"I thought they had an 8:30 shotgun start," I said.
"Not today," he said ominously. "But soon."
FRIDAY: The tournament format, which I am lifting directly from the mailing, is "four-ball [better-ball] match play [54 holes]." That means that if you are in one of the five other twosomes in our flight—there are 12 flights in all—you get to brag afterward, "Murph the younger was getting a stroke a hole, and we still kicked their butts."
Our opponents are all perfectly nice, actually. Competing against Rex and me tends to put people in a good mood. On the par-4 10th hole, for instance, one of our opponents, Ken Styles, merrily recounts how, a couple of years ago, he put his second shot on this hole in the middle of the pond, where it caromed off a turtle to within four feet of the pin. He made the putt. Ken is 83, and this account of an amphibian-assisted birdie is not the last of his remarkable claims. "Married 59 years," he says later in the round, "and still putting beans in the jar."
SATURDAY: Rex is shaving naked and bantering with the hungover twenty-somethings whose carousing kept us up last night. My father's pathological congeniality—he often startles strangers (tollbooth attendants, for instance) with effusive greetings—is as embedded in his character as, paradoxically, his volcanic temper. He can no more curb his bonhomie than he can control his need to tailgate and to spew Rexisms, the name my seven siblings and I assigned to his distinctive figures of speech. An incompetent can "screw up a two-car funeral"; taking a pratfall is going "ass over tea kettle"; "dry skin" is his defense whenever we bust him for picking his nose.
When, having dressed, he suggests we head over to Seven Oaks early to hit the breakfast buffet, I correctly sense an imminent Rexism. "I'm so hungry," he says, "I could eat the ass off a goat."
Maybe it wasn't the greatest idea to take a lesson two days before the tournament. Every time I address the ball, I've got an in-box full of swing thoughts—Flatten out swing plane...load right side...think inside out—and nary a clue to where the ball is going. On the 507-yard 12th hole, for instance, I lie 4 and am still 400 yards from the green. I am club-throwing mad. I am also out of line. When you play six times a year, you waive your right to complain about sucking.
The weekend will yield no golf-related revelations, other than this: All revenues expended by me on clubs and lessons might as well have been flushed down the toilet. The weekend is slightly more illuminating in regard to my relationship with my father, who is uncharacteristically patient and compassionate as I drag us to the depths of the standings. My failure to play well, to please the old man, leads me to self-pity. From there it is a short trip to resentment. He was, after all, the one who put me in this position.
Instead of telling me to grow up and stop sulking, Rex drapes an arm around me after my calamitous Laurel and Hardy (10) on the 12th. "Who the hell cares how either of us is playing," he says. "We've got some time together; let's enjoy it."
The instant I realize he means it is the instant I start having a better time. His paternal pride in me is unconditional. He doesn't care how I play. He just wants to hang with me and introduce me to some of his college pals, whom I meet at tonight's sit-down dinner and who charm me with such comments as the following.