein, “I usually charge $50 an hour for lessons, but you don’t look like you can afford that—what kid coming here to caddy for money could—and every day I watch you out here it gets more and more painful for me. I figured I had to do something about that for my sake, okay? So I don’t like sitting in my chair, looking out the window and wincing all day every day. Actually, I should pay you rather than you paying me if you get better. You getting better would ease my burden.”
He said this with a big smile, and I assumed he was making a joke, so I smiled, too. It was possible he was trying to keep me from being embarrassed about not paying for lessons. That would be just like him.
“Adam, first off, tell me, are you interested in getting better at this, or are you just passing the time?”
“I think I’ve fallen in love with this whole golf business, sir. I don’t know anything about it, just how it feels to be out here, how it feels when I’m out walking on the course. I’ve tried hitting some balls. I’m no better there than here but think I should be able to do this. Most things I work at, with time spent I usually can get to do pretty well. The fact I’m not improving is pissing me off. Uh, sorry for the language, sir. But yes, I really do want to get better. I want to get as good as I’m able to.”
“Wonderful! I hate trying to teach people who don’t really care and won’t put in the work to get better. Oh, and I’m Gil, remember? Not sir. Even if you don’t like calling adults by their first name, with me, please do. If I end up working with you and we end up doing that a lot, we’re going to get really close, and first names work better. Tear down the barriers, so to speak.”
I didn’t quite know how to take that. First, he made money teaching the game, but wouldn’t charge me. Second, he wanted to get very close. This might not be what I thought it was, these free lessons, and I wasn’t at all interested in what I was thinking it might be. Yet I wasn’t getting that kind of vibe from him at all.
This was before I knew about the wife and daughters. All I knew about him, really, was he was always nice to me and had readily agreed to let me use the practice green and continued to give me the equipment I needed to do that with never even a hint of anything inappropriate.
That first day on the practice green, I found out why I was such a miserable putter. I wasn’t doing anything correctly! Not even the way I was holding the putter. Gil showed me several grips, explained what advantages and disadvantages each had, and told me to use the one that felt most comfortable after trying each one for enough time to evaluate it. The one I ended up adopting had me holding the club with my left hand lower on the club, completely the opposite of how I held all the other clubs. He also showed me how the putting swing started from the shoulders rather than the forearms or wrists, and how the shoulders, upper arms, forearms, wrists and hands had to work as a unit; I’d been putting mostly by flicking the club head with my hands and wrists.
He didn’t do it that day, but eventually showed me how to read greens. That’s an art in itself. Before you putt, you need to know if the ball will be rolling uphill or down or across a side hill, how fast the green is, and which way the putt will curve and how much. A good golfer decides all this by studying where his ball is with respect to the hole location and then looking at the green itself, feeling if it’s soft or firm when walking on it, seeing how tall the grass is and observing its grain. That means studying in which direction the blades and stems of the grass are growing. If you putt with the grain, the ball will roll faster; against the grain, it’ll be slower. This is just one more factor, one of many, that makes it all so difficult.
He also told me something I’ll never forget. I was having a very frustrating day, every putt seeming to have a mind of its own, and he shook his head. “Stop despairing so much. Adam, you’re going to learn eventually that each of the 18 gods who overlook each of the greens on the course have different dispositions. Some are benevolent, and some have a fickle sense of devilish humor. When a long putt stops on the lip of the cup and doesn’t fall in, you know she’s chuckling her evil chuckle. Just tap the ball in and move on. Nothing will infuriate her more.”
But that would come later. That first day, I worked a couple of hours after Gil had left me, and I began to improve. Everything felt awkward, and I had to really concentrate on doing things as he’d said, but to my amazement, I made a few 10-foot putts. I’d never made any of those before. So began the first stirrings of confidence instead of just frustration.
Gil told me that now that I was practicing putting the right way, the practice would pay off. Everything would get easier, and doing it right would become second nature. He loved the way I’d spend hours learning and practicing. He’d join me for a few minutes or even longer every day that he could. We’d use three balls each and stand maybe 40 feet from a hole and see who could sink all three balls with the fewest strokes. He was a pro and had played for years. I realized I shouldn’t be trying to beat him. That would be silly and unhappy-making. What I should do, and did, was watch what he did, and then copy it. And by doing that, I learned how to line up my feet for the direction I was going to hit the ball, how much backswing to use for the strength of the stroke, how to play putts that had more than one break, just all sorts of things without his having to say a word.
He did say a word though. He said lots of them, and most were expressions of praise when I did something right. More and more, I was doing that, doing things right.
“You think I can beat him?”
Gil was in his element, sitting in the pro shop surrounded by all sorts of mostly high-quality golfing merchandise. Boxes of irons, groups of one- through seven-woods, sets of several-angled wedges, and an enormous variety of putters were in one area of the room. We also had a wall of shoes. They had all been spiked when I started, but soon were changed to mostly soft spikes which didn’t tear up greens to the extent spikes did.
We had glass display cases containing boxes of all the popular balls on the market, golf gloves, hats and other clothing specially made for golfers. A lot of rain gear, though the course generally was empty when it was raining.
I’d been shocked when I’d started working in the pro shop with Gil at how expensive everything was. And then shocked at how much was sold regardless of the cost.
Gil shook his head. “I have no idea. Never saw Gray play. I’ll say this, though. You shoot what you’re capable of, play your game, and even if he does win, you can hold your head up high. You’re damn good, Adam.”
I smiled. “Mostly because of you.”
“Hogshit. It’s because you listened. You worked at it. I’ve given lessons to hundreds of players—men, women, children—and you far and away paid more attention and did what I told you to do than any of the others. You also practiced more. You deserve to be playing in the state Under-18 finals tomorrow. Play well, and very, very few kids your age can beat you. Maybe Tiger could have at 17 but not many others.”
I took a long pull on my can, then tossed the empty into the wastebasket under the counter.
It was a lazy Thursday afternoon in early August. The pro shop was empty, just like the course
was. When the temperature rose over 90 and the humidity was off the charts, no one was dumb
enough to be out on the fairways with the unforgiving sun beating down on them. In a couple of
hours, with the sun lowering in the sky, a few regulars would show up. Till then, Gil and I
would have the place to ourselves.
“Think I’ll go run some balls on the practice green,” I said, standing up and stretching.
“Don’t spend much time there, and be sure to use lots of sunscreen. You have any burn on during the match, it’ll cost you. So will dehydration. Hell, you putt fine. Take the day off.”
I grinned. “You, telling me not to work? First time ever.”
“You’re done with what I can teach you. And resting before an important match is crucial.”
It was going to be an important match. The most important one I’d ever played, actually. The winner of the U-18 State Championship would get a scholarship to any of five state universities that were in the program, and he got to select which to attend. If I won, I’d get a full-ride scholarship as long as I was on the golf team. I knew which school it would be, one that had six graduates on the pro tour. Their coach was a known name, a former touring pro. Anyone who knew much of anything about golf knew his name, and he was as good a teacher as a player.
There was no way I’d be able to go to college without the scholarship. Even community college would be a major stretch for a number of reasons. I wanted to win that scholarship very, very badly.
I’d always been poor.
I think most people would say that differently. They’d change the noun to ‘we’. I don’t know exactly when I stopped thinking of my life being a ‘we’, but it was early on that I became an ‘I’.
My mother had never been motherly. I think I’d survived my earliest years because her mother had been around. I don’t remember much of those times, but when I did, my mother was never in the picture. Grandma died before I knew her well enough to have fond memories, or many memories at all of her, but I do remember the years without her. I learned very quickly that I had to be the one responsible for myself because my mother certainly wasn’t going to take over that job. She had no interest in raising a kid, whether it was hers or not.
She was into drugs, but even without them, she’d not have given a fart in a windstorm about me. I was about six when I knew it was entirely up to me if I lived or died. Even before I’d reached that grand age, she had started hitting me or locking me in a closet if I provoked her, and sometimes just seeing me in the room with her was enough for that to happen. I learned really quickly: stay out of her sight, don’t ask for anything, learn to take care of myself.
How can anyone do that at six? If it’s do that or die, you learn how. It’s that straightforward. Do or die. I did. I found food, I found clothes, I learned how the world worked. We lived in an apartment in a slum. The place was the definition of a dump. I never did have a bed, or sheets. I had a sleeping bag I’d rescued from someone’s trash when they were throwing it away. I don’t know why the place was infested with cockroaches; we never had much food in the house; there was rarely anything to eat even in the refrigerator.
Say what you want about slums but some of the people in them are simply the greatest people going. They have almost nothing, but when they see someone in need, they help all they can. So I knew which people would feed me when I was desperate. I knew who had kids a bit older who might have clothes that would fit me as I got bigger. I made out. And I learned how to use what talents I had, like making my eyes look sorrowful or hungry or thankful. Those eyes worked wonders for me. And I didn’t have to fake the way they looked.
My mother would have men in. I didn’t know if she liked sex or if what she liked was when they’d leave money. She needed money for the drugs. I learned pretty quickly that when a man came into the house, I should vamoose. And I did. Some of our neighbors understood that, too, and let me sleep at their house that night. Often that was on a floor, but I got very used to that. You don’t really need a bed to sleep in when you’re five or six and exhausted from hunger and worry.
When school started, my mother had to clean up her act a little because almost immediately the social services people started dropping by. My teachers would report how I looked, how skinny I was, how I often smelled a bit ripe. How I had unexplained bruises. I’d get sent to the principal or the nurse, and a call would be made to social services. They’d send someone out to visit her. I don’t think it would have bothered her a bit if they’d told her I was being taken away from her. I think she’d have been happy about that. But they didn’t tell her just that. They told her she’d be going to jail for child neglect.
She knew it would be difficult for her to get the drugs she wanted in jail, and it seemed doubtful anyone would pay for sex with her in there, so she did start seeing to it that I looked good enough for school each day just so that I wouldn’t be reported. She hated doing it, so she tended to be quite rough. I learned how to get ready without needing any assistance from her very quickly.
Seeing I was ready for school didn’t necessarily mean feeding me, only that I wasn’t wearing rags, and my hair wasn’t a total mess, and bruises were covered up. She grumbled about doing this, and finally, one day when I’d been tired and so careless getting ready, she hit me again. I was simply being a kid and whining about something, and wham! That was it for me. I immediately told her if she ever did that again, I’d report her, and if that meant I’d go into a home, it couldn’t be worse than living with her.
She really didn’t like the thought of jail. There wasn’t any hitting after that.
I’d learned by then how to fix myself my meals and how to obtain the stuff I was going to eat. It was never very much. I was always hungry. And skinny as a rail. Skinnier, in fact. But then, at school, I started getting free lunches, and I found that by making friends with the cooking staff, I could get two lunches instead of only one. I started gaining weight. And growing a little, too.
I made friends with Lucas in the fourth grade. That made a lot of difference. His dad was head chef at the golf club and, according to Lucas, being head chef at Antilles meant he made good coin. Why Lucas picked me as his best buddy, I never knew. It may have been because I was very pliable but also knew how to survive on the streets and he didn’t; yet in spirit he was already a wild one and loved what wrinkles I could show him. I knew how to get things I needed without paying for them, and he wanted to know that, too.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford to pay for what he wanted; it was the thrill of getting stuff without paying. Lucas was big on thrills. Maybe it also made a difference that I spoke about a quarter of the amount he did. He was a talker; I was a listener. When he was with me, there was no one to compete with him for airtime.
I knew early on I wanted more out of life than what I was growing up with. And I saw right off that an education was the path to that future. All the teachers drove cars. Very few of my neighbors had the money for a car. What they did have was spent on feeding their families and paying rent. I never did know how my mother paid the rent, though seeing the trash she was inviting into the house, I could certainly guess.
If education was the answer, and it didn’t cost me anything, I was all in. I paid attention to the lessons in school, and I discovered the library. By the time I reached middle school, I probably had received the best report cards in the school. Not that anyone cared but me. I knew then that I wanted to go to college. I also knew the only way that would happen would be on a scholarship. What I wanted was an academic one. I didn’t know there was any other kind, and if I had known about athletic ones, it wouldn’t have made any difference. I wasn’t athletic, and I had no way to become good enough at any sport even if I was.
And then Lucas took me to a golf course, saying we could make some money toting golf clubs around for rich people, and I was hooked. He didn’t need money but knew I did, and this was his way to get me to go with him.
Golf is hard. It can be magical, electric, unbelievable, and frustrating, too. But sometimes it’ll take your breath away and make you want to fall to your knees in wonder.
Getting to play it well takes hours and hours of work. Concentration, attention to details, physical capability and confidence. Also the ability to remember what you’ve learned and apply it. What it needs mostly is practice.
I had the time, and I loved being out on the course on a warm summer day. I had a huge advantage over other kids my age. I had a constant tutor.
Gil gave me a set of golf clubs after seeing me hack around on the course with what clubs I’d picked up that had been thrown away when members had bought new equipment. It was my first set of my own; they were matched clubs; made me feel like a rich guy; later on, he’d give me a better set. Both times he said they were left behind by golfers who’d given up on golf. I’m still not certain that was true, especially the second set as they were brand new and of professional quality. Thinking about that when I was alone, it brought tears to my eyes. No one had ever cared about me like Gil did.
I did have to buy my own shoes, but at cost, and then a second pair suddenly was free when I outgrew the first ones; Gil said lots of salesmen gave him free samples, and the next time he got a pair of sample shoes, he got them in my size.
I wouldn’t have ever gotten good at the game without Gil’s help. We did get close. Closer than I was with anyone.
Gil didn’t have much to do during the week. He did have people signing up for lessons, and between that, his salary for being at the club six days a week, and a percentage of pro shop sales, he did all right. His wife had a job, too, and they were lucky that her mom lived in town and loved taking care of their daughters during the week. But Gil had lots of time to work with me, and he did it as much as he could.
I spent most of my time each summer from when I was 13 to my current age, 17, out on the course, practicing. Every bit of time I could, I was out there. More times than not, Gil was walking with me, explaining how to hit off soft and hard and tangled and clean surfaces, to hit fades and draws, to get out of sand traps, to chip from various lies at various distances to both flat and slanted greens, the whole bag of tricks. Like if I was on a downhill slope on a fairway, or had a sidehill lie, how to set my feet when addressing the ball, and how to allow for the built-in curve such a lie would cause. Each lie was different. There was so much to learn, so very much, and I was an eager learner.
I asked him once how he had the patience to teach me all this stuff, spend too much time on it, and why he didn’t insist I pay him something. I was making money at the club now, doing different jobs to make money when I could, and his instructions were worth every cent I was being paid; I’d gladly have turned it all over to him.
“You pay attention. You do what I tell you needs to be done. Almost no one ever does that. They think they know better, or think that this one time for this shot they’ll do it how they want to. Or they don’t really give a bad word about the game, and what I tell them is too hard for them. You listen. And you do better and better because of that. You remember, too, and practice. I almost never have to remind you of something I’ve already explained.
“But what I like even more is that you question why what I’m telling you is the right way to do something. You want to understand what’s behind the instruction. I think that’s why you remember it. You want to know because you want to learn, and you care about doing things right. You’re the perfect student, Adam, and I love watching you get better. Besides, I like your sense of humor.”
I think that was a joke. I didn’t have a sense of humor. I was always too serious. He had a great one. As a child, humor was never part of my life, and I never learned to relax and enjoy something. I was always focused on what came next, often on how to survive it. His humor was slowly rubbing off on me. I was a better person because of it. But I was still me and probably always would be. I didn’t smile much. His statement that he liked my sense of humor was another gentle way he twitted me. He wanted me to be happy. And for some reason I never quite understood, I knew he liked me.
I asked him why, with all the knowledge he had, he wasn’t on the tour. “Those guys are really good, and their whole life is championship touring. I want to be home with my girls, watching them grow up. And I really like teaching, especially when it’s someone like you. You can be really good, Adam. Really good, and it’s a great feeling, knowing I’m a small part of that. But, too, honestly, while I’m a decent golfer, I’m not as good as the tour guys. To accept that and still be happy on the golf course is something you have to deal with if you’re competitive. You’re competitive. You don’t give much away about what you’re feeling, but I see the competitive side of you. It’s there. Just another part of you that you don’t let the world see.”
We worked on everything, and it seemed there were other things still waiting for me to learn. He straightened me out when I’d start to fall into a bad habit. He kept me on the straight and narrow, but he let me go, then, and didn’t nag or nitpick.
By the time I was 16, we were playing against each other once a week or so, competitive matches. I wasn’t at his level yet but was approaching it. My scores on the Antilles course—a tough, private course—were usually in the 70s. Occasionally, I’d beat him. I never asked if he was easing up, letting me do that. It would have been insulting if he wasn’t, and I wasn’t about to insult him. He wasn’t my father, but I thought of him that way, the father I’d never had. A father cares about his son; Gil cared about me. Everything he did showed me that.
I do remember the first time I beat him. He was distracted that day, I guess, because he wasn’t shooting his best, and I was on. One of those days where everything felt right. We came to the 18th hole tied. If I parred this hole, I’d shoot an even par, something I almost never did.
We both hit decent tee shots. As usual, he was a few yards farther out than I was. We both should reach the green in two, though he’d use a shorter iron than I would.
I knew if I could hit a great shot, I had a chance to beat him, and I wanted to do that so badly I could taste it. It would mean all the practice I’d been doing was paying off, proof in the pudding, I guess. I judged the distance to the hole, selected my club, and did all the things you do to prepare for your shot.
I hit the ball and it felt perfect. High, soaring, and just the way I’d seen it in my mind. Straight as an arrow, right toward the pin. It felt good; it looked good. I watched, not even breathing as it rose and descended. It came down ten feet past the pin, bit, and rolled back. For a moment I thought it might go in. It didn’t but it stopped three inches from the hole. As perfect a shot as I’d ever hit. Golf is never the same, round after round or even hole after hole. Each time you hit the ball, it’s a unique experience. It can tear you up in frustration. And sometimes it’s simply glorious.
I made the birdie, Gil made a par, and he was as happy as I was with the round I’d shot. He was nothing but praise. I think I felt ten inches taller, walking back to the clubhouse, never saying a word about how my score was one stroke better than his. He knew it, and he was happy for me.
When I was 17, he started talking to me about the future. “What’s your goal, Adam? Golf, or something else. I know you’re an all-star at school and are planning to use golf to get into college. But what then?”
“Truly, I never thought about that. It’s the getting in that drives me. I guess when I’m there, I’ll take stock. Figure it out. But I’m not in yet, so I’m still working hard to get there.”
“Have you thought about competitive golf? One of the lesser tours? Maybe the big one?”
“You think I’m good enough for that?”
“You can be. You have it in you. You’re still growing. Put on a couple more inches, be able to use a longer driver and irons, and you’ll be hitting as long as anyone. But even if you don’t get much taller, there are pros on the tour who aren’t nearly as long off the tee as others, but they compensate by hitting better irons and putting better than the long hitters. There’s more than one way to play winning golf.”
I was silent then, thinking about that. We finished that hole and moved to the next tee. I had honors and hit a good drive. I still wasn’t as long off the tee as I wanted to be, as I knew I had to be. I was still growing, and height and longer arms should help with my distance.
He teed off, and while we were walking up the fairway, he said, “You know, the State U-18 Championship is coming up.”
“Yeah, I know. But there’s an entry fee, and transportation costs, and I have my jobs here.”
“But that’s a possible scholarship you’d be letting skip by you if you don’t try. Most of the the play will be local. It’ll all be nearby until the semis and finals. So you’ll be here, mostly, and, well, we can talk about the money. You need to do this, Adam!”
“Well . . . maybe. But, what if I’m not good enough? I’d hate to spend much of what I’ve saved and then fail.”
“I don’t think you’d fail.”
Wow! Hearing that from him. Wow!
“Still,” I said, “it’d be expensive.”
“Much more expensive to get into college without the scholarship. You need to send in an application for the tournament. It has to be in by the end of the month.”
“I’ll think about it. It costs $500 to enter unless you have a waiver—which I could probably get due to need—but the semis and finals are held at various courses around the state, so there’ll be other costs as well. Like I already said. I do know about this, you know. I have considered it. But . . .”
“But you’d play if you could? If you could afford it? You know how you stack up against the local high-school, golf-team players, but don’t you want to know how you fare against top-tier golfers your age?”
I laughed. I almost never laughed, but I did. He was never this pushy. Never. This was so out of character, it amused me enough that I simply had to laugh. “Yeah,” I eventually said, “maybe. I told you I’d think about it. Sure, playing in that tourney would be fun, but so is just playing here with you. And that doesn’t cost me anything.”
We walked on farther down the fairway before he spoke again. “I have something to tell you. I’ve talked to some of the members here. They’re excited that you might take part in the state tournament. You’re a high-school kid who plays the game like I seasoned pro. You can beat any one of the club members, yet are totally humble, not a bit stuck up or aloof. Anything they ask of you, you do it with a smile.
“You say hi to them by name when you see them and ask if they need anything, and for the last year, you’ve even smiled when you’ve said it. Why do you think you get requested as a caddy more than any of the others? They like you. They like the way you help them with their games when they ask but don’t interfere with suggestions and advice when they don’t ask. They’re proud of you and care about you because of the person you are as much or more than for your golfing ability, and when I told them about this state tournament, they were enthusiastic about you representing this club, maybe even winning it.
“I told them I wasn’t sure you’d register for it because of the money, and they stepped forward big time. You know how well off most of them are. The cost we’re talking about here, they spend that entertaining guests at business dinners about twice a week and don’t think anything about it.
“Adam, they’ve got up a kitty that’ll pay all your expenses. You won’t have to pay a cent. They’ll pay the application fee, all your travel expenses, your food, everything. They’re happy to do it because you’re you, and a couple of them told me you deserve this sort of thing. They just ask that you play well and make all of us proud.”
I don’t want anyone thinking golf was my whole life. The focus of this is on golf because, well, golf is a big part of my life. But it isn’t all of it.
I’m still doing well in school. I’m a senior now and haven’t had less that an A in any course since I began getting graded report cards back in middle school. It’s a matter of pride to me to do that, and while in some courses it’s harder than others, working hard is what makes the grades happen and makes me me. I have a goal, the same one I had when I was ten, and I haven’t reached it yet. College is still out there, closer now but still more than an arm’s length away, and with all A’s, it remains doable.
When I’d started high school, one of the things they had first-year students do was talk to a guidance counselor. She wanted us to think about our preferred job when we graduated so we could take courses that would help prepare us for it. Like most of the other freshmen, I didn’t know what I wanted. I thought I’d figure that out in college. I knew I did want to go there; college was going to be the path to my future. I told her that.
“That’s good, and I see from your grades, Adam, you’re well on your way academically.”
Like she was telling me something I didn’t know. I explained further. “I need a scholarship to go. So rather than worrying about what job I might like, I need you to put me into classes that will help me get the scholarship.”
I don’t think she was accustomed to freshmen being quite so deliberate or insistent in what they wanted. She probably hadn’t met too many kids who had survived to this point on their own initiative.
She still wanted to know what I wanted to study in college, and there I drew a blank. I only knew I wanted to go; what I wanted to learn there, I had no idea.
“Something with a science background? Perhaps a more academic path, like philosophy or literature or religious studies? Then there are the financial disciplines like bookkeeping and economics and finance and social services. There are the more physical pursuits like theater and music and art or even athletics. We have programs here that’ll prepare you for all these and more. You just have to decide where your interests lie.”
The only thing I knew that I really liked—and I did really like it—was golf. But could I make a living in that field? Probably not, unless I got awfully good. Although, what about management? Administration? Somewhere and somehow related to golf? Maybe there were courses that would prepare me for a job in one of those areas.
But thinking about it, I didn’t want to sit in an office all day, hiring people to maintain the flowers on the course or cook the meals or supervise those working in the multitude of other areas. I had no interest in bossing other people around. No, my favorite thing in the world was being outside, playing golf or maybe even doing what Gil did, teaching it. But he spent more time in the pro shop than out on the course.
I realized I wanted to learn to play well enough that I could make a living doing that. Did that mean I even needed to go to college at all? I had to think about this. And maybe talk to Gil.
But school is more than grades. There’s the social part of it, too. When I was in elementary school, it was obvious to everyone, kids and teachers, that I was poor. The clothes I wore, how skinny I was—it was obvious. It’s better now. I learned how to cope, and then when I became a fixture at Antilles and got work there and made friends, things began changing.
I don’t live at home any longer, if home was even the right word for that apartment I shared with my mother. I have nothing to do with my mother now, even though I don’t live all that far from her. I could go see her if I wanted to. I don’t.
What happened was, one of the times I left the apartment at night because of my mother’s ‘guest’ and the way he looked at me, one of our neighbors, a black woman named Mrs. Stanton, saw me outside and told me I could spend the night with them. This had happened several times before, and this was just another time, when I was ten. She had three little kids and no husband. Such was the way of life too often in the slum. Her kids ranged in age from three to seven when I was ten. Of course, I wasn’t a typical ten-year-old.
I’d been pretty independent since I was seven. When I’d spent the night at the Stanton’s before, sleeping on the floor, those kids had been delighted to have an older playmate in the house. We’d become good friends. They were Russell, DeShaun and Rosalie. Russell was the oldest.
But when I slept over this time, Mrs. Stanton had me sit down and talk to her. She told me she’d been offered a job, a real job. “You don’t know how that makes me feel, Adam. It’s the first real hope I’ve had in over a year. Living on welfare and food stamps is just soul-crushing. Now I’ll be making money, and I can hold my head up a little higher. They even told me that there’d be a raise after my three-month probation period, and maybe even promotions after that if I worked out. They said they like how I carried myself and handled the interview. Adam, I will make this work. You’d better believe that.” I understood. I had ambitions, too. It was everything to have a plan for a way out of a dilemma. I had one. Now, so did she.
“But there’s a problem, Adam. The job is a night job. If things go well, at some point it can move to days, but now, it’s nights. And I can’t leave the kids alone. Nor can I afford a sitter all night five days a week.”
She looked at me, her eyes fixed on mine, and I knew she was asking me something, something she didn’t want to verbalize. Afraid to say the words that needed to be said because the plan that was giving her hope depended on those words.
“You’d like me to stay with your kids at night?” I wasn’t afraid of the words at all. These were actually good words for me.
“Would you?” The hope in her voice almost brought tears to my eyes, and I never, ever cried about anything.
I smiled at her. “You’d be doing me a favor, Mrs. Stanton. Giving me a safe place to sleep every night. I doubt I’ll ever set foot in our apartment again if I can bring the small bunch of things I have here.”
“You can sleep in my bed,” she said and laughed. “No more floor!”
So now I was getting food at the club and lunches when school was in session, and, wonder of wonders, I had a safe place to sleep. I also had a sort of pseudo-family as those kids and I became just that: a family. I’d never had any brothers and sisters. Now I did, and it was part of the way things were getting better for me. I was earning enough money at the club to buy my own clothes. I got most of them at thrift shops and the Goodwill, but they were better than the hand-me-downs and ones I’d pulled out of dumpsters when I was younger.
I even had a cellphone now. Unbelievable, but true. I still caddied, but as time passed, I worked just about all the jobs there were to work at the club. I spent a lot of time with Gil in the pro shop and out on the course but did lots of other odd jobs at the club, paying jobs, based on Gil’s recommendations. I learned to drive the mower on the fairways and rough. I learned how to cut the holes in the greens and fill in the ones that would no longer be holes. It was kind of cool. You have a hole-sized round, sharp-edged cutter to push down into where the new hole goes, insert the metal cup from the current hole, then shove the plug you’ve cut into the old hole.
I’d worked at different times as a busboy and waiter and dishwasher in the club’s two dining rooms—the elegant formal room used for club dining and banquets, where I had to wear a tux—and the coffee shop where I had to wear pressed khakis and a club polo shirt. Thankfully, the club provided the clothing. I’d never have been able to afford it myself. But all that work paid for clothing I now wore at school, and because I was employed at the club, I ate there for free. Used to be only Lucas could do that; I was sure Gil had spoken to someone.
So what does all this have to do with a cellphone, one that cost a lot of money and had a monthly fee as well? A cellphone was something I’d swear every kid at school had and something I didn’t even regret not having because of the impossibility of it. I didn’t have lots of things other kids did. I just accepted that. If I ever felt envious or that life sucked being me, I quickly pushed those thoughts away. I was doing fine, and who needed a fucking cellphone, anyway?
I was with Gil in the pro shop, filling the jar of free tees that was on the counter, when he said, “Hey, I have something for you.”
No surprise there. He was always giving me things.
I finished with the tees. “What’s that?”
He handed me a small box, and I opened it to see a cellphone inside. I wrinkled my forehead. “A cellphone?”
“Yeah. You’re a teenager. You can’t be a real teenager without a cellphone. I think you can get arrested these days for false pretenses or something like that if you tell someone you’re a teenager but can’t prove it by showing them your cellphone.”
“I can’t afford a cellphone!”
“Who said anything about affording anything? It’s a gift.”
“But there’s a monthly service fee, isn’t there? And anyway, this is way too expensive for you to give me. I mean, well, thanks and all, but no way. I can’t keep this.”
“Sure you can. No fee. It’s like this: the club gives some cellphones out to people who work here that need them, like the greenskeepers and maintenance people and kitchen staff. People who they sometimes have an urgent need to get in touch with when they want to talk to them. The club pays for the phones and the service fees. It’s just a part of doing business for them. And you need one because if they suddenly need any of the jobs you do, like they’re short staffed in the kitchen or dining room, what, they’re going to drive to where you live and see if you’re there? No, they need to be able to call you. Hence, the phone.”
I was shaking my head. Me, a phone. Me, joining the real world at school, that’s what this meant. Oh, wait a sec.
“So this is just for Antilles work, huh?”
“Adam, Adam, Adam.” He shook his head in disgust. “You need a phone. You’re a teenager. We just discussed this. The club makes a fortune. They’ve budgeted for cellphone costs for the staff. You think the gardeners who have one never call their friends? As long as you don’t make multiple overseas calls every week, they won’t even notice. Budgeted, remember? Come on, be happy. You now have a phone now. Good for you! Enjoy it.”
It was difficult to believe. Then I had a thought. “This is because of you, isn’t it? You did this. You made it happen.”
He smiled at me and said, “Those new drivers we just got in. They have different loft angles than the ones we have in stock. Go out and try these, see what you think. Report back.”
That was Gil. I owed him so much.
Oh, and one thing more about the Stantons. Two years after I’d been sleeping there every night, she did get transferred to days. And she got a promotion to shift manager with a sizable increase in pay.
“Adam,” she said, excitement ringing in her voice, “we’re going to move! I’ve found an apartment I can afford now in a safer part of town. The kids can go to a better school.”
Talk about mixed feelings! I was so happy for her and the kids. But my stomach seemed to drop a couple of notches as the old anxiety shot up again. Where would I go? I wondered if there was a place at Antilles I could crash. They must have had nighttime security. Maybe they could hire me for that and I could get some sleep between rounds.
Mrs. Stanton saw the look on my face, saw my happiness for her and the uncertainty in my eyes even as I was trying to hide it. She put her hand on my arm. “Adam, I said we’re going to move. I meant all of us. You’re at least a semi-Stanton now, and if I didn’t take you with us, I don’t think Russell wouldgo, either. You know you’re his hero, don’t you? You’ve seen how he copies a lot of your mannerisms. He even works harder on schoolwork now because he sees you doing it. But you’re my hero, too. You made all this possible. Yes, you’re coming with us, and you’ll have your own bedroom!”
I haven’t written much about my social life. I actually had one now. You’re with so many kids at school, rubbing shoulders with them all day, you get to know them simply by being there. You find you like some, dislike some, and with the others, you just don’t know enough to form an opinion about them.
I’d made a great friend in my junior year, and to my surprise, it was a girl. I’ve always been shy. It’s my default position and certainly stems from my early life when there was no one to protect me. I’m not as shy now but am still reserved. So quiet, in fact, that I probably seem shy to people who don’t know me well, and no one at school knew me well, even as a junior when I’d been with these people for years. If you don’t join in, people notice and tend to leave you alone. To me, they were all better than I was, I didn’t have anything to add to any of the conversations they had, and so I stayed out of them.
Didn’t I need friends? Don’t all teenagers? Well, maybe I did, but I didn’t feel I was really worthy of them. Or know how to make them. So I went my own way. I was used to it.
And then when I was eating lunch one day at one of the small tables by myself, as usual, I raised my eyes from the book I was reading when a tray plopped down across from me.
“I’m new here.” It was a girl my age, and she was talking to me. “We moved here, and I’m new in the middle of the school year. Don’t know a soul, and I’m not extroverted enough to go join an already-established group. But I need a friend or I’ll wither and die, so I choose you. You’re tall and handsome, so I guess you’re sitting alone because you have some contagious disease, but my dad’s a pharmacist so I can probably get drugs if it’s communicable.”
She stopped and sat down, then looked at me again, probably looking for a denial, or at least something.
I knew just what to say, which was strange because I usually didn’t. “Not extroverted? Really?”
She laughed. “You don’t know how hard it was for me to say all that. I had to rehearse it in my head to least three times. I really am shy.”
“Well, maybe you didn’t rehearse enough.” I was trying to make my voice light, because what I was saying was accusatory, and I didn’t really want to put her on the defensive. “Your story doesn’t hold water. A pharmacist wouldn’t have to move in the middle of the school year. He can relocate when he wants, and everyone knows it’s hard on a kid to join a new school once the term has started. I think what’s going on here is, he’s probably on the lam from the law, and this was a place he found where no one would know him.”
“You’re right. A pharmacist can call his own shots, mostly. But my mother couldn’t. She was offered a job that was a step up for her, and my dad found a pharmacy here with an opening. So we moved because of my mom, not my dad.”
“Ah, you were misleading on purpose. Well, you didn’t have to be. I’m undiseased.”
Her brow furled. “Somehow, that seems like a non sequitur, but I’m not smart enough to figure it out. So, why are you sitting alone if you’re healthy?”
“Why are you calling some kid you don’t know tall and handsome? You don’t know how tall I am, and I’m certainly not handsome. Are you being fulsome for some nefarious purpose?”
“You’re being evasive. And trying to use words to confuse me, but shy kids tend to read a lot if they have the IQ over that of a cabbage, and I do. Why evasive? I’d guess because the reason you’re sitting alone is too embarrassing to discuss with a stranger. And I have no right to pry into that. When we know each other better, you’ll tell me then. First, we have to become friends. As I say, I need one of those. But sitting alone suggests that maybe you do, too. Lastly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If I think you’re handsome, you’re handsome.”
And she was right. I did need a friend. Had for a long time without really realizing it. And she was witty and funny, and I liked her right off. She probably didn’t know I was on the bottom rung of the ladder here.
I introduced myself, and she did, too. Her name was Barbara Cummings. She went by Barb. And I found she actually was shy. Her getting to know me took a whole lot of resolve on her part, and she pulled it off because she really did want a friend and didn’t know how else to get one.
So now I had a friend and a cellphone. I was flying high.
I spent most of my time at the club, but during the times when school was active and I wasn’t needed at the club, I spent time with her. It wasn’t often, but I did have my phone now, and we did a lot of talking and texting.
This next stuff is hard to write, but, full disclosure, yeah? If you’re going to write about yourself, you can’t leave important stuff out. What’s the point of writing at all if you do that?
So, I’ve got to talk about Chuck.
You remember Chuck, don’t you? The kid just a bit younger than I was who was a fellow caddy when I was 13 and just starting out at Antilles? Yeah, that Chuck.
Chuck knew early on that he was gay. I thought I was, too. But being poor was hard enough, and I didn’t give much thought to my sexuality. I spent my time trying to survive. Sex had little interest for me. I think in many ways and many aspects, I was a late bloomer.
Chuck was in my grade going through school, so I knew him at the country club and at school. And I was aware of him. He was of me, too. He had no reason to think I was gay; his actions at the course had started me thinking back then that maybe he was. But I’d never said a word to anyone about it. I was as deep in the closet as it was possible to be. And I never had any reason to think it wasn’t the same with him. Yet I did catch him looking at me at times. He caught me doing the same thing. We’d seen each other with our pants down. Even with boners. There’d been a connection of sorts back then when we’d looked in each other’s eyes.
We didn’t run with the same crowds. I didn’t run with a crowd at all until Barb came into the picture, and then it became a crowd of two. Chuck, as improbable as it seemed to me because I tended to think of him as I’d first known him―a skinny 13-year-old―became a wrestler. He was bigger and a lot stronger now and was a good-looking guy. I found myself thinking about him a lot, but knew there was no way we could ever get together.
I had the feeling he’d have liked to, just as I would—wild-ass hormones, you know—but wrestlers do not want there to be any suspicion that they’re enjoying rolling around on the floor with their teammates or opponents, and I didn’t want my squeaky-clean image to be tarnished, either. My whole life now was centered at Antilles, and it was dominated by older straight men, a group not known for embracing alternate sexualities.
But Chuck and I did get together. Maybe it’s true: God works in mysterious ways.
I was eating lunch with Barb, as I did now, and Chuck walked over to the table. “Hey,” he said.
“Chuck!” I said and smiled at him.
“Do you have a minute? Right now? Could I pull up a chair?”
“Sure. You know Barb, don’t you?”
He said no, and I introduced them. He didn’t seem to mind Barb being there for whatever he wanted to talk about; he just came out with it.
“The thing is, I was called in to see my advisor today, and she told me I can’t
wrestle any longer if I don’t get my math grade up to a C . I’m meeting grade
requirements in other classes, but me and math don’t see eye to eye. She, my advisor,
told me if I wanted to wrestle, I should probably get a tutor, but whatever I did, I had to get
that D up to a C or I’d be off the team. Adam, wrestling’s who I am! So I asked her
who I should get to tutor me, and she said you were a genius and to ask you.”
I wished I hadn’t been drinking from my chocolate milk mini-carton when he said ‘genius’. That stuff doesn’t wipe off without leaving a brown stain.
He ignored my spurting. “So will you? Tutor me? I can pay whatever you charge?”
“I’ve never tutored anyone, and I’m certainly no genius, either. But if you need the help, sure, I’ll see if I can help. When and where?”
And that was the beginning. He thought the best ‘where’ would be at his house, and the best ‘when’ was right after school when, conveniently, his parents were never at home.
The conversation that first afternoon was something I won’t forget. His house was very nice in one of the better areas in town. Maybe he hadn’t been caddying because he needed the money. Maybe he’d simply wanted to be with some other boys his age that summer. It was a beautiful house, and he had a beautiful room to go with it.
We went up to his room after having a snack. “I’m eating all the time,” he said. “Carbo loading.” I didn’t say much in return. I never have talked much when there was no need to.
His room had all the stuff a boy with the money to afford it could have, but I mainly was focusing on the bed, which was a king. He sat down on it and said, “I want to tell you something, but only if you can keep a secret. It’s the biggest one I have. That I’ll ever have. But I want to tell you.”
“It’s that you’re gay, huh?” I said, hoping to shock him, but he smiled instead. “I thought you might know,” he said. “Just like I think you might be, too.”
“It’s a secret I have, too. No one can know.”
“Same here. But now, here we are, and we’re both ready. I can see you are. You can see I am, too.”
And he was right. We’d both hoisted the flag, and our trousers weren’t disguising it well.
We’d both dreamed about being with someone. Neither of us ever had been. We made up for lost time that afternoon, and all the time I was tutoring him, which was for the rest of the semester whether he needed it or not. After a time, he didn’t, but we kept up the sessions anyway. He paid me, too, but for the tutoring, and when we reached the point where I wasn’t there tutorially, I refused any more payments. I felt that being paid for what I was doing made me something I wasn’t ever going to be. My mother had done this for money; maybe she still did. I certainly never would.
But I knew now there was no ambiguity: I was gay. I liked Barb a lot but had no interest at all in her romantically. Which was good as it turned out she was interested in girls. We sort of found that out because the closer we got, the more we were able to talk about things. This was an amazing development for me, actually talking about myself and saying things I’d kept private forever.
Being with her was one of the parts of my youthful years whose importance I was sure would dawn on me later in life. I became able to speak of intimate things with her. I hope every teen boy has someone he can do that with. It helps keep you sane.
Chuck and I were never boyfriends. What we did, we did because we were randy and wanted it. But we weren’t a match in other ways. However, we were a great match in bed, and so we both agreed that what we had was good. Very good indeed.
There is one more thing to mention about school. In my junior year, I got a note from the office that Mr. Thomas wanted to see me. Mr. Thomas was a History teacher. I hadn’t had a class with him, but knew who he was, like we know who all the teachers are. I knew what classroom he was in, so when school was out that day, I went to his room.
“You wanted to see me, sir? I’m Adam Calder.”
“Ah, yes. Adam. Good to see you. Do you know what this is about?” He motioned me to a front-row student desk, then came out from behind his and perched on it to talk to me.
“No idea, sir.”
He chuckled. “It’s not widely known, but this school has a golf team. It’s not known because we’re not very good and have yet to win a match. However, we do have a team, and I’m the faculty advisor. I’ve heard from some people I know that not only do you play, but that you’re darned good. I’d be delighted if you’d join the team. We just lost a member and need a replacement.”
“I didn’t know there was a team,” I said. “But I don’t really join clubs or get involved with after-school stuff.”
Why not? Damned good question, I thought. It probably was because, well, it didn’t feel good to think about it, but I had a really negative view of myself. I knew what I’d been, where I’d come from, and that never entirely left my psyche. I’d been a worthless child who even his mother hadn’t loved, and trying to get that off my shoulders hadn’t happened yet and probably never would. I didn’t feel worthy of being with other people; that was at the heart of it. The only places in my life I felt at home were at Antilles and the Stantons. I was accepted at both, even liked, perhaps, and I had the ability to do what I was asked to do. Almost all the confidence I had was a result of the time I spent at Antilles and the time I spent with the Stantons.
But joining extracurricular activities? With boys who were all above me, better than me, came from better backgrounds than I did? I couldn’t do that, any more than I could join the chess club and be laughed out of the place. But he’d asked me a question. I couldn’t possibly answer it with what I was feeling.
It did occur to me, though, that while the boys on that team were certainly better people than I could ever hope to be, it was unlikely they could play golf better than I could. I did realize I was a good golfer by now. Gil kept pounding it into my head that I was head and shoulders above other boys my age. “You’ve spent hours and hours learning and practicing. Morning to dark many days. Others your age have just played a few rounds for fun. You’ll be beating me regularly soon because you work at it, and I basically only play you once or twice a week. You don’t really understand how good you are, and how much you’re still improving.”
Mr. Thomas was waiting for my answer. “Uh, I just haven’t. You sure you want me? The other boys would want me to join?”
“Adam, I really do want you. You’ll help us, not only by winning matches, but maybe even doing a little coaching. I’m no golfer. I took the job because it pays an extra $500 a year, and a teacher can use that. But what I’d heard is, you’re exceptional. So why not give it a try? If you don’t like it, you don’t have to stay. But I’ve talked to your advisor, and she says you want to go to college. If you want to get on a collegiate golf team, you’ll help your chances immensely if you play on a high-school team. Especially if you compile some wins and good scores.”
Okay, that sold me. So, I agreed. I joined the golf team.
There were seven players on the team; they’d had eight, but one had quit because they never won, and he couldn’t abide losing every week. I got to know them all pretty well. They were a mix of high-school boys, some friendly, some introverted, none of them great golfers. The best was a boy named Todd who shot in the low 80s generally, and occasionally would turn in a 78 or 79. They played their home matches on one of the town’s municipal courses.
I got to like Todd quite a bit, more than any of the others. He was the best golfer of them but not a bit cocky about that. Our first practice round, we broke into two foursomes. Todd was in the group I was in. The other two were good friends and spent the time with each other, ignoring us for the most part.
Todd asked me about myself, and as usual, I didn’t say any more than I had to. I did tell him I’d been spending time at Antilles, where I’d learned the game.
“Oh, you must be rich then. I’ve never been there, but heard it costs a king’s ransom just to breathe the air there.” Then he laughed. Maybe he’d heard the pride in my voice when I’d said Antilles.
“I’m the opposite of rich. No, I’ve worked there. Employees get to go out onto the course if it isn’t busy, and most of the time during the week it’s completely open. No, if I had to pay to get in, I’d never have been there.”
“Mr. Thomas told me you’re really good. What do you shoot?”
I scratched my head. Did I want to answer? Maybe a little dodging the issue would be best. One thing I truly hated was someone who bragged about himself, and I’d do most anything not to get accused of that. So I said, “I’ve never played this course, so have no idea what I’ll shoot. Let’s see how it goes.”
He bought that, and we teed up.
He was a decent player. We played 9 holes, which was all the time we had after school, and he shot a 42. That would be an 84 if he did the same on the back nine. It was a respectable score for a high-school sophomore, which was what he was.
I shot ten strokes better. Hey, it was an easy course, much easier than Antilles. The fairways were wide; there was little rough and few trees, none of which came into play; few sand traps; large, mostly flat and friendly greens, and it was short. I had the impression the course was set up so that weekend golfers could play the course without hang-ups for lost balls and high scores slowing everything down. I’d only played at Antilles before this, and this was so, so much easier. I was learning to play at a tournament-level course. The difference was shocking to me.
Todd was looking at me in awe after I birdied the first hole, and that expression never really faded the whole round. I felt I should be backing off, missing some shots, but I had too much pride for that. I knew how to hit the ball well, and that’s what I was going to do, not practice hitting poor shots.
After the round, all four of us had Cokes. The other two in our foursome had a 50 and a 48. Not very good. They all wanted to know how I played so well, and I hated talking about myself. But I had to be friendly. I knew if I didn’t talk about myself but instead told them about some of the things that went on at Antilles, some of the funny things I’d seen, some of the awesome ones, they’d forget about me pretty quickly. That’s what I did, and it worked. But I was holding the floor with three other guys, and I was amazed at myself for being able to do so.
I played on the team throughout my junior year and into my senior one. From the time I joined I was the number-one player on our team, always matched up with the best player on the opponent’s team. It isn’t bragging to report how I did. Just like with my A grades. They were an accomplishment I could be proud of. If I went around telling kids I got all A’s and was better than they were, that would have been bragging and, for me, unconscionable. I never bragged about anything I did in golf, but when asked, I did tell the truth. The truth was, I never lost a match playing high-school golf. I played a few fine golfers my age and a lot of mediocre ones. I doubt any of them had had the coaching I’d had.
Our team coach, who was an administrator and not really a coach, told me that college coaches would know what I’d accomplished. I hoped that was true. I really needed a scholarship. I wanted one from a very good school with an outstanding coach. I still had more work to do to achieve that goal.
The format for the State U-18 Championship was complicated. They wanted to give everyone a fair chance but also were very conscious of the fact that traditionally, golf was a sport that favored the rich. Rich kids had more opportunities to have taken up the game than poor kids. The people running the tourney wanted as level a playing field as possible, so didn’t want the format to favor one group, i.e., the rich kids, over another.
The way they’d have liked to run the championship would be to take all applicants to a neutral site, a golf course none had played before, and have all the matches played there over several days. But that would involve lots of travel and the expenses that would incur, and while the rich golfers could probably afford that, the poor ones couldn’t, and the state budget couldn’t accommodate that cost, either.
So the early matches, played to see who would be in the final pairings, had to be held close to where the applicants lived, and for many, this meant playing on courses they knew. In large population centers, many players competing against each other would have met before. There was no way to get around this. Fairness counted but could be taken only so far.
The finals would be at a course none of the finalists had played before, and that would involve travel, lodging and food costs, but those could be subsidized as was necessary as only a handful of players would be involved.
The top-ranked golfers, determined by the high-school, golf-team matches we’d played, were given byes for the first few elimination events. I didn’t have to play for the first two matches of the tournament when play was held on the weekends. That brought the number of players down to fewer than 100. And my first match was now at hand.
This round would still be played on local courses throughout the state. It would be medal play for 18-hole matches. Lowest total number of strokes for 18 holes would win. We’d play in foursomes, but we were each playing against only one other member of the group. In other words, each foursome was comprised of two individual matches.
We were playing at a local course that I’d played several times in my school’s golf team’s matches. As with most muni courses, it wasn’t very demanding. My first match would be against a guy I hadn’t played before. I checked his rating, and he was in the lower half of our group.
I guess he’d checked me out, too, because when we shook hands, he looked a little scared, which I thought peculiar. Win or lose, there was nothing scary about this.
His name was Hooper, and I could quickly see that they’d been right to rate him where they had. He was nervous and wouldn’t have much chance to win since this was total stroke play. I birdied the first hole. He got a double bogey. I was three strokes up on him after only one hole.
Usually there isn’t much conversation between opponents on the course, especially if you don’t know each other. Extra especially if the match is important. Hooper’s nervousness, however, led to him having a case of verbal diarrhea. He started talking to me on the second tee and never really stopped. He began asking me for advice, completely forgetting I was trying to beat him. But I felt for him. He was over his head through no fault of his own. I did give him some hints. He seemed to promptly forget them.
I won the match by twenty strokes and was done until the next day.
I played a tougher opponent then and, thankfully, a less chatty one. I only won by seven strokes and was ready to move on.
I played through to the finals and wasn’t really challenged, not even in my semi match. The final round was supposed to follow the semis and be played the next day, but the weather changed. The final had been set for the Sunday following the Saturday semi matches, but the rain bumped it back to a week later. The final two had now been identified, however. It was going to be a guy named Gray Stimson and me for the state Under-18 title.
I’d read about him. He was a young phenom, the next Tiger according to the papers and interviews. The press was looking for the next Tiger, had been since his decline, and now they had one in sight. Gray liked the limelight, liked the interviews and write-ups. He was in the papers a lot because he was young, very good-looking, and for another reason as well.
He was rich, he’d been pampered all his life, and he was a stuck-up snob. The papers loved hinting at that without saying it. His interviewers managed to bring out statements from him that were unfortunate, although he himself seemed to regret nothing. I guess if you grow up in a mansion that probably uses money as wallpaper because there’s so much of the stuff floating around and everyone takes turns kissing your ass—maybe it’s natural to think you’re God’s gift to the world and deserve all the fame and fortune and bowing and scraping that comes your way. Maybe. Since I’d never been in that position and didn’t ever want to be, I’d never know.
Because of the week’s delay before the final match, we all went home. We’d played the semi at an upstate course none of us had played on before. Gray and I both won; he shot a better score than I did. I came in one under par; he was three under. That was okay with me. All the notice went to him, and I was able to walk away without answering a single question, just the way I liked it.
I spent the week at home, mostly with Gil. He was trying to build up my spirits, my confidence and my competitiveness. He kept telling me that I wasn’t playing Gray: I was playing the course, and I was darn good at doing that. “Don’t let Gray or his attitude get to you. Just play the course. Ignore the opponent.” It was like a litany.
The days passed, and I couldn’t help but get nervous. Nothing but a slightly enhanced ego and another trophy for his shelf would be Gray’s reward. For me, it would be that scholarship I’d been shooting for since I was ten. All the work I’d put in? It would pay off tomorrow, or it wouldn’t. My future depended on tomorrow. No pressure, right?
Yeah, I was getting nervous.
I needed a good night’s sleep before the final match of the tournament the next day. But how to fall asleep. I remembered Gil asking me if I was nervous. Maybe, I’d said. It wasn’t maybe now, lying in bed thinking about it. Yes, I was nervous. And I remembered how that had gone:
Gil had been sitting back in his swivel chair, a can of Bud Light in his hand. I was on the stool at the counter, drinking Diet Dr Pepper. I remembered thinking how should have given the guy who invented the stuff a Nobel Prize or Pulitzer or whatever. He was a genius.
“Not really. Excited, sure. Maybe a little nervous.”
“You’re going against Gray Stimson.” He grinned at me. I think that was supposed to both relax me and psych me up.
“Yeah.” I’d yawned, showing him his mind games weren’t working. “He’s sort of an asshole from what I’ve heard.”
Gil sat up a little straighter and set his can on his desk. “Worse than that. But he’s a hell of a golfer. Had great teachers, though it was teachers and not teacher. He had many because none of them would work with him for long. Even as a kid, he thought he was above everyone he associated with and made sure they knew it. So they never stayed long, no matter what his old man would pay them.
“I never was one of those guys, but I know many of them. None of them had anything good to say about him.”
“You think I can beat him? I mean, really. Honestly.”
“Adam, I have more confidence in you than you do. There’s no question in my mind you can beat him. You’re better than he is. He’s a showboat and hasn’t played anyone of your caliber, not ever. The match will be close. That won’t bother you. You and I have played 100 matches that were close. You know how to concentrate, focus on what you need to do. And whatever you need to do, you know how to do it and have practiced it. In a close match, the pressure will be much more on him than you. You have more riding on winning than he does. However, for him, he’ll lose face if he loses, and that’ll up the pressure on him. Who knows how he’ll handle that? I think it might cripple him. He’s never had much struggle in his life and you’ve had almost nothing but. We’ll see. I’m not worried about him. Not you, either. Play your game and you’ll win.”
Gil was behind me. Always had been, and I was sure he always would be, win or lose.
Gray and I avoided each other before the match began. When I was on the practice green, he was hitting balls on the driving range. When I walked over there, he left for the practice green. I smiled, wondering if this was his attempt to psych me out. Fat chance. As Gil said, I was prepared to attack the course, not Gray.
He was as good-looking as all the pictures I’d seen, but there was something in his eyes, possibly contempt, that made his beauty look cold and uninviting. I was glad of that. I didn’t want to play 18 holes with him while getting a crush. One look at him and there wasn’t going to be a problem in that regard at all.
We met on the first tee. I stuck out my hand for the customary shake. He looked at it and turned his back on me. Okay. Let the games begin. No problem. I just hoped the cameras had caught it. Being a sulky snob might be part of his image, but it certainly wouldn’t elevate it. Anyway, I had to force him out of my mind, so started working on that.
A coin flip decided that he would have the honors, that is, would tee off first. His drive was right down the middle, probably a good 280 yards. Beautiful shot. I rarely drove over 250. Gil was always telling me I’d get longer as I got taller, and not to sweat it. I was plenty long enough off the tee to score well, and I’d proven that over and over again.
I drive down the middle, too. Well short of his shot. He throws me a look of disdain, and we walk down the fairway but not together.
The match was on.
We were playing match play. Throughout the tourney so far, it had all been medal play. Now we were in a different format. Odd they’d changed the format for the finals, I thought, but they had. Now we were playing a hole at a time. I could get a 12 on the first hole and he a three, but all he would have won was a single hole, and we still had 17 left to play. The person who at the end had won more holes would be the winner, regardless of the number of strokes he’d had. If we tied, we’d simply go back to hole number one and keep playing till one of us won a hole.
Gray birdied the first hole. I got a par. He snickered.
We were playing on a private course located in the state capital. We’d both played a practice round on it yesterday to get a feel for it. You learn a little playing one round but not a whole lot. The holes were cut in different places on all the greens this round than they had been the day before, negating a lot of the information we had about them.
Gray had helped himself in that regard: he’d hired a local caddy who knew the course, knew the greens. It was a kid, and he reminded me of me back when. He looked about 14 to me but could have been older. His name was Freddy. He’d shaken hands with me before the match began. Gray had scowled when he’d seen that, and it looked to me like he’d scolded Freddy afterward.
My caddy? Barb. She had come with me for moral support. She knew squat about golf but did know me. She’d recognize it if I went into a pout or a funk, and she’d kick my ass to get me out of it. I wasn’t planning on needing that. I wasn’t going to let anything cause me to lose my composure.
Gray won the first hole and retained the honors. He hit another good drive at the second, not quite as far, and it drifted slightly right. Still in the fairway but on the right side. The hole was a dogleg right, and his ball placement meant he couldn’t see the green from where he lay.
I hit a driver and keep the ball to the left. I am a long way from the green, but I have a straight shot to it. Gray doesn’t.
I’m away, so I hit first. I choose a four-wood. I hit it well and it bounces onto the green and rolls closer to the hole before stopping about 15 feet short. I’m looking at a possible birdie. All I need is good putt.
Gray had a decision to make. To reach the green, he’d have to hit a fairly pronounced slice. Or he could try hitting over the trees in front of him directly toward the green, but they are tall, dense trees. Or he could punch a short shot out to the middle of the fairway and leave himself a medium iron to the green, though then he’d be lying two in the fairway. I was on the green and putting for a birdie. Very tough decision.
He strolled up to the green to look at where my ball was. I was sure to par the hole and had a decent chance of holing my first putt. If he didn’t land on the green on this shot, or at least come close to it, he had little chance of tying me. He decided to go for the slice. He chose a four-iron and hit it hard, but he didn’t get much fade at all and I saw the ball end up in the trees on the other side of the fairway.
I have a 15 foot putt. I study the putt from both in front of and behind the ball and the side as well. I take my time over the ball, then hit it true and watch the ball roll and drop into the cup. I win the hole. He picks up his ball and walks to the next tee. The match is tied, and I have the honors on the tee.
That was a snapshot of how the day went. We seesawed back and forth, neither of us going more than two holes ahead, which of course meant no one went more than two holes down. Gray was definitely a good golfer. He was also definitely not a good person. He seemed to ignore all the advice his caddy tried to give him, and eventually Freddy just stopped. If Gray would ask him something, he’d reply, but other than that, it was like there was a curtain of ice between them.
Gray also tried to bother me. He’d do little things that would get in my craw if I’d let them. Like waiting till I was all set to tee off to wash his ball in the washer located next to each tee, making a noise when silence was the normal decorum. Or he’d drop his ball so it would roll into my vision as I was preparing to hit. Or, on the course, he’d move at inappropriate times. I ignored it all and thought how childish he was, and what would happen to him if he ever went farther with his game. Other players simply wouldn’t put up with it. The thought of guys breaking Paul Newman’s thumbs in The Hustler came to mind.
Barb and Freddy talked some when they had the chance. He seemed like a nice kid. I think Barb felt sorry for him having to deal with Gray all day. I wondered how much he was being paid, and if he’d been smart enough to get paid in advance. It would be just like Gray to stiff him and think how clever he was doing it. Freddy caddied to make money, just like I’d done at his age.
We came to the 17th hole with me one hole down. There was no need to keep track of strokes, but I was used to doing so, and I’d kept a scorecard. I was actually leading for the day, stroke-wise, 67 to 71. But I needed to win this hole, or at least tie it, and then win 18 to tie the match. 18 was rated as the hardest hole on the course, so it would be best if I could win this one. It was a par three, and so far, I’d won all of those. I putted better than Gray did, and I could hit medium irons better than he could, too. He was a better driver than I was, but this hole was only 180 yards long. Neither of us would use a driver on it.
I have honors even though he is a hole ahead. I select my three-iron. Long irons are harder to hit well than shorter ones, but 180 yards was just too long for my four iron. I need to hit it straight, which can be a problem with long irons. Still, I can do this. I just have to concentrate and do what I am capable of doing.
I figure this is a place where Gray will try one of his dirty tricks, and so I bait him. I get ready to tee off, take a couple of practice swings, take another look at the flag, then prepare to hit the shot. I wiggle my hips loosening up, take the club back slow and high, then start down—and I stop the downswing. And just as I do, Gray slaps his neck, and says, “Damn bee!” Loudly.
I look at him and say, “Gotcha! Wait till you see what I’m going to do on your drive!”
Then I set up again quickly and hit the ball before he can figure out another nasty distraction.
Even striking the ball quickly, I am fully focused. I hit the three-iron without opening the face, and I hit the ball well. It hits on the green, takes a good bounce, and trickles toward the hole, stopping about five feet away. An amazing shot!
“Great shot!” I turned to see who said that as I hadn’t recognized the voice. I was shocked to see it was Freddy! At that point I was really hoping that he had been paid before the match. Gray was staring at him with hatred in his eyes.
Gray chose a four-iron. He’s been doing that all day, choosing to use one club shorter than what I’d used. More psychology. I almost laughed. He was longer off the tee than I was with a driver, but we hit the other clubs about the same distance. He was compensating by having to hit a lot harder than I was just to prove something I didn’t care about at all. As a result, he was losing on both touch and accuracy. This time, his ball barely made the green and stopped short on the soft apron. I had an almost sure birdie. He’d have to struggle for a par. He was letting his ego beat him!
He decided to putt rather than chip from the apron and left himself a good 12 feet from the hole. He was still away, and dropped his 12 footer, the longest putt he’d made all day.
I’m up. I need to sink my birdie putt to tie the match and send us to the last hole with everything on the line there. I don’t overthink the putt, but don’t underestimate it, either. I take my time, figure out my line, and stroke the ball into the middle of the cup. Tie game. One hole to play.
We walked to the 18th tee. He was ahead of me, making sure we didn’t walk together. That was the sort of mind game he’d been playing all day, showing he was better than I was. I was feeling pretty good. When we got to the tee, I was smiling, and when he saw that, he glowered.
Gray had been trying to get in my head all day. It was obvious that he felt himself to be two or three levels above me, socially and financially, perhaps even morally, physically and intellectually. I did wonder about his view with respect to golf. His attempts all day to both belittle and distract me told me he was desperate to get me rattled, and that made me think that his confidence in his ability to beat me was precarious, that his disdain for me and my game wasn’t really what he was making it out to be.
Now, at the last hole, he took things to extremes. He’d been sort of borderline during the rest of the match with unsportsmanlike and distinctly unfriendly behavior, but on 18 he went with full-out, no-stops, disgustingly bad behavior.
The 18th hole was the hardest one on the course, which was surprising when looking at it because it wasn’t a long hole, an only 350-yard par four dogleg. What made it difficult was a much narrower fairway than any of the other holes on the course, scattered trees on both sides of the fairway, a narrow creek guarding the left side all the way to the green, and only a small strip of rough to stop wayward tee shots from leaking into the trees on the right. The creek would do that job on the left. The dogleg didn’t bend till only 50 yards from the green, and with tall trees between the fairway and the green, a long drive was necessary to be able to have a clear shot for the green on the second shot.
The hole, in other words, if one were to par it, required a drive of at least 270 yards off the tee and hopefully farther, and so the use of a driver, and the narrow fairway with trouble on both sides was daring you to try it. If you hit the driver and weren’t straight and long, you would be in deep doo-doo. But if you hit a shorter club, you’d be forced to hit a second shot to where you could see the green, and you’d be lying two about where your opponent was lying one if he’d been successful with his driver.
It was paramount to hit the ball straight and land in the fairway off the tee on 18 and almost as important to hit it long. You most likely would have to punch the ball out onto the fairway from the trees on the right, then make an approach shot to the dogleg opening, so you’d be lying three still in the fairway, making a bogey or double bogey almost certain. If you went left, the creek would cost you a penalty stroke or worse depending on where it went in and whether you could find it. Hit it short but still in the fairway, and you’d most likely cost yourself a stroke against par.
Through the 17 holes we’d played, we were tied. We’d each won six holes outright and tied the other five. This hole would determine the championship and all that went with it. Gray was determined to win, and he didn’t care how he did it. He had a natural advantage over me on this hole seeing, as how he drove farther than I did and generally hit very straight. I too could hit straight, but I couldn’t match his length unless I swung harder than I liked to do, but hitting long could be critical on this hole.
I have the honors again after winning 17. I choose the driver, a sort of do or die proposition. If he can reach the green in two, I have to, also, if I want a chance to win. I wish he had the honors. It would make my club selection much easier.
I wish I could hit my 3-wood, which I can hit with much more accuracy than the driver, but I can’t hit it more than 220, 230 yards, and that won’t be enough. It has to be driver, and I have to hit it as long and straight as I possibly can. Over swinging it golf is an invitation to trouble, but like the tough decision he had earlier, now it’s my turn, and I do what has the best chance of working.
A good golfer must be able to hit all the clubs he carries in his bag. It was on me, totally my fault if I couldn’t do that.
This is no time for chickens, I tell myself. Now or never. It’s only my future riding on this shot.
I take a couple of practice swings, telling myself not to try to kill the ball. A smooth, controlled swing with a good follow through, and let the chips fall as they may. How many hours have I spent at a driving range, hitting this driver? Too many to calculate. I can do this. I’ll give this my best effort. If Gray is good enough to beat me, he deserves it, no matter how big an asshole he is, and how dirty he plays.
I address my ball, take my backswing and am starting down, accelerating the club, and Gray coughs. It’s a loud, sustained cough that staggers him. He’s placed himself in my peripheral view, and now I can see him moving around, hear him coughing, waving his arms, and then dropping to one knee.
It’s enough. I lose focus for a split second, but it’s enough. I’m in the downswing too far to stop. The club twists oh so slightly as my grip loosens for a millisecond, and while I re-grip it just in time, the club face is just slightly closed now. I hit the ball, but I pull it due to my altered grip. My ball hooks left. So I not only pull it, but pull it with hook spin as well. It isn’t a duck hook, thank goodness, and it still has good distance, but it has just enough top and sidespin so that, when it lands on the far left edge of the fairway, it has enough bounce to clear the creek and work its way into the trees.
“Nice shot!” Gray gloated, gave me an evil leer and turned his back on me. Freddy’s eyes opened wide. Shock, I think. No one played golf this way! I looked at the rules guy who was following us. He looked back at me, shook his head and seemed disappointed but didn’t say a word. I guessed he couldn’t prove the cough was intentional. What I thought was that the sarcastic comment Gray shot as the ball bounced into the tree belied that notion, but there was nothing I could do about it. Play on.
Gray put on a show of confidence, asking his caddy for the driver with an unconcerned voice—he’d been talking down to him all day—and an arrogant air, while he gave me me glances shorter than an eyeblink. His caddy was suggesting he use a 3-wood. That was the smart play: I was in trouble, and the 3-wood was the safe club to hit. Why should he take the risk a driver presented when I was where I was? Gray made a disparaging comment and grabbed his driver out of the bag himself.
It had been an interesting sight, watching Gray’s relationship with Freddy, who I thought was cute, but I often thought that about boys with intelligent eyes and enthusiastic natures. Gray had hired Freddy for the match because Freddy knew the course and knew its secrets. The problem was, Gray didn’t like being given instructions or even advice by a boy younger than he was. And he’d been making that clear all day. He was good enough to get away with this most of the time, but maybe not today. That’s what I was thinking.
Freddy hadn’t backed off even when it was clear his advice wasn’t wanted. It made me wonder: why hire the kid and then ignore him, but I never would understand people like Gray. I liked Freddy’s strength of character.
The best part of Gray’s game was driving. He was decent with his fairway irons, decent chipping, and below average putting. I was sort of the opposite, not being too clever with the driver but above average for my age in the other three disciplines, especially the putter. Gil had taught me well.
Gray took his stance, then a couple of practice swings, then hit his ball straight and smooth. He didn’t overhit this one like he’d done on a few of the holes he’d lost. He didn’t get the distance he sometimes had before but did put the ball close to the middle of the fairway. Whether he could see the green or not from the lie he had, we wouldn’t know till we’d walked out to look at our tee shots.
Gray walked triumphantly up the fairway to his ball. I walked up the left side rather dejectedly. It’s bad enough to lose honestly. To be cheated has an extra component to it when you lose. You feel like a chump.
I took a couple of practice swings with the two-iron, my spirits a little higher now seeing he’s shot himself in the foot by hitting his ball over the green. Some of my confidence has returned and a lot of my spirit, and I moved to address the ball. I needed 100% concentration now, a firm commitment to how I wanted to hit the ball. Yet my mind was having trouble focusing. Too many thoughts were running through it. I was still considering the hero shot, but why? Why take a chance with a potentially disastrous shot I no longer had to take? Why go for the green with the chances of a major screw up much higher than if I played it safe? Punch the ball out onto the fairway; accept that it’ll probably mean bogeys for both of us and the match will be a tie. That was the safe route. The smart one, too.
It was a tough decision, but I’d faced many of those before.
Did I trust myself? I’d spent so much time on my game. All the work I’d put in had helped me mature while it had also firmed up my game. That work had brought me to this point. But still, did I trust myself?
All those hours of practice I’d put in. If my only chances of attending college were getting decent grades and then a golf scholarship, then, way back when, that’s what I’d decided to do. I was already in love with golf shortly after I’d been on the Antilles course. I felt right from the beginning I had a chance of being pretty good at golf. A lot of colleges had golf teams and offered scholarships.
So I’d worked hard at both school and golf. I thought my chances of getting a scholarship through my golf game would be enhanced if I had good grades to go along with proven golf prowess; things had turned out like I’d expected while still young enough to not know all that much about anything. With hard work and some natural skill, I’d learned how to play golf to a degree that might well allow me to attain a scholarship. I knew that I was good, and that’s why I should be able to trust myself. It wasn’t arrogance. It was confidence and pride. And the answer was clear, and I needed to stop all this agonizing. Yes. I did trust my ability to make the right decision with a golf club in my hands.
I still had to decide whether to try the hero shot, try to reach the green with my second shot or to play it safe, but I knew before I had really decided anything for sure what I was going to do. I’d worked and worked at all facets of my game, and why do that if I was afraid to test my skills when it counted?
No, no real decision here. I was going to go for it. But before striking the ball, I would think it out. That was me. Impulsive, that was someone else. That was my opponent who’d just run his ball over the green. That was arrogance. That was carelessness. Me? Calm, rational, thoughtful, careful.
My thoughts about the shot were all straightforward and logical.
One. Keep the ball low. That was my first concern. Hit the branches above and it was all over. So, hit it low, and I’d do that by using a two-iron, a club with very little loft. I’d also move slightly forward in my stance. The further back the ball was toward my right foot in my stance, the less the club face would lift the ball on contact. So my club selection and stance should accomplish a low-flight trajectory.
Two. Bend it right, but not much. It’s so easy to hit a major-league slice that’ll curve more than 45-degrees to the right. I want about a fifth of that. A lot of things decide if you’re going to hit straight, hook to the left or slice to the right; there are lots of ways to make all those happen. I chose the easiest way to achieve the slice I wanted: I open the club face a smidge, meaning I twist the club grip in my hands so its face is pointing to the right instead of directly toward my target. That will provide spin on the ball that will make it curve right. The more open the face, the greater the spin. Choosing the right amount? That’s where those hours of practice came in. I opened the face just the amount I thought would be correct, which was only slightly open.
Three. Don’t hit for the green, but for a little short of it. Hitting from the fairway, you get backspin on the ball that’ll cause it to check up fast when it hits the green. You get this by hitting down into the ball and ground. All those divots you see the pros take in the fairways? That’s because they hit the ball into the ground to get the backspin they want so the ball will stop on the green. Hitting into the ground tears up the grass, hence the divots. A lot of backspin and the ball will actually hit the green, take a bounce and then roll back the way it came, sometimes a lot. I couldn’t get much backspin, only what was generated from the grooves in the club face, because the ball wasn’t lying on a hard surface. I had to play it like beginning golfers do: hitting the ball and only the ball, picking it up cleanly off the surface. I took a couple of practice swings standing well away from the ball, keeping my club face’s bottom edge just whispering across the pine straw.
Four. Hit it just the right distance. That isn’t easy. That’s where so much practice was needed. I hadn’t practiced with the two-iron all that much. Like most golfers, the one- and two-irons aren’t their favorite clubs, and neither is used very often, which gives one the excuse not to spend that much time with them. I didn’t even carry a one-iron with me, preferring a third wedge. The shafts on the low-loft irons aren’t as flexible, and it takes more strength to hit them well, and keeping the club face from opening or closing is harder than with the other irons.
Okay. I mentally prepared myself to do all four things that were needed to make the shot I wanted to hit. What were the odds I’d end up on the green? Realistically, probably between 45- and 55-percent. And I may have been inflating that number. But even if I hit it too short, I’d still have a chance to chip in. Go too long, and I’d be in the same boat my opponent was in, and I did not want to do that. Why give back the advantage I now had?
I decided if I shortened my backswing a bit, it would be easier to control the speed of the club, and so the distance I was trying to achieve. About 145 to 150 yards, I figured.
I stepped up to the ball and tried to clear my mind of all but those four things. I took a short backswing, not to hit the ball but just to see what it felt like, and my opponent yelled, “We don’t have all day.”
This was more of the bad sportsmanship he’d displayed all day. He gave me an evil grin and high-fived his caddy. Well, tried to. His caddy turned his back on him.
I took another short backswing, then stepped away from my ball and tried the swing I’d use when actually hitting, getting used to the feel of the shorter backswing.
I step up to the ball again, now ready to take the stroke. I concentrate fully on everything I have to do. Shut out all external stimuli. Then raise the club, and swing down through the ball.
I hit it as cleanly as I’ve ever hit a ball. Pick it up off the pine straw hardly disturbing that at all. Watch as it passes through the gap never touching the limbs and leaves above, staying a good ten feet below them. Watch as the ball never gets more than twenty-five feet off the ground. It stays straight at first, paralleling the creek below, then begins bending to the right. It comes down fifteen yards from the green, bounces, and I’m sure it will pull up short because the ground at that point begins rising to the green, which is also slanting downward, high in back to low in front. But after the bounce it continues moving forward, rolling now, slowing, but onto the green, now trickling, but not stopping. It keeps rolling till it finally stops about twelve feet from the pin.
I realized I’d been holding my breath. A deep breath solved that problem. I gave my club to Barb and began the hike out of the trees, across the creek—only a short hop—to the green. Barb had no problem crossing over to the fairway, either, and we walked together. Neither of us said a word. I was thinking, and she knew not to disturb me while I was focusing.
I was tamping down my feelings now. Jumping for joy, doing cartwheels—all that could wait just a few more minutes. I should be able to get down in two strokes now. Even making the putt and getting a birdie on the hole was a distinct possibility. What was most likely was a par—two more strokes—and my opponent would most likely get a bogie. But in golf, it’s not over till it’s over; all kinds of crazy things can happen and do. I could not lose my focus now!
He was away and off the green. His turn.
He studied the green, his lie, and spoke to his caddy. Then he shook his head and said something to the caddie which made Freddy actually take a step back away from Gray. Not only that; he still had Gray’s bag on his shoulder, and he now took it off, laid it on the ground and started walking away. He headed in a straight like for me, and I wondered, what the hell, then realized the clubhouse was most likely where he’s going, and I was standing directly between it and him.
Gray yelled at him, and I heard words that aren’t used even on a golf course, a place where often language is spoken that isn’t for the faint of heart. This was shocking, and was directed toward a caddy who probably wasn’t even 16 yet.
Freddy slowed but didn’t stop. It was obvious he’d heard what Gray had called him, but he wasn’t going to react.
He did, though. He reacted by glancing up at me as I was watching both him and Gray. I met Freddy’s eyes. He kept coming, then stopped next to me.
All I knew about him was his name and that he was a regular caddy at this club. Gray had hired him to carry his bag because the kid knew the course, knew the greens, and so his knowledge gave Gray a distinct advantage over me. Our one round before the match was nothing like the advice someone who knew the course could provide.
I had Barb as my caddy. She was a great friend, a great supporter, but she didn’t know much about golf. That wasn’t why she was on my bag. Her moral support was what I wanted, and she gave it without question.
Gray was away, and so it was his turn. He took his time, glancing at me while doing so. Maybe he was trying to make a tacit complaint about how much time I’d taken from in the woods, or maybe this was another misguided psych-out maneuver. I was glad he was doing it as it gave me time to further assess my own putt.
I was finding this green a little puzzling. I’ve seen some things that hadn’t made much sense. The green sloped from top to bottom, from up where Gray was down to the hole and then below that to where my ball was; that was apparent. My putt from below the hole would be uphill. Gray’s chip would land above the hole—if he read the green as I did—and roll down toward it; his problem would be not to hit his chip too hard and watch his ball roll all the way down and off the front of the green. Chipping onto downhill greens from a good distance from the hole was always a real test for any golfer.
Yet, while watching him prepare to chip, in the back of my mind, something was tweeting me a message.
You have to kick out distractions when playing golf. You have to make your decision on what you’re going to do, then not let anything deter you or you’ll make half-hearted swings. Not good. Not good at all. You must go with your convictions, and hope you read everything correctly.
Gray took practice swings with his sand wedge. I guessed he’d chosen that rather than a pitching wedge as it was likely the green would be pretty fast down to the hole, and he just wanted to get his ball onto the green and rolling. I’d have made the same decision.
As he was practicing his chip swing, Freddy, now standing next to me, whispered, “He’s going to leave it short.”
I turned to look at him, and he met my eyes briefly and grinned. “Watch,” he said.
Gray addressed his ball, kept his head down and used a short backswing. He flipped the ball up onto the green, probably just the distance he wanted, and then he grimaced. He was expecting the ball to roll close to the pin. He got a surprise; I did, too. His ball only rolled a few feet and stopped. He was still a good 30 feet from the hole and facing a tricky downhill put.
The little tweet I’ve been ignoring chirped louder. My ball had rolled closer to the pin than I’d expected. Gray’s shot from the fairway to the green had hit and kept rolling. Now his chip hadn’t rolled much at all.
Freddy, keeping his voice low, saw my confusion and said, “This green is almost dead flat. You think it’s tipped because of the land around it. That’s what’s slanted, and if you think it’s flat—everyone does; it’s an optical illusion—that’s what makes the green look tilted. The surrounding land is what’s on a slope.”
I shook my head, but I was starting to believe what my eyes had seen. “So,” I say, speaking as softly as he did, “my putt isn’t uphill at all?”
“Nope, and the green’s fast, the fastest one on the course, so if you hit it as you would an uphill putt from this distance, you’d go way past. Also, it’s hard to see, but there’s a subtle break to the right from where you lie. Everyone misses that putt to the right. You should aim a good inch to the left of the cup if you’re hitting it just hard enough to get it there. Which should be much softer than you think. Think flat and fast.”
I did think about this. Could I really not believe my eyes? First, though, Gray was still away and lying three. I wondered if he’d even get down in only two strokes from where he was lying. He probably would; that’ll give him a five, a bogey. All I’d need then would be a par.
He looked at Freddy, glared at him, actually, and Freddy walked out onto the green and pulled the pin for him. After the abuse that had been shouted at him all day, especially right were we were now, I thought that Freddy was being overly solicitous.
When Gray hit his putt, it was clear he still hasn’t figured out the green wasn’t downhill from where he was standing. He left his putt six feet short. Disgusted, he managed to make that, then scowled at me as he yanked the ball from the cup. He strode off the green, grabbed his bag, gave Freddy the finger—or maybe that was targeted at me—and stalked off, not even waiting to see what I managed to do. He was, I assumed, conceding the match.
Which wasn’t much of a concession as I would win with a two-putt finish, and how could I possibly miss two times from this distance?
Unless I screwed up big time, the match was mine. But I was still fascinated by the optical illusion this green presented. I walk to the side of it and plumb bobbed it with my putter. Freddy was absolutely right. It was dead flat. But, looking at it with the surrounding land in the background, I’d swear it was significantly tipped.
Well, if Freddy was right about that, he was probably right about the break I couldn’t read, too.
I address my ball, aim just to the left of the hole, and tap the ball much softer than I would on an uphill putt from this distance.
The echoey sound of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup is one of the best moments of my life. I’ve just birdied the hardest hole on the course after a nearly disastrous tee shot. And I’ve won the Under-18 State Championship and the scholarship that goes with it. I am going to college! Me! College! Incredible.
I walked back to the club house with Barb and Freddy both enthusing and my feet very likely not touching the ground. Freddy wanted to shake my hand, and I looked him in the eye and felt a warmth that’s unusual with someone I’ve only known a few hours and said, “Thanks! Part of this championship should go to you.”
He blushed and shook his head. “No, it was you, man. All you.”
“You got everything?”
Mrs. Stanton was looking at my one suitcase and shaking her head. The fact was, I still didn’t have much in the way of stuff. Never felt the need.
Russell looked like he was going to cry, which 14-year-olds never want to do. I’d miss him, too, and when I came ‘home’ for Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is where I’d come.
“Yeah, I guess this is it. College. When you’ve dreamed about something all your life, and then suddenly it’s come true and you’re on the way, well, to tell the truth, I’m a little scared.”
She grabbed me and gave me a hug. Russell wasn’t going to be left out of that and joined in. I think we all had tears in our eyes when I closed the door behind me.
Barb drove me to what was to be my new home away from home for the next four years. I’d met with the golf coach several weeks earlier and felt really good about him. He wasn’t Gil, but he came from the same school of thought about how best to teach the game. No sarcasm, no disparagement, just a lot of support and technical knowledge. The game was hard enough without getting knocked over the head with how bad you were every time you practiced. With my lack of self-esteem, I couldn’t work with someone who got his rocks off degrading his players. It would have torn me up. I was looking forward to playing for this coach. He said the same about working with me!
The college was very near the course where I’d played the U-18 championship round, in a suburb of the state’s capital. The enrollment was 22,000 students, not one of the country’s largest schools, but one of its prestigious ones. One everyone had heard of. With a golf team that was in the top five in the country year after year.
When I’d met with the coach, I’d asked him, just out of curiosity, if Gray Stimson would be on the team. He’d said the boy had applied, but as the coach, didn’t want a kid with his attitude on his team, so he’d told that to the head of admissions. He’d told the guy he didn’t want Gray’s behavior polluting his team. No, Gray would not be attending this school.
My parting with Gil was tough. I admit I teared up. I was shocked that he did, too. I had to promise to keep in touch and be back in the summer. I tried to tell him that every bit of success I had was due entirely to him, and he told me that was nonsense. We agreed to disagree. But I held him in a hug long enough that he was probably embarrassed. He told me this must be how a dad feels when sending his son off to college. That was what caused my tears.
A phase of my life was over, and I didn’t feel ready for that yet.
We pulled up in front of the dorm I’d been assigned to. It was a red-brick building with the walls partly covered with ivy. Wide lawns surrounded it. Looking around, I saw other campus buildings within easy walking distance. The area had a cloistered feel to it, like a private enclave just for the students and faculty.
I’d feel so out of place here if I hadn’t got used to such surroundings through my time at Antilles.
I’d shipped my golf clubs and paraphernalia to the coach as he’d requested, so all I had was one suitcase and a clothes carrier. I said goodbye to Barb there on the curb. We looked at each other for a long time. Parting was so hard!
My room was about as expected, nothing special, just a dorm room, but a little bigger than I’d thought it would be. Two twin beds, one large work area with two chairs, a small closet, two small dressers, an en-suite bathroom. Both beds were unmade with sheets and blankets in a folded pile on the ends. I didn’t know who my roommate would be but saw I was here first and so had my choice of beds. Not much reason to choose one over the other. I laid my suitcase on one of them, making it mine; there was a knock on the door and it opened.
“Freddy!” I couldn’t believe it.
He had a Cheshire-Cat grin on his face. He walked in carrying a suitcase of his own. “Hey, Roomie,” he said.
“Really? How did this happen, and how are you in college? What are you, 14?”
He laughed. “I know. I get teased all the time. But I just turned 18, just like you did.”
“You knew my birthday.”
“I know a lot about you.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that; why would he know much of anything about me? Still, what I was thinking was what I ended up saying: “This is an amazing coincidence. Hard to believe we’ll be rooming together.”
“No coincidence. I read in the paper you chose this school. I was already accepted here. Since my dad works here, kinda high up in the administration, I had an in. I asked to be assigned to be your roommate. He twisted some arms, and here we are!”
“Really. Wow! That’s great. But, Freddy, I need to tell you something. We can’t live together without my telling you. I’m gay. Not that it means you’re in danger or anything, but you do have the right to know. I was going to tell whoever my roomie was first thing.”
He never lost his grin. “I hoped you were. I am, too. Why’d you think I picked you for a roommate? I got a crush on you when I was caddying for Gray. I have some pretty good gaydar, and it was beeping at me as we went around that course together. I knew you found me attractive. I could see it in your eyes. I thought you were about the hottest thing I’d ever seen.”
I was grinning now, too. This was going to be a wonderful four years.