This story is very difficult for me to write—physically and emotionally. It is physically difficult because my arm is broken, and emotionally so because of the natural reluctance of a proud man to deliver himself up to the derision of strangers.
At the outset, allow me to give you a small glimpse of myself: I have been playing golf for some 21 years, ever since my junior year at college, at which I did not make the golf team. I am 42 years old—height 5 feet 7—and I weigh 187 pounds stripped, except for my shoes. (There's a piece of hard rubber on our bathroom scale that sticks up and militates against weighing oneself without shoes.) I am married to Alice, who is a fine wife, a devoted mother and a woman who hits a golf ball 150 yards down the middle of the fairway—all the time.
I work as a sales representative of a sporting goods firm specializing in rifles, rubber tents and portable toilets. Consequently, I travel to wide-open spaces—and golf courses.
The immediate cause of my aforementioned difficulties goes back many Saturdays. It was winter, and the cold winds had wreaked sufficient havoc with my thinning hair and hairless body to convince me that golf was out of the question. Years ago I would have been out there with the rest of the boys practicing my snow putting. But times change. Instead of playing, I watched the All-Star Golf matches on television. I sipped brandy and thought-played many of the pros—they were playing medal with each other but match with me. Alice always goes to her flower-arranging class on Saturday, so that the den was just made for playing a mind match with some of the boys. One Saturday I took Middlecoff 4 and 3; on another, Billy Casper 3 and 2. Poor Dow Finsterwald didn't stand a chance—7 and 6. Then I made the big decision. As long as no one else seemed to be able to beat him, I decided that I would take on old Sam Snead.
I prepared for the match most of the afternoon and thought seriously of how I would play him. I thought of how I would truly be able to beat him if, by courtesy of some lovely genie who treats middle-aged men to happy afternoons, I could put together in one round the best strokes I'd ever made. Did I really make, let us say, 68 good strokes in all of 21 years? I started thinking about it. Sure I did! Of course I did! Let's start with the drives. Did I make 18 good drives in my lifetime? Well, there was that summer at Pinehurst. The summer I holed out from a bunker 25 yards from the pin. What a moment! I must have had a few good drives that summer. A couple that would make Sam's natural straw hat turn green. No, nothing at Pinehurst except that sporty-looking 250-yard slice that landed in a succulent. Hold the phone, Harry! How could I ever forget that 250-yard straight one that I hit at Cypress Point the winter Alice was pregnant with Mark? Wait'll I unload that one on Sam. And, for crying out loud, what about that 240-yard wallop at Pebble Beach? Oh, Sam, Sucker Sam, you're on!
And the match started that afternoon in my den. I had all the good shots I had ever made, a bottle of brandy and a determined set to what Alice affectionately calls my weak chin.
The first hole was a 475-yard dogleg to the right. The cut was at about 235 yards. There was no point in fooling with Sam. It would be only fair to let him know exactly what he had to deal with. So I decided to use my Cypress Point drive. "Your honor," Sam said. I thought I detected a small sneer on his face. (I hope I detected a small sneer on his face.) "Thank you, Sammy boy," I said, and I gave him a friendly clout on the back as I approached the first tee. I looked well, too. I had on my tapered slacks and my 1939 waistline. White shoes I wore, and no hat, because I was wearing my 1936 hair, full and curly. "Dumpy little hole, ain't it, Sam?" I asked, and I hated myself for talking down to him.
Anyway, I gave him the Cypress Point drive and he hit something that went out to about five yards beyond me. (I must confess that as soon as I hit my shot I said, "Damn!" real loud and shook my head in disgust.) Then I gave him the Delray Beach three-wood that I hit last summer the afternoon I played with that old nothing from Winchester. It went right smack on the green three feet from the hole. Sam said, "Nice shot, Buddy," and parked one about 15 feet from the hole. He missed his putt and ended with a par. I called on any number of three-footers I've sunk and was 1 up.
The second hole was a 545-yard par-5. I was wishing I hadn't used my Cypress Point drive when suddenly I realized that I had been a hero one day at White Sulphur Springs off the third tee. White Sulphur Springs! That was a laugh. I'd really rub Sam's nose in it. I'd beat him with his own golf course. Off it went, 245 yards and straight. Cut the fairway, it did. So did Sam's. I used my Dorado two-wood and it went another 200 yards. Sam went 220. I whipped out my Pebble Beach eight-iron. (God, what a day that was. Alice and I weren't married then, and she thought that I was just a brute of a man—no touch, no delicacy. I laughed a little that day and chucked her under the chin. "Baby, I know you think all I can do is bend steel bars, but don't forget"—and I held her to me—"I can also press lace." And I winked and knocked an eight-iron stiff to the pin.) So I gave him the Pebble Beach, and I was 2 up. On the third hole, a par-3, I unleashed that Saddle River shot that nobody ever saw because I had a golf cart and it was 7:30 in the morning. Over the water, onto the green and 10 feet from the pin. Sam birdied it, too, and I was still 2 up.
We halved the fourth, fifth and sixth, mainly because I was saving my big guns for the turn. The seventh, however, was another par-3. I remembered, then, the time I broke up with Alice while we were engaged because her mother thought that a boy should have more to look forward to in life than selling tents and toilets. I spent two weeks with the boys. The boys weren't boys any more. They were all married, and I remembered how I begged them to have a fling with carefree old Harry. We played golf for two weeks. Not the same fellows every day. I was the only one who didn't have anything better to do. But it was a lot of golf. During those two weeks I hit one golf shot that was the best one I ever hit, next to the Pinehurst shot which I holed out. It was on a par-3 to an elevated green, and I hit the green so well that everybody started screaming that I got me an ace. But it wasn't an ace—maybe just five feet from the pin. I curved Sam with that one, sank my putt and picked up a stroke.