Two things stood out to me from the opening ceremonies at the Presidents Cup in October. The players' seats onstage had been identified by names scrawled in black marker on masking tape, so the teams knew where to sit. It didn't take a sleuth to figure out the culprit (Zach) when Tiger Woods paraded off the stage with the word JOHNSON taped to the back of his handsome blue suit.
The other funny exchange was when Jason Dufner leaned over to Keegan Bradley and said, "Hey, Keegan, you know what my favorite number is? One-one-sixteen." Pause for effect: the date the anchored putting ban goes into effect.
That's the way golf buddies treat each other, and it has always been thus. As Lee Trevino strutted to another drive hit center-cut, Jack Nicklaus said just loud enough: "I don't miss fairways with my 5-iron either."
I've also been the victim of ribbing about my brevity off the tee. It sometimes takes the form of recalling that buddies trip I took to Scotland in which I used the same ball for eight rounds without losing it. I know what they really mean. That's the perfect buddies poison: a compliment wrapped in an insult.
My buddies harken back to when I played a maroon-color Wilson driver with the oversize shaft known by the unfortunate name of Fat Boy. My pal Richard took a certain joy in always asking me on the first hole: "What kind of shaft is that...Fat Boy?"
Nicknames are the currency of golf buddies, usually pointing out a character weakness. The editor of our Buddies package, Pete Finch, remembers his summer trip to Ireland where everybody had a handle: "One guy seemed to buy something everywhere we went, so he became Pro Shop. I was Double Entendre because I'd told a joke that none of them liked or got, and it included the phrase 'double entendre.' " Another of my overconfident pals is known as Java Man because when he gets over a clutch putt he invariably says, "I can smell the coffee."
My daughter Lauren gets particularly peeved at me when I have her down in a match and I begin to talk about the ice-cream float her money will buy me after the round. "I think I want a chocolate peanut butter" is what usually sends her over the edge. "Dad, that's not good sportsmanship," she says.
Practical jokes are the stock and trade of golf buddies, too. The all-timers were Paul Azinger and Payne Stewart, who had a propensity for slipping ripe bananas into the toes of each other's shoes. A milder version was observed by Staff Writer Max Adler when he competed in the U.S. Amateur last summer and two young players stuffed all the clubs in their buddy's bag upside down. When the victim returned to his hotel lobby to find nothing but grips coming out of his bag, he sighed and commenced struggling to jerk each club out, one by one. "You could tell from his face this wasn't the first time they'd done it to him," Adler says.
One of our writers is the most experienced gamesman on staff, and his stories usually end all discussion, like this time: "Big-money team-closeout match at my home club. Our opponent had just broken up with his live-in girlfriend. Let's call her Toni. Everyone at the club knew her; he'd brought her to club functions many times, and people liked her more than they liked him. Now he was a broken man. He'd moved into an apartment, minus the dog they'd shared. We were 1 up on the 17th tee. Atmosphere quiet and a little tense. Just before the guy starts his backswing, my partner said in a stage whisper, 'Toni!' That's all he said. The guy goes double-double, and we clean up."