"How many flats?" the old man asks. "Well, I don't know."
The old man is more definite about the classic travel tale starring Laffoon—definite, he says, because he and Hamilton were in the trailing car. "We're going along, and I say, 'Look out,' 'cause there's sparks under his car like maybe the tailpipe's draggin', and we're afraid it's going to catch fire or blow up. I catch up and get him stopped, and Ky holds up this putter he's been draggin' out the window. He says, 'See this putter? It's too heavy, and I'm takin' some weight off it."
The son, in a later telling, has Laffoon saying, "I'm just grinding down a wedge." That's the version he remembers from his childhood in the '50s, when his father cut back his golf and worked as a club pro. The stories enthralled the youngster, who had his father's given name and was known in the family as "our Masters baby." (When the old man came back from the war in 1945, his wife said it was time to have a child. "When I win a big tournament," he joked. The boy was born on Feb. 1, 1947—barely nine months after the '46 Masters.) He loved the way his father yelled "Boom!" when he was telling about the right rear axle that broke on his '34 Plymouth during a drive back from Canada.
But now, as the Cadillac slides out of the mountains into a broad farm valley, he finds himself mentally editing the old man's stories—putting the right club in someone's hands, correcting the year, rescuing the critical detail.
The stories mean a lot to him.
Around noon, the Cadillac plunges into the East River Mountain tunnel, coming out in Virginia. Wytheville gets the nod for lunch, and the two men pick a Bob Evans Restaurant just off the highway. The old man orders turkey with mashed potatoes and then holds his left wrist while clenching and unclenching his fist. Asked if he hurt something, he says, "No, I just exercise it. I've got a little arthritis." Smiling, he adds, "I don't know why. I'm only 82."
The cap he's wearing—black, with THE TRADITION printed on the crown—also requires some explanation. The Tradition, a Senior tour event held the week before the Masters, in Scottsdale, Ariz., has its own champions' dinner, to which winners of all the majors are invited. Even the old man's fear of flying can't keep him away from that dinner, which, he notes with enthusiasm, pays $3,000—twice what the Masters pays. "I'm going to wear this hat all week," he chortles. "That's a great tournament."
The Masters may not be on his hat or in his heart, but it's certainly on the old man's mind. As they eat, the two men replay the final hole in '46, which the old man figured he had to par to avoid a playoff, although a bogey did it.
"Hogan was charging, and you could hear the applause behind you," the son says.
The old man nods. His playing partner that day was Nelson, who was the perfect sportsman and an ally. An excited crowd climbed the hill behind them, while club members with money on Hogan waited at the green, distressed. He describes his shot from the fairway, how it hit the flag and "ricocheted right about 12 or 15 feet."