The trouble begins for me before I even swing a club. Forget the fact that my heart is beating like a synthesizer. After all, this is golf with Mike Mills! Bending down, I snap two tees as I attempt to set my ball into the firm earth. But Mills is a courteous host, congratulating me after decent shots and consoling me after poor ones. His own golf game mirrors his proficiency on the bass: rarely flashy, but most effective.
On this day, however, Mills isn't quite himself. Poised at the 4th tee, Eubanks raises his arms and motions to an undulating stand of trees. "Do you hear that?" he asks. "They're calling our names." Indeed they are: All three of us slice our tee shots dead into the thickest part of the woods.
We complete the round with similarly uninspired play. (I am compelled, though, to mention Mills's first shot on the dogleg 8th—a beautiful fade that lands fairway-perfect.) As we head toward the clubhouse, Patrick Murphy-Racey, a photographer who is shooting our outing for this magazine, takes a few pictures. When he finishes and begins repacking his equipment, Mills leans down to lend assistance.
"Can you believe that?" Murphy-Racey whispers to me. "I've been doing this for years, and nobody has ever offered to help me before."
Soon afterward I am reminded of a Mills quote that appeared in Details magazine last February: "I know [golf] has a certain amount of baggage because it's played by rich people with terrible taste in trousers who are racist snobs, and I'm sorry about that."
Golf Illustrated ran the quote in its April issue, launching a spate of angry letters. However, as I watch Berry's clubs disappear into the trunk of Mills's car, hot Georgia sunshine banking off the rear windshield, it occurs to me that the golfing community would be hard-pressed to find a better ambassador for its game than Mills.
Our scores? I'd like to reveal those numbers, honestly, but the three of us swore a blood oath to carry the particulars of the scorecard to our graves. I can, however, divulge that Eubanks and Mills finished ahead of me.
Our threesome retreats to the 19th hole. There Mills and I watch the Braves come from behind to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in 12 innings. A perfect day. In fact, when I tell Mills that this has been positively the best day of a truly forgettable year, he puts his arm around my shoulder and insists things will get better.
They will, I say, if we can do this every weekend.
Now, though, I long for serious REM action in my hotel room. Drifting off, I marvel that the fellas could have had my golf game in mind when deciding the order of the songs on their latest CD, Automatic for the People. It opens with the optimistic long-hitter's anthem, Drive, and ends with a song that describes what my Titleist attempted to do for most of the afternoon: Find the River.