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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Golfer's handbook is a stocky volume published annually in Edinburgh which possesses such typically British characteristics as ads on the front and back covers and a cramped small-print format that has all the aesthetic charm of a timetable. A sort of golf equivalent of Jane's Fighting Ships, it can tell you just about anything you might want to know—who won the North China Championship in 1927, who holds the amateur record for the Gstaad course, who was the youngest player ever to make a hole-in-one, and so on. One of the few aspects of the game the editors have somehow overlooked is a brief entry that might be entitled "Extracurricular Activities By Which Ranking American Pros Supplement Their Incomes," and I know just the man to contribute the paragraphs. He is a middle-aged chap, not an outstanding golfer himself, but when you talk of being close to golf—well, this fellow reminds you of the passage in that old Marx Brothers picture in which Groucho, dancing with the inveterate superstatuesque blonde who is urging him to hold her closer, closer, at length looks up at her and remarks, "If I move any closer, I'll be behind you."
A short time ago this sage was having lunch with a group of us who have never been as clear as we would like to be on just what are the services performed by name pros for which they are paid substantial fees by concerns that manufacture nongolfing products and wouldn't seem to require the services of a golfer any more acutely than the Metropolitan Museum. In explanation, our friend pointed out that a name pro, because of the influence he carries with ordinary mortals, is worth every cent he is paid as a retainer by, let us say, the distillers of Old Suspenders bourbon, if he regularly declares each and every time he is offered a drink at a country-club bar, "Thanks. I'll have some Old Suspenders with a little branch water. What else?" Our friend then progressed to what he termed "a classic business liaison." It is a much more complicated arrangement and perhaps it can be best presented and savored if we begin at the beginning with a workable cast of characters.
MR. GOLF AND FRIEND
Say, then, that our pro in hand is Harland Greaves, a big convivial fellow out of Sioux Falls whom the press has christened "The Gunner" because he smashes his drives tremendous distances—"partridge high," as The Gunner likes to describe their low trajectory. After five years of campaigning on the circuit, The Gunner wins a major tournament and shortly afterward one of his many admirers, Orrin S. Magrail, the president of an Akron chemicals company, signs him up as a special consultant. Mr. Magrail has no nickname but his publicity men refer to him as "Mr. Golf," thus making him one of the 157 people in America who are claimants to that title.
One day in September, Magrail telephones the Sioux Falls course where The Gunner is convalescing between tournaments by helping his assistant. Magrail asks him if he can be in Chicago over the coming weekend.
The time is now Friday evening; the place, Magrail's suite in a Chicago hotel where The Gunner has just finished giving him a lesson on how to play a shot from an unpreferred lie. Magrail pours himself a tumbler of Old Suspenders and brings The Gunner up to date on the events which prompted their reunion. Magrail, it seems, has been having his troubles with George Bisch, the vice president of a big Chicago packing oufit and the man who handles all purchasing, chemicals included. George Bisch is a hard man to see, let alone sell. On the previous Tuesday (just before he had phoned Sioux Falls), Orrin Magrail had attempted unsuccessfully to set up an appointment with Bisch for the latter part of the week. No go. Bisch had declared himself too busy and expected to be too busy the next week too. On arriving in Chicago that morning, Friday, Magrail had phoned Bisch again and had again been told no dice. Knowing Bisch, like most top-notch executives, to be an enthusiastic, hero-worshipping golfer, Magrail had then played his ace. "Look, George," he had said casually, "I'm in town with my old friend Gunner Greaves. I was wondering if we couldn't get together over the weekend for a spot of golf. I know the pro at Waterview, and we might have a little foursome match, The Gun and you against the pro and me. How about it?" The expected had happened. The prospect of playing a round with a famous pro had been more than George Bisch could resist. He had phoned Magrail back in five minutes to announce in a new, roseate tone that he had been able to reshuffle his schedule, thanks for the invitation, the game was on, he hadn't been playing at all lately and not to expect too much from him, thanks again.
The scene shifts now to the Water-view course. It is Saturday afternoon and the select foursome is peregrinating happily from hole to hole. Not a word of business defiles the outing. The Gunner is smashing his drives partridge high, the home pro is clipping off a neat run of pars, Magrail is yakking about Snead's secret, and Bisch, concentrate as he will, cannot buy a par for love or money. When ever Bisch makes one of his rare mediocre shots, Gunner Greaves carefully calls across the fairway, "Nice hit, partner," or "That'll put the pressure a on them, pard." Additionally, he diplomatically corrects Bisch's stance and drops little chunks of advice, such as the opinion that Bisch would be more accurate on the greens if he eliminated that Afro-Cuban dance step he habitually tosses in just before his clubhead strikes the ball.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
The team of Greaves and Bisch finishes the first nine in 34 which, oddly enough, is the exact score The Gunner has carded on his own ball. Greaves waits patiently for his opportunity to improve their relationship and on the 12th it finally comes. This is a short par 4, about 350 yards, and The Gunner's drive has left him with a 60-yard flip to the pin. As he walks to his ball, he notices that George Bisch's half-topped three-iron approach has glanced off a hummock and rolled 15 feet from the cup. Instantly Greaves realizes that this is what the bullfight crowd calls "the moment of truth." He drills his half-wedge over the green on the fly and into a trap. He recovers unimpressively and is down in two putts for a 5. Bisch, summoning all his skill, holes out in two shaky putts for his 4. "Thanks, partner," Greaves says to him with a sigh of relief. "That's coming through in the clutch."
The rest of the round is inconsequential. Greaves' final score is 69. That evening, after buying a mess of chemicals, Bisch arrives home and his wife asks him how he has played. "We won, 3 and 2," he carols. "Gunner Greaves and I teamed up for a 68. We dovetailed just perfectly. Orrin Magrail is the best chemicals man in the business but, you know, he's no golfer."