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IT WAS OUR third night out of Southampton on the Queen Mary 2, and I was enjoying a moonlit stroll on the promenade. I cut an impressive figure, if I may say so, in my tuxedo and polished slippers. Passing couples gave me a backward glance on their way to the Royal Court Theater to watch a Broadway-bound revival of Titanic. ¶ "Excuse me," I asked a white-uniformed steward. "Could I have a light?" I lowered my head to the proffered flame, took a puff or two on my cigarette—just enough to get it going—and then leaned casually against the rail. "Thanks," I said, trying not to cough. ¶ I don't smoke, you see. But I've learned, in the years since my first visit by a golf ghost, that certain specters need coaxing to appear, and sometimes a period marker like smoking or a steamer trunk will draw them out. On this occasion I was fishing for the ghost of the long-forgotten English golf star, Abe Mitchell, a man who in his time was hailed as "the most accomplished British golfer never to win the Open." Mitchell was Samuel Ryder's personal golf coach, and it is Mitchell's figure that stands atop the Ryder Cup.
MY CIGARETTE had burned halfway down when the moon ducked behind a cloud and the ship's horn issued a deep, prolonged blast. Looking over my shoulder, I caught a glimpse of a man in a woolen jacket and plus fours disappearing down a metal stairway. I crossed the promenade, stopping only to bury my smoke in a sand saucer, and followed him down the stairs. After 13 visitations I know the drill.
The handrail was cold and wet, and I turned onto a deck shrouded in fog. The mystery man was waiting for me, his hands clasped in front of him like a funeral usher.
"Mr. Mitchell, I presume?" I flashed my meeting-the-ghost smile.
"Why would you presume that?" The fellow looked annoyed, and his Ohio accent made me wonder if I had stupidly mistaken a 21st century cruise passenger for a 20th century linksman. But before I could stammer an apology, another tweed-clad wraith stepped out of the fog and gave my hand a vigorous shake.
"George Duncan," he said in a Scottish accent, "1920 Open title holder and captain in 1921 for Great Britain. And this"—he nodded toward the glowering Yank—"is Emmet French, captain of the American side." The first ghost immediately flashed a grin and poked me in the ribs to let me know he had been yanking my chain.
Duncan grabbed my arm. "Come along," he said, "the others will be waiting."
The others? I was bewildered, but I let myself be dragged through a door, along a steel corridor and through another door into a wood-paneled lounge. The bartender looked up as we came in—he was shaking a cocktail—but Duncan and French steered me into the first of several clusters of archaically dressed men engaged in noisy banter. Two dozen or so were standing within reach of a table laden with crackers, sardines and raw oysters, and half as many more sat in leather club chairs, blowing cigar smoke at the pressed-tin ceiling.
"Josh Taylor," Duncan said, leading me up a makeshift receiving line. "Tom Kerrigan—you remember, he helped found the American PGA?—and this is Charlie Hoffner.... The great Ted Ray, he won your National Open in 1920 ... and I imagine you've met the immortal Harry Vardon." Duncan's wry emphasis of immortal caused the six-time British Open champ to blush.
"James Braid," chimed in French, clapping the shoulder of a seated gentleman. "And this is...."