What set him apart from his fellow competitors wasn’t athletic skill or eagle-like focus or anything else you’d consider to be normal requirements for a winning golfer, definitely not classic swing-form for sure. No sir, none of that. The truth was, really, he didn’t even look like he could compete let alone win.
"When it’s my turn," he’d say, "I stick the peg in the ground and hit the little round thing settin’ on top of it. I pick a stick I can get the ball in the air with and hit the dinged thing as hard as I can, get to the green... Yeah, right, the one with the same number flag that’s on my scorecard, next, figure out where the hole is and roll it over to it. That’s all, it’s my game plan."
It worked for him, but it wasn’t actually a real strategy. It was kind of like a forced march; if you had a game with him, you were forced to march with him.
"It helps," he told me, on both occasions I was dumb enough to bet with him, "to have skin as thick as a Florida gator’s. You know, let the other guy sneeze on your back-swing and such like that, just make sure you take your putter out’ta’ his butt when he peels off the green he gives ya."
As I said, he portrayed a guy absolutely not recognizable as a winning money player. When he suggested ‘a little wager’ to make it interesting, most guys were happy to accommodate... the first time. The second time was a different matter, try revenge.
His slacks were about three and a half inches short, his stomach drooped over his belt, if he wore one, and he carried his clubs in front of him so’s he could drum on his bag while he walked, whistled, and watched you watching him. His shoes were military style boon-dockers.
He didn’t wear a glove so he’d spit on his knobby crusted hands and rub them together before he smacked the ball. That’s it, the extent of his pre-shot routine, he didn’t waggle or take practice swings.
It’s no lie, I’ve seen club professionals break out in tears when this guy finished with‘em after eighteen of the most screwed up, terrifying holes they’d ever had the misfortune to play.
His drive would more often than not find a dry creek bed, his two iron would ricochet off of trees, carts, cart-paths and the minister’s wife’s boobs and end up fifteen feet from the pin and he’d sink that snake with the handle of his putter for a ‘rooteen’ bird.
"Ain’t that sumpin,’" he’d say. "What kind of damn game is this?"
Then he’d count the bills you were peelin’ off out loud... "Ten, twennee,’ thutee,’ fotee,’ fittee,’ keep ‘em comin,’ friend, sevenee’ fa’hive,’ and eightee.’ I shore appreciate you gettin’ fresh green ones brother, my family don’t use credit cards no more. Hey listen, you got any other friends as benevolent as you?"
Then he’d take his cracked, leather and canvas, bag of mismatched-steel irons and scratched-up persimmon woods, wipe ‘em off with a grungy, stiff, dirty, old dishtowel and shove ‘em into the trunk of his muffler-deficient, seventy-eight, yellow Lincoln convertible with the rotted canvas top that flapped in the wind from the places it was tore away from its frame.
You wouldn’t see him again until the next Saturday when he’d be right there on the first tee of the community golf course askin’ threesomes if they "... need a fourth?"
After the first two times I played against him– about sixty bucks a game, I always made sure I was with a foursome. But he was there every Saturday from when I first saw him until I left that part of the country to go east. That was nine years, every Saturday except for when it rained too hard and that wasn’t often in the Mojave desert in Southern California.
I never once saw him take money out of his wallet to give to anyone. There were times I saw when the wallet was so thick he had to put the bills in his front pants pocket.
Every so often he’d look over at me watchin’ him and he’d wink like we were old friends. Hell, I don’t even recall his name unless you count, "That Son of a Bitch," which almost everybody said as they walked away after a friendly game with him. And to which he’d always reply, "What kind of damn game is this?" then he’d chuckle, not so’s they could hear too loud.
His game was a ‘Fa’hive-Dollah-Nasty,’ his term for a five- dollar Nasua. He favored automatic presses, which meant you doubled up anytime you got two holes down... You could lose a bundle, or in his case, make a pretty good living.
It was just a rumor, but I heard he played different courses for every day of the week, seven days a week. If that was true and he played like when I saw him those nine years, the guy was probably a multi-millionaire.
He’d just be an interesting memory for a game that can make a grown man act like a blubbering idiot, but for the post-script I saw with my own eyes.
Just before I moved east, I had to visit a niece of mine who was stricken with some kind of cancer I couldn’t even pronounce. She was only seven years old at the time and her prognosis was not encouraging. She was in a ward with a number of other kids at the local Community Hospital when I saw her.
I was struck with the looks I received from each one of the kids as I passed their beds. With their shaved heads or bandaged limbs, even their traction bars holding arms or legs in order to heal them properly, they all had hopeful smiles for me and my niece. Like they were thanking me, can you believe it, for taking time out of my day to visit her.
Right before I started to leave, there was a loud voice from just outside in the shiny floored, antiseptic-smelling corridor and I vaguely recognized it.
"Dog-gone, I swear it’s awful quiet in there. I better go in and see what them kids are up to, ya’ know, ya’ gotta watch ‘em careful-like or they’ll get themselves inta’ all kind of sneaky trouble," he said gruffly.
There was a grunt of agitation at lifting something and this guy backed in the room tugging a dolly stacked with bags and boxes of all sizes and shapes. His trousers were too short for him and his long sleeve shirt was too big and kept on him, it looked to me, with large frayed, purple suspenders. When he turned around I knew him right away, even with the big fake red- rubber nose... it was that "Son of a Bitch" from the golf course.
"Shoot," he said, "I’m so tired of pullin’ this thing I’m just gonna unload it right here!"
And with that he began to give all the stuff he’d brought with him to all those kids. They each got something they wanted, along with a warning that they better not tell the nurses or doctors, "‘cause this was loot they’d surely want for themselves."
When he got to my niece’s bed... well, she got a drawing-set with a short-stand easel and all kinds of colors and pens and things I didn’t recognize, so she could sketch and color without having to get up.
What I got was a quick wink I had seen a few times before. It told me just how much all those guys on the golf course would never know about how... and why, they were conned.
Somehow the question "What Kind of Damned Game is This?" took on a clarity of meaning I’d find easy to explain to anyone caring to ask.