said the man hitting balls from the mat behind mine, "but I know what's
causing your problem."
Swell, I thought, another 14 handicapper who thinks he's Britain's answer to
David Leadbetter. But when I turned to brush him off, I did a double take. The
stranger was a short, handsome man of about 40 wearing navy blue knickers, a
bow tie and a buttoned-up wool jacket. He gripped a hickory-shafted spoon,
squeezing and then relaxing his hands in an exaggerated manner.
"It's my contention," he said, "that we have too many fingers on
the right hand. To encourage a free swing, I like to tuck away one or two to
keep them out of mischief." He raked a ball into position, assumed a wide
stance and then lifted his right pinkie off the club. "Like so." He
abruptly twisted away from the ball, his left heel coming well off the ground,
and then hurled the club forward with a violent, slinging stroke, his head
tilting so far back that his chin pointed at the target. The ball, meanwhile,
rocketed downrange with a penetrating trajectory and a tight draw.
He lowered his
club and smiled at me. " Harold Hilton," he said, "two-time Open
champion, three-time Amateur champion, and winner of the 1911 U.S. Amateur at
I closed my eyes
and rubbed my forehead.
We had afternoon
tea in the shade of an umbrella behind the tee line. While we talked, Hilton
cast fond glances at the children swinging adult-sized clubs on the mats. The
Formby Golf Centre was only a few miles from Hoylake, where he had learned the
game on the Royal Liverpool links. "Most of the leading British players of
the guttie era," he said, "were brought up within a stone's throw of
one of our famous seaside courses."
"Is that why
you're, uh, haunting me?" I asked. "Because Hoylake is hosting the Open
"I am not
haunting you." He frowned over his cup of tea. "It's more of a courtesy
call. I used to be a wordsmith, like you. I edited golf magazines. I wrote
I raised my hands
in a conciliatory gesture. "Point taken," I said. "But so far I
haven't met a golf ghost who didn't have an agenda. The last one was plugging
his son's book."
"Well, all my
books are out of print." He sipped from his cup. "I do have something
I'd like to get off my...."
I started to
laugh, but caught myself. "Go on," I said.
He gave me a sharp
look and shifted in his seat. "It's this Mickelson fellow," Hilton
said. "As I understand it, he led your Open championship by a stroke with
one hole to play. And then, due to ill fortune and some inattentiveness on his
part, he finished with a 6--a 6!--allowing that Australian chap Geoff Ogilvy to