The trip was organized by my aforementioned pal, Jack Harden, a former golf pro who deals real estate in San Antonio. After hounding me with tales of Bally-bunion and Irish caddies and Guinness stout and how far right you have to aim a sand wedge shot in a 50-mile-an-hour, right-to-left wind, he finally talked me into going, which led to another first. Jack was talking to an Irish travel agent, and she said, "This Brandel Chamblee you're traveling with, that wouldn't happen to be the Brandel Chamblee who's leading the Masters, now would it?" Why? Jack wondered. "Well," she said, "I need to know if you want to travel as a celebrity or as a regular person." Jack had no idea what that meant. "What the hell," he told her, "we'll travel as celebrities." I'm a celebrity? Get serious.
Jack's wife, Nancy, is also a pretty fair golfer, and she thought the trip sounded like too much fun to let us boys go by ourselves. She was in. That convinced my wife, Karen, who's pretty and fair but not a golfer, to tag along, too. This gave Jack an excuse to upgrade our entire itinerary. The taxi he had hired to drive us around grew into a 12-passenger Mercedes limousine, which, of course, I would be paying for.
Jack and Nancy flew to Ireland a day before we did. We arrived at the hotel in Shannon in time for breakfast They had taken the honeymoon suite, which had full-length mirrors on the walls. Ordinarily that would have prompted a risqu� joke or two, but I knew Jack too well. "You worked on your back-swing all night, didn't you?" I said. He laughed, but Nancy nodded. "All morning, too," she said.
After a fine Irish breakfast, which is usually good for about 2,000 calories with all the fresh bread and butter and bacon, our limo took us to Killarney, in southwestern Ireland, where we checked into the Killarney Park Hotel. Jack had booked Karen and me into the presidential suite. It was the best set of rooms I've ever seen. It had a library, a sitting room, a fireplace, a living room and lovely beamed ceilings-magnificent. I didn't want to leave the suite. Plus, I was dead tired. Jack, however, had made a noon tee time, so I tucked Karen in and put on my Irish golf uniform: a T-shirt, a turtleneck, a sweater vest, a sweater and a rain jacket.
At the Killarney Park course, I was greeted as if I were a head of state. The club secretary, the captain, the pro and the pro's son were lined up waiting for us. I felt like Tiger Woods. "Did I win two majors last year and forget about it?" I asked Jack. They were the nicest people, they love golf, and they know all the players from the States—even me. All they wanted me to do was go into the golf shop and pick out any cashmere sweater I wanted, any shirt, any hat, anything, and wear it. So I took off all the stuff I had just put on and picked out new stuff. I looked like the Killarney Park mascot.
The greeting took 30 minutes and included a pint of Guinness. Jack, Nancy and I were to play with the pro's son, Keith Coveney, who was a hell of a player. I was jet-lagged, falling asleep, a little buzzed and wearing enough clothes to fetch the morning paper in Nome. We didn't warm up, not even a single ball, and I suddenly realized, Hey, I could top this shot or even whiff it. I was more nervous than I ever am on the 1st tee of a Tour event. So I left the driver in the bag and used my Zoom, a driving iron that's easy to hit.
We had a great day, but in Ireland the day doesn't really start until you finish your golf. We went straight to the pub after we putted out. The secretary and the manager were there, and I swear they were smoking three cigarettes apiece. I sat down with the club captain, who was gobbling handfuls of peanuts and telling stories at the same time. Every time he spoke, he peppered me with peanuts. He didn't seem to notice, since he'd had 10 pints if he'd had one. I would just smile and nod and wipe off the peanut bits.
It seemed as if the captain intended to introduce me to every member of the club. At one point he pulled me over to meet someone and said, "Brandel, you have to meet this fellow. This fellow is..." I thought he was going to say, This fellow is the best player in the club, or, This fellow owns Killarney, or something like that. Instead he says, "This fellow is...an absolute a———." If I'd been eating peanuts, I would've peppered them both.
When we finally got back to the hotel, we cleaned up and then I met Jack in the bar. He was smoking a Cuban cigar, nursing a whiskey and generally looking pleased. We'd had a match, before which I spotted Jack six holes, and he had beaten me 4 and 3. In our game the loser had to buy dinner, so naturally Jack ordered the best wine, double dessert and cigars. It was a $400 dinner, and afterward, beyond exhausted, I went upstairs and passed out in our magnificent room.
The next day we drove for nearly three hours, winding through the Ring of Kerry to the Waterville Golf Club. I assure you, the roads we took weaved like the Harlem Globetrotters, which didn't make me feel any better. We had stayed up too late, and I was still jet-lagged. At Waterville we met the club captain, and again he insisted we pick out something in the shop. "You know," Jack told me, "I'm getting to like traveling with you." We were supposed to play with the pro, Liam Higgins, who is a legend in these parts. He's a terrific player but is known to show up for a 7 a.m. tee time on his way home from a night out. There was no sign of him when we got there, so I asked a lady in the shop if she might have any knowledge of his whereabouts. "We don't know where he is," she said in a resigned sort of way. "We haven't seen him for two days." Only later did I learn that I had been speaking with Mrs. Liam Higgins.