"The ball was in there, and I didn't have another one—the caddies being down the fairway and all—so I decided the only thing I could do was to rip the ball washer apart. So I got up close to the thing, my back to the others, y'see, to shield them from what I was going to do. They were all standing on the tee waiting for the O.K. from the caddies to drive over that blind hill. I could feel them watching. I got that plunger and, with a good grip on it, I gave a terrific upjerk on it to see if I could pull it right out of the container. I'm a big guy, as you can see, and I used to play varsity ball at Maryland. Man, did I put my back into it—a little knee bend and then up. Nothing the first time. Just a big clonk sound. So I tried again, man, like pulling a damn oak out of the ground—Mister Mighty Effort—and there was this great clonk sound and the top came off the container and the water went up in a geyser. Boy!" he exclaimed, remembering it.
"Well, I looked down into the container and between those brushes was my ball, sure enough, and I reached in and removed it. Those bristles are steel. Got a good painful hand wash going in, and not a bad one coming out!"
"What was the reaction?" I asked.
"Well, I've got to tell you, I averted my eyes, as they say, when I turned around—I mean, I didn't challenge the three of them to make any comment. No one said anything. We were all so incommunicative anyway. But they must have thought something. At the very least, seeing all that commotion, someone must have laughed to himself if he knew what the trouble was; or if he thought I was busying myself with the machine he would have remarked to himself, 'Boy! that guy sure likes to get his golf balls clean—Mister Meticulous.' But we were a forlorn group. We kept everything to ourselves."
San Francisco has always been one of my favorite towns, but I saw little of it during my own golfing tour. My round in the pro-am there had been dismaying, and though I stayed over for the four additional days of the Lucky International tournament, most of that time I spent just endlessly poling out practice shots at a driving range that was set on the edge of a vast bowl. It was an interesting place that had a spectacular view south to one of the city's hills, with its rising layers of white stucco houses, like an Italian hill town. The bowl must have been nearly a quarter of a mile across, fashioned from a deep cuplike gully, and any ball scratched off the driving range would roll a couple of hundred yards down its slopes. The arrangement was satisfying to one's ego, perched as the place was where one could enjoy the same esthetic pleasure of abandon one would feel driving a golf ball off the stern of an ocean liner, or off a high cliff into the treetops of a forest far below.
The place had a restaurant with a jukebox, and music was piped out along the length of the range so that the sad Bob Dylan ballads of the time became the background for golfing activity.
I would arrive in the morning and stay through the afternoon. Over a small lunch I got to know the manager of the range—a middle-aged man who chewed tobacco and said he had been in the driving-range business for nearly 20 years, ever since the end of the war. He got around a golf course with a score in the mid-70s, he told me; a sign in the restaurant reported he was the range professional and was available for lessons at $6 a half hour. But he preferred driving ranges; he felt they were the most interesting phenomenon in golf. "What happens on a golf course is predictable," he said. "People behave in a certain way. They're conditioned. But not on these ranges."
Just then the door to the luncheonette squeaked open and shut and one of the players from the range came in. I had noticed him down the line from me—grunting each time he punched stiffly at the ball. His style was a beginner's, for sure, his legs spread too far apart, the toes out and his stroke a quick scoop.
The manager looked up. "You ready for that lesson yet?"
"Lesson?" The man shook his head and swore. "Look at these hands." He held them out. They were raw and blistered.