His voice, friendly and young, floated over his quiet, dark Jacksonville street. Hi, I'm Dewey. His hand was like a baseball glove. At the PGA Tour stop in Flint, Mich., 25 years ago, Dewey Arnette made eight straight birdies. More recently he has helped Darren Clarke with his chipping and Padraig Harrington with his bunker play. He teaches golf and, along the way, some other things. He's a legend, at least on certain practice tees. His rate starts at $300 an hour, and his dance card is full. There are people who talk about him every day who have never laid eyes on him. As it was 4:10 in the morning, I couldn't exactly see him either. Dewey was about to start his 208-mile drive to work. I was along for the ride.
We were in front of his beautiful brick home, dating to 1932, in the San Marco section of Jacksonville. He works at a place called the Windsor Club in Vero Beach. He was wearing Chuck Taylors, flannel pants held up by a drawstring and a long-sleeved cotton T-shirt. O.K., yes: his pajamas.
We stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts drive-through near his house, and Dewey ordered a medium coffee in a large cup with four creams and seven Splendas. He stops there every morning, six days a week, seven months a year, always between 4:15 and 4:20 in the morning. It's been part of his routine, and part of his 416-mile daily commute, for 12 years now. The short version is that he and his wife, Patti, like their lives in Jacksonville. That is, the schools their three children (now all twentysomethings) attended, their church, their house, their friends, the proximity of their families. On the other side of the ledger, and more than halfway to Miami, is Dewey's gig at Windsor, a job he could not possibly duplicate. Hence, the insanely long commute. He has clocked a million I-95 miles. Literally. He steers with his left knee.
He doesn't seem to mind the drive, the sound track for which is the folkie Christian singer Keith Green, the same nine CDs, day after day. But he did tell me early on the drive south that if he won Lotto he'd quit his job, teach only his friends and play even more Ping-Pong. (He plays an hour a day as it is.) At Easter, when they are freshly hatched, he buys Brach's Original Jelly Bird Eggs by the barrel but eats only the black, green and yellow ones. He's the most childlike 53-year-old grandfather you'll ever meet. I mean that as high praise.
The first hint of light came south of Daytona Beach, and we arrived at "the cave," his name for the one-bedroom first-floor condo he keeps in Vero Beach, at 7:35 a.m. It looked as if the brothers from Animal House had been camping in it since 1978. He took a quick bath and put on his golf duds. In the refrigerator were jars of Kraft mayonnaise and Jiffy peanut butter, Oscar Meyer bologna, various drinks. Dewey asked, "Have you had Tahitian Treat?" It's a carbonated fruit-punch soda, heinously unnatural. "It's very good." There was only one emblem of golf in the cave, an old Bulls Eye putter.
The teaching pro, all cleaned up, put on his golf shoes—he had cut off the annoying top third of the tongues—and autopiloted his way to Windsor, where he had various students on his docket, me among them.
The polo field at Windsor doubles as the driving range and is spectacular in its simplicity. The whole development is, really. I usually find these gated real estate communities, ghettos for the rich, appallingly sterile, but Windsor somehow is not. It's charming. I was surprised to learn that Dewey is Windsor's director of golf. Forty people report to him.
The first thing he did was go through my golf bag, inspecting all 14 clubs. He asked why I didn't have a headcover on my driver and why I was wearing running shoes and not wearing a golf glove. As he talked and taught, he paced all around, backing far away from me at times and practically yelling. Ten minutes into our session, he drew an outline of a book in the perfect Dodger Blue sky and said, "In the book of Michael's golf, I see a golfer who doesn't use a headcover or wear golf shoes because he knows they don't do anything, which I happen to agree with, and I see somebody who has a need to do things in a way that does not conform to convention." I felt exposed.
He had me hit some nine-irons and six-irons and drives. He asked me to comment on the quality of my strikes. On some of them I said, "Pretty solid but pull-hooky."
My teacher said, "What you think is pretty solid, I think is thin." I was floored. To me, the thin shot screams its arrival right up your arms, but Dewey saw something else. Robbie Burns, coming at ya: O would some Power the small gift give us/To see ourselves as others see us!