Today we are loosed on the Green course at Bay Tree, known locally as the Green Monster. It is long, narrow and rife with sand and water. Club pro Sam Timms tells me the Monster was the site of the PGA's qualifying school in the mid-'70s.
My daydream of someday testing my skill against the big boys lasts until the 13th hole, where I put my second shot in the water, take a drop, fire another ball into the drink, drop, dribble a seven-iron shot to the edge of the water, pitch on and three-putt for a routine sextuple-bogey 10. After my third 8 of the day, on the 17th hole, I am spent and beyond caring. On the 18th tee, I pull out my mother's Billy Club driver, a Callaway knockoff she bought for $39.95, and crank the ball 280 yards, winning my flight's long-drive competition. I dwell heavily on this during that night's phone conversation with my wife, failing to mention the day's other 118 strokes or the fact that there were 43 additional long-drive winners. I tell her that I would appreciate being addressed from now on by my new honorific: Dr. Long Ball.
Before playing a hole at the Azalea Sands Golf Club, Terry has an opinion about the place. "No driving range, no bar," he says. "Two strikes and you're out."
We return to a clubhouse abuzz with scandal: one of our own, Adrian (Les) Merton, who wears thick-framed spectacles and a 23 handicap, shot 75 today, this following his 82 on Monday. Some of the guys are beginning to suspect that Les might be playing off a bogus number.
I catch up with Merton that evening at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and broach the subject as delicately as possible: Some of the guys—not me, of course; I have no doubts as to your integrity, Les—have actually had the temerity to suggest that it is not within the realm of possibility for a 23 handicapper to shoot a 75. He tells me he's playing the golf of his life, and if people think he's sandbagging, "the hell with 'em." A month ago, he says, he bought some Taylor Made "Bubbles," and they have made all the difference. "It's been amazing," he says. "Absolutely amazing."
Most of the contestants gather at the convention center in the early evening to review the day's results, fill up on gratis food and drink, wander among the merchants' booths, ogle the Bud girls and search for some poor sap who'll listen while they talk about their round. It is a festive time...for most. Above the cheerful din, a series of names are called out over the P.A. system. These people are instructed to report to room 101, where klieg lights are trained on their faces and tournament officials ask pointed questions about their handicaps.
Actually, there are no klieg lights. But the rest is true. The tournament's Achilles heel is people who submit inflated handicaps—the moral insects who, in the words of executive director Bob LeComte, "are taking the gentlemanliness out of the game." Tournament officials fight sandbagging with every means at their disposal. Contestants must submit a current handicap index and a list of scores used in its calculation. While we are out gouging the earth each day, tournament director and chief 'cap cop Bill Golden and five gumshoes are working the phones, talking to pros at the clubs of players who turned in suspicious rounds the day before. And after every round, handicaps are adjusted up or down. (Merton, who arrived a 23, will be a 14 by Friday.)
While I am talking to Merton, we hear his name called over the P.A. system. He is instructed to report to room 101. "I'm just gonna tell them the same thing I told you," he says, miserably. After the interrogation, I seek out Golden, who says, "We went over his previous tournament scores, and he's all over the place. The 75 was an aberration—a dramatic aberration—but an aberration. He's clean."