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"I'm going to say goodby now," he told me. "I won't watch you tee off and by the time you finish. I'll be gone. No matter what happens today, it's been an enjoyable experience."
I took my clubs and went down to the range to hit a last bucket of balls. Sid Bernstein came down, tried a few, and then we both went up the hill to putt a little. It was on the putting green that I suddenly realized I was nervous. I had managed to turn the round I was about to play into a combination Ali-Frazier, Super Bowl and World Series. " Walter Bingham now on the 1st tee. Fore, please. Stand back, photographers. Please, no autographs until after Mr. Bingham has hit."
I felt better on the tee, hidden from the clubhouse by the hill. As I took my driver from Harris, I looked around to see if Mac Hunter wasn't somewhere nearby. He wasn't.
Stu and Sid hit and then it was my turn. I set up—left arm straight, right knee cocked, the complete checklist. I swung, felt solid contact and had an instant of satisfaction until I saw the ball hooking violently toward a fence at the left edge of the fairway. Out of bounds. Great start. Stu and Sid insisted I hit a mulligan. This one sliced through the avenue of trees on the right. Now I was faced with a choice between hitting an immense four-wood over the trees and past the barranca or chipping back on the fairway short of the barranca. Before I could really consider the wood, Harris was putting a seven-iron in my hands. I knocked the ball through the trees about 20 yards short of the barranca and 180 short of the green.
Now came the four-wood. As it turned out, it was the highlight of my round. The ball took off straight toward the pin with not the slightest trace of a hook or slice. I lost sight of it—my distance vision is poor—but there were shouts of "nice shot" from Stu and Sid, and Jimmy gave me a grin. "A perfect shot, sir." he said.
So I was on the green, I thought, and who knows how close to the pin. Just might get that birdie. I really felt good. The four-wood was a direct product of the week's work and I expected to hit quite a few shots like it during the day.
It was, therefore, a blow to find my ball not on the green but over it. Not barely over it, but 50 feet over it. Bye, bye birdie. Harris hauled out the wedge. Here was the shot I had practiced most. Open stance, weight left, no wrists. I swung, or guess I swung, and it was terrible—wrists, look up, the whole deal. The ball was on the green, but 40 feet from the pin. And with that hideous shot the nerves came back like crazy. As I took my putter, I noticed two golf carts charging up the fairway behind us. One of the occupants had on a bright pink sweater. It was Dino. Also in the group was Buddy Hackett and a fellow named John Miles, an advertising man who happens to hold the current course record—the real record, not a moncado—at 64. Swell. Now they were all sitting in their carts 20 yards away watching me putt.
I couldn't get the putter back. It just wouldn't go. When it finally did, I hit the ball about 15 feet, less than halfway. I looked up in time to see a curious expression on Sid's face, as if he thought maybe I had been taking a practice stroke and had tapped the ball by mistake. I apologized for the shot, admitted to both men that I was nervous and quickly hit the next putt two feet from the hole. Before I could butcher that one, Stu knocked it away. A neat little 7.
That is pretty much the way it went. Not until the back nine did my nerves subside. Dino and friends were right there the whole round. On par-3 holes, where there was always a jam-up, they would be on the tee with us. I slashed my way to a 55 on the front nine, three strokes better than the previous Sunday, but with no pars at all.
I rallied somewhat on the back nine but my most disappointing shot of all came at the final hole. I needed a par 4 for a 43 and a 98. I had paired the hole the Sunday before, so it was not as if I was hoping for a miracle this time, even though it is a tough hole. I hit a respectable drive, then a good four-wood off a severe sidehill lie, so that I was perhaps 20 yards off the green. Wedge time. I was completely relaxed, Dino was way back down the fairway. There was no way I could fail to knock the wedge right up to the hole.