They sat in a circle on the lawn of the old and comfortably elegant Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst, N.C., 12 business and professional men on their annual golfing holiday. All were members of the White Beeches Golf and Country Club of Haworth, N.J. They were pleasantly dog-tired after 18 holes on one of the five courses that fan out from the clubhouse of the Pinehurst Country Club. All had slept fitfully on the rocky train ride from New York the night before, although one of their number, Dr. Edward N. Bookrajian of Tenafly, N.J., had prescribed sleeping pills all around.
They were silent, drinking in the beauty of the starlit night and the soft breeze that now and again sent a leaf fluttering down from the aged trees. It was one of those moments that is savored best when a man is weary from a day well spent.
There was a celebrity in the group, but he was not being treated as a celebrity here. Perhaps that was why his homely handsome face was creased by a faint smile of contentment. For here, on the lawn in Pinehurst, he was with friends and neighbors and golfing pals. He was Larry, one of the gang, and only incidentally Yogi Berra, the new manager of the New York Yankees.
He needed this respite, this company. That is not to say that he had not taken pleasure and pride in the way things had gone a few days before when he faced the largest press conference in Yankee history. He had been frankly apprehensive about this occasion, but once he had mounted the podium (he stood on a box to clear the cluster of microphones) he had responded good-naturedly to the cries or the cameramen, fielding the questions of the reporters with poise and grace and enough uncalculated Berraisms to brighten the uniformly enthusiastic press notices that followed. Takeaway Harvard, and President Kennedy himself could not have done much better. Moreover, like the President, Yogi made repeated use of a press conference word that he obviously intends to favor on such occasions. President Kennedy's word, as the whole country knows, is "judgment." Yogi's new word is "actually," a stylish preface to almost any reply—a word, in fact, that would take a man the length and breadth of England without the necessity of uttering so much as another syllable. "Actually," said Yogi at his first press conference, "it wasn't much of a cut." He was referring to his salary, which, it is reliably reported, will be $35,000 next season, a $10,000 drop from his 1963 salary as player-coach and $20,000 less than the top figure he received at the peak of his playing career.
Yogi broke the silence of the circle on the lawn.
"Eight years," he said. "Eight years I've been coming down here. This place gets better all the time. And my golf gets worse."
"Larry," said John Mahmarian of Oradell, N.J., a six-handicap golfer (Berra's handicap is 13), "you're not getting the distance on your drives that you used to get. You used to hit a very long ball."
Yogi nodded. "I'm not getting the distance."
"You know what you're doing? You're turning your head on your backswing. You're swinging that club like it was a baseball bat."
"I'm hooking and I'm slicing," said Yogi. "I'm in the woods all the time. I'm liable to get bit by a snake."