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The Con Was On
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April 24, 1995
In a new novel, legends Walter Hagen and Titanic Thompson square off in a match in which everything is a little shady
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April 24, 1995

The Con Was On

In a new novel, legends Walter Hagen and Titanic Thompson square off in a match in which everything is a little shady

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"I bet a guy."

"That doesn't help me, Titanic. What was the bet, for crying out loud?"

"Some loudmouth. World traveler, he was. Said he'd seen you at St. George's, at Deal and at Muirfield. You know, the British Open. Said you were long, as in l-o-n-g. The old starched collar tells me to go get Jim Barnes, Arthur Havers and Mac Smith. Says I could stretch their drives back-to-back-to-back, and even then I'd never be close to Sir Walter. I mean, he's telling me this like he's a professor or something. Now, you can guess where this is going, boys. The son of a gun says I'll never outhit you in a million years. Shoot. Walter, I couldn't resist. Had to make the bet. Darned if I didn't bet the bastard I could do it twice in one day. I bagged one at 7 and could have tied the ribbon on it at 12, you know, when you knocked it on there with a mid-mashie." He lifted his champagne flute and took a long sip. "Hell, fellas, I just waited until 17 for some drama."

"You mean you weren't even trying to win?" I asked, interrupting him. "You were 2 down at 17. You could have pulled it out, especially with Haig in the sand."

"Son, I had 500 bucks bet with your buddy Walter here. I had $5,000 bet with Mr. Great Britain over there. And look around this room, kid," he said, craning his neck. "I bet these folks that your friend's first shot would be a hook." His eyes were darting everywhere, searching for new pigeons like a newly licensed hunter out to bag the limit the first day of the season. "I bet he'd smell of Scotch when he showed up. Bet he'd talk to a dame before he hit a shot. Oh, he had me a little worried when he addressed that thing, but when he backed off...kid, when he backed off, I knew it was my day. I mean, I even bet Mr. British Open over there that Haig would birdie number 7. I gave your pal the damn putt, for Pete's sake. But trust me, kid, it was for a good cause. I got over $10,000 in here." He gently patted the right front pocket of his plus fours.

Haig looked at Titanic, then he leaned over and whispered in my car, "Isn't this guy beautiful, junior?"

Hagen steered me out of the lodge and back toward the limousine. Spec was there, ready to roll. We wound through Del Monte Forest, back into the fog. When we emerged, the sunlight was blinding. Spec pulled up to the back door of the clubhouse as if no time had passed.

Hagen was out of the car as soon as it stopped. I rushed after him, chasing him back inside. By the time I reached the bar, he was already back to work, the unaffected expression on his face a clever cover for our covert mission.

"That little jaunt, junior," he cautioned me, "was on the quiet. So mum's the word. I don't know what Jones would think of me and Titanic putting on that show out back."

Haig drifted again to the stories about Jones and their match in Florida. When he talked, there was not a hint of worry in his voice; there were no second thoughts, no compunctions about our visit with Titanic Thompson. Haig was free and easy, floating on air.

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