“Golf is a Gentleman’s and Lady’s game.”
I looked around at my twenty-odd fellow PE classmates sitting Indian-style in a semi-circle in front of Coach. It was late spring in Winnsboro Texas. I was twelve.
Poking my buddy (a lanky, slow-drawling ugly tow head of a boy named Gary) in the ribs with my elbow, whispered, “Golf? What’s he talkin’ ‘bout?”
Coach continued, “Gentlemen, today I am going to introduce you to the greatest sport of all: Golf.”
“Coach done lost his mind,” I remember thinking. “Ever’one knows there ain’t but one sport: Football.”
“Golf,” Coach said, “Is a sport you will enjoy for the rest of your lives. It requires skill, intelligence, decorum, and class. You all will search me out later in life and thank me for this day.”
(Coach was about twenty-nine and was going to night school in Tyler studying to become a physician. He was not your typical Deep East Texas Football Coach. He had a brain.)
We just sat there, dumb-founded, but we, to a boy, respected Coach so we said nothing. Although we did exchange some incredulous, ‘What the hell?’ looks.
Coach took us out to the practice football field and introduced us to “The Greatest Game on Earth.”
I cannot speak for the rest, but I was hooked.
Rode the bus home to Granddaddy that afternoon and announced, “I am gonna be a pro golfer.”
Gran-dad was sober that day (see shot not fired in anger) and said, “Is that a fack? What you know ‘bout golf young’un?”
“I know it is a Gentleman’s game, and I know I am a gentleman.”
“Pshaw Boy! You doan know anything about anything. I know about golf.”
Turns out, my Grandfather did, in fact, know a lot about golf. He had actually almost convinced his neighbor to combine his one hundred twenty adjoining acres with his and build a golf course for Winnsboro. Granddad was somewhat of an entrepreneur, having been in the Grocery Business, the Appliance Store business, the Catfish Restaurant Business (on the Tennessee river), the Worm Ranch business (selling red-worms to the bait shops at the area lakes), and pretty much had failed at all of them.
The following Friday I got off the school bus and noticed two little flags poking up from two little golf greens in our huge front yard. The ‘yard’ was about sixty ‘yards’ deep. There was a green next to the Farm-to-Market road just behind the bar ditch, nestled between the two Crepe Myrtles, and another green just in front of the house. Granddad found me as I was rummaging the fridge for left-over cornbread and sweet milk.
“Boy! I dun built you a golf course.”
“Yes, Granddaddy, I saw.”
He disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a golf club and some golf balls.
“Come on, I gonna see how much golfin’ that coach dun taught you.”
Eagerly I followed him out to the front yard. He dropped the balls in front of the porch and handed me the nine iron.
“See if’n you can hit that green yonder.”
I tee’d her up. Took a few practice strokes, remembering to keep my head down, and then I addressed the ball. My back swing was perfect. The downswing weren’t. I hit the ball and watched it sail over the barb-wire fence into the deep pasture.
“Sheeit Boy! You damn sure ain’t no natural.”
He coached me all that afternoon and after I finally managed to at least find the ‘fairway’ he went into the house and got drunk.
For the next several weeks, I played golf on my private course. But I had a major problem: I had no putter. Try putting with a nine iron. Even Phil Mickelson won’t do this. Granddad crafted a putter for me out of some scrap lumber. It was too light, so he drilled it out and poured lead into it. Then it was perfect. My putting skills improved instantly.
Summer now and I was growing unhappy with my greens. I wanted greens resembling those at Augusta. Mine were one notch above cow pasture cut short. I spent a week or two pulling weeds and planting fresh Bermuda grass. My tender mercies eventually produced two greens Jack Nicklaus would have been honored to putt upon. They were smooth, silky smooth, and wonderfully… green. Lush green. In contrast to the rest of the yard (fairway) which was somewhat brown, with some grass burrs serving as hazards. Hazards to my feet. Young’uns in Texas never wear shoes in summertime, but of course you’d know that.
I watered my greens every day. I mowed them every other day. Being a sometime gardener, I loved green things. My golf greens were my pride. I loved the way the Bermuda grass had thrived and how smoothly the golf ball would travel on its way to the pin.
In golf you will make maybe one or two shots in your lifetime that you never forget. I made my first unforgettable shot that summer. I had clipped my ‘Tee Shot’ from the tee next to the road. It had travelled about fifteen feet. I needed a great second shot (my course was of course a par three), to have any hope of making par. (I had fantasy tournaments with imaginary friends in my head—going head to head with Arnold and Jack). My second shot was from about fifty yards. I had a good lie. No grass burrs to distract me. I addressed the ball. Took several looks up to the flag. Did my waggle to set my stance. Backswing. Fore swing. Clean crisp hit. Watched my ball bounce twice on the green and roll straight at the flag. It disappeared.
“Hole in One!” My grandfather shouted from the porch. (Until then, I had not realized I had an audience, or a color commentator, a slightly nose painted color commentator.)
“Yeah!” I shouted. I saw no need to inform him it was my second shot.
One morning about mid-summer I went out to water my greens. There were small holes in the one closest to the house. Holes! Holes the size of tea cups! “Fuckin’ ‘dillo!” was my first thought. My dog Spot would never disfigure my green. Nope. Was an armadillo. No doubt about it. This armadillo had made a fatal mistake.
I was resolved to terminate him.
With extreme prejudice.
I dragged my sleeping bag onto my belov’d green that night and with my .22 rifle under my arm I lay in wait.
Fell asleep on watch around midnight. Woke up with the sun to discover more holes in my green. Further enraged now.
This MEANS WAR!
Made repairs to the ‘dillo divets and played a few rounds that day. Close to sunset, I downed some strong black coffee and filled a thermos with more. Camped out again on my green. Feigning sleep, I waited with my rifle and a flashlight. Sometime in the night, I heard him. Grubbing for grubs on MY Green. The moon was half. I did not need the flashlight. I spied him on the edge of my green, mockingly desecrating my pride and joy. Ever so slowly I turned toward him while resting on my side cradling my rifle. Took aim and shot him square in his armadillo ass. Bam! ‘Run tell that, fuckin’ ‘dillo!” He did (run) and I am quite certain he did tell all his ‘dillo friends not to fuck with my golf course. Ever again. I suppose he died, or not. Actually, I probably only clipped him, but that was sufficient; he never came back, and I continued my golfing career. It would be five years before I actually set foot on a real golf course, but I did impress the hell outta my peers with my ‘short game’, as that was all I had known. Took me two years to learn how to drive golf balls (and cars and trains and such other things.)
But Coach was right: I wish I could find him now to tell him just how right he was, per his prophesy.