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.
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.
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.
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.
Braid," chimed in French, clapping the shoulder of a seated gentleman.
"And this is...."