Slim and none
The night before the Open got under way, Gwen Pritchard and I were strolling through the charming village of Pinehurst, being suitably charmed but holding our own against the quaint. We'd dined at the Pine Crest Inn, the small hotel Donald Ross used to own, a favorite haunt of mine. The restaurant didn't fern you out, and its bar was lively—it could turn into a spring-break joint at the drop of two Chi Omegas.
On our stroll I was telling Gwen how much I liked North Carolina.
"We're back in Dixie, Bobby Joe?" she said. "This counts?"
"We are in Dixie. I don't know if it's still the land of cotton. It's more like the land of golf courses now. The South's not all Confederate battle flags and Cracker Barrel restaurants, you know?"
Cast of characters The storyteller is Bobby Joe Grooves, a 44-year-old PGA Tour veteran from Fort Worth who comes to this year's U.S. Open after a heinous ruling by Jarvis Phillip W. Burchcroft cost him the Masters. ... Gwendolyn Pritchard is Bobby Joe's love interest after ex-wives 1, 2 and 3, and the mother of 19-year-old tour star Scott Pritchard. ... Scott is managed by his father, Gwen's ex-husband, the conniving Rick Pritchard, who also is seeking to represent Tricia Hurt, the 15-year-old wunderkind who earned an exemption from the U.S. Golf Association to play against the men in the U.S. Open. ... __Roy (Mitch) Mitchell is Bobby Joe's caddie, and__Grady Don Maples and Jerry Grimes are fellow touring pros and philosophers.
"Didn't the war end? I'm sure I've read that."
"Yeah, we just ran out of time," I grinned.
"Tell you how the South differs," I said. "In Virginia they spend years trying to figure if they're related to the Queen of England. ... Alabama hasn't come back from Bear Bryant's funeral yet. ... The whole Mississippi coast is turning into another Vegas. ... South Carolina used to be poverty stricken, but Beaufort and Charleston are film capitals now. Some southern states are smarter than others, I admit. A friend of mine on the radio back home says in Arkansas they still point at airplanes. But Pinehurst is all about golf, nothing else. The people who live here, own a second home here, don't talk about anything but golf."
"I'd never have guessed that, judging by the art galleries," she said, stopping at the window of a shop and studying a carved-glass lamp. A bug-eyed golfer in knickers was crouched over a putt, the light bulb and lamp shade growing out of his shoulder blades.
"Why do you like the golf course so much?" Gwen asked. "Scotty hates it."
"Your son's 19 and flies it out of the county off the tee, so he hates every course that won't let him shoot 63. This is a course with subtleties. It tests your patience. If I'm ever gonna have a shot at the Open, this could be it."
"I like your attitude," she said. "The teenage girl won't be a distraction?"
"She shouldn't be."
The teenage girl was Tricia Hurt. She was the 15-year-old phenom who had been capturing the hearts and minds of golf fans for more than a year. The USGA had lobbed her a last-minute invitation to play in the Open.
Tricia Hurt could outdrive most guys on the pro tour by 10 to 25 yards. "That's her," I said quietly to Gwen with a nudge.
Meaning the 6-feet tall teenage girl who'd come strolling along. She was with a slender, arrogant-looking man who could only have been Dabney Hurt, her rich daddy.
Dabney Hurt was one of those face-lifted, hair-too-long-in-the-back, Wall Street-looking guys. He wore sneakers, creased jeans and a golf shirt with the collar turned up, with a cashmere sweater carefully draped around his shoulders.
Tricia Hurt was from Connecticut, but she'd spent every moment since she was 8 in a combination golf instruction camp and boarding school near Palm Beach. She'd been winning girls' and women's amateur titles since she was 10.
Tricia was the heiress. The latest in a line behind Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie, who blazed the trail ahead of her. Tricia had been invited to enter four PGA Tour events last year when she was 14, her against the guys. The corporate-sponsor dummies turned flips with excitement. She not only made the cut in all four, she finished in the top 20 at Doral and Reno.
Grady Don Maples and Jerry Grimes were among the guys who'd been outdriven and outscored by Tricia.
Jerry said there was no doubt she was from another world, and furthermore she had not come here on a friendly mission. Grady Don sometimes referred to Tricia and her daddy as "Anastasia and the Czar," but mostly he referred to Tricia as the space-alien teen witch.
How Tricia made it into the Open at Pinehurst was no big mystery if you knew how much the U.S. Golf Association liked money.
The USGA didn't used to like money so much. It just wanted enough to run its tournaments smoothly and pay the hired help. But one day the organization looked around and saw a group of fools getting rich for no good reason, and somebody said we have to get in on this cake. That's when the USGA jumped on the greed train. Waved goodbye to most of the organization's honorable traditions. Started partying with their two best new friends, network TV and corporate sponsors.
This led to Dabney Hurt, Tricia's dad. He owned UniCorp and LifeData. UniCorp sold something by the millions that nobody needed. LifeData did something to help hospitals kill old people faster.
It so happened that UniCorp and LifeData bought the two largest corporate hospitality tents for the Open at Pinehurst. Some of Dabney's other companies bought space. In all, Dabney's "participation" was worth $20 million to the USGA.
But the USGA was aghast when Dabney Hurt asked that in return for his generosity his teenage daughter receive a special exemption to compete in the men's Open championship of the United States of America.
The USGA president, Jameson Swindley, said under no circumstances would such a request be granted to Dabney. Jameson Swindley said he was appalled by the request, pointing out that entrants had to qualify for the Open.
First, Dabney Hurt said he'd changed his mind about the hospitality tents and was keeping his $20 million. Jameson Swindley then made the mistake of telling someone he should have known that Dabney Hurt hadn't gone to Yale.
Big mistake. The remark drifted back to Dabney, and Dabney said he was going to buy Jameson Swindley's Manhattan law firm and fire Jameson Swindley and see that Jameson Swindley spent the rest of his life living in the doorways of abandoned buildings in Queens.
Other high-ranking USGA officials likewise suffered financial threats from Dabney Hurt. They dwelled on that, and they dwelled on losing the $20 million. But they didn't dwell long. They were busy voting unanimously to grant a special exemption to Tricia Hurt.
None of that made the papers. The news release from the USGA quoted President Jameson Swindley saying, "The USGA has a long history of granting special exemptions. We believe a young lady competing against the men in the U.S. Open Championship is an idea whose time has come. We are therefore delighted to grant a special exemption to Miss Tricia Hurt of Greenwich, Connecticut."
In the weeks leading up to the Open I had managed to grab my share of clip—Grady Don's word for prize money. As in what you stick in your money clip. "Gonna scoop me some clip this week," he'd say, "if my flat stick don't catch diabetes-meningitis."
At Colonial I started off worrying about whether Gwen's kid, Scott, would enjoy his first visit to the tournament and my city.
I shouldn't have bothered to worry about a good-looking celebrity like Scott Pritchard having a good time in Fort Worth. You get a 19-year-old millionaire, and the babes are on him like gravy on grandpa.
"I love Texas," Scott gasped to me between adventures.
This was before he finished shooting the 261 that won by six strokes.
Gwen thanked me from California for helping Scott play well and have a good time in Fort Worth.
"I had very little to do with it," I said, leaving out the part about introducing him to some of our local all-stars.
"I'm surprised he shot so low. He looked tired on TV."
Just another lucky break, is all it was. On the first day of the U.S. Open, when there should have been nothing on my mind but how to handle Pinehurst No. 2, it was my honor and privilege to meet Rick Pritchard.
Yep, that Rick Pritchard. Gwendolyn's ex, Scott's dad, and—if first impressions count for anything—a recent inductee into the California Hall of Copper-Riveted Gold-Plated Four-Star Major-League Jerks.
He wasn't hard to spot on the practice range. Standing behind Scott, watching the kid launch 8-irons into the realm of Eastern Europe, was a big, tan, muscled-up guy, around 6-3, with thick layers of wavy blond hair doing what Maurice of Beverly Hills instructed it to do.
Rick was a hulk in tight-fitting white slacks and a bright red long-sleeve cotton shirt, the sleeves pushed fashion-consciously up to his elbows. A brown leather bag hung from his shoulder on a long strap.
Precious shoulder bags for guys? They were back?
When I sauntered over, I first spoke to the kid. "Can I borrow your forearms today, Scott?" Humor. He was hitting 200-yard 8-irons. Dad, his back turned to us, was clicking off his cell, putting it back in his shoulder bag.
"Hi," I said pleasantly.
Blank stare from Rick.
Scott said, "Dad, this is Bobby Joe Grooves. Bobby Joe, my dad."
Rick broke into a smile. "Hey, hey, hey." He extended his hand.
"I owe you a debt of gratitude," he said.
"You do? What for?"
"For keeping my wife occupied these past couple of months. Gwenny says you guys have had a ball."
Now I knew the real reason she divorced him.
I said, "She's your ex-wife, I believe."
"A big mistake on my part," he said. "But if we get back together someday, it'll only be a bump in the road. Right, Scotto?"
Scotto. Filed it.
"Yeah, whatever," Scott said, taking a divot the size of Godzilla's foot and sending an 8-iron into eternity.
"I'm a little slow," I said to Rick. "Are you saying you're planning on getting back with Gwendolyn someday? What happened to the woman you were seeing, if I may ask?"
"Oh, wowser. Another bump in the road. Women. Like the man said, 'You can't live with 'em ... pass the beer nuts.' Eh, Scotto?"
"Fatage," Scott said, ignoring dad, speaking to his 8-iron. He flipped the 8-iron aside, picked up his 60-degree wedge.
"I have the sense Gwenny hasn't filled you in on what's been going on," Rick said.
"I'm getting that sense, yes."
"Short of the long, I'm working on Gwenny to come on board."
"On board what?"
"International Sports Talent. My company. IST. Damn thing's running away with me. That's mostly thanks to Scotto here, the big wage earner, but I'm on the verge of signing a new client who's going to contribute heavily in the ka-jing department. It's hush-hush, but I see no reason why I shouldn't let you in on it—you being a friend of the family, n'est-ce pas? I'm going to sign Tricia Hurt. Is that any good? Huh? Tell me that's not any good?"
"You're going to sign a 15-year-old girl to a pro contract?"
"Pardon, monsieur," he said. "If I may rephrase ... I am going to sign a 15-year-old locomotive to a professional contract."
"Tricia Hurt is too young to turn pro. Besides that, her daddy's rich."
"Her daddy happens to be in financial doo-doo."
"Two years ago the Dabster went public, tried to become pope. Now all of his stocks are in the crapper. He's leveraged up to his face-lift. The banks own him, and the banks are restless. It's not generally known, but everything he has is for sale—the ranch in Idaho, the house on Nantucket, the penthouse in Manhattan, the Palm Beach mansion, his yacht, his Citation, and, sad to say, his entire barn of 85 mint-condition vintage cars."
Rick said he normally charged 30 percent of a client's earnings, but he was nailing Dabney Hurt for 50 percent of Tricia, the Dabster being in financial difficulty. Dabney would settle on half of the annual gross in exchange for a $10 million signing bonus. The ten mill was a bagatelle, Rick said, considering what he could guarantee Tricia for the first three years.
"Deep as he's in the ditch, how much good can $10 million do?"
"It'll keep him afloat till he can think of something else," Rick said. "The important thing is, I shall have the two hottest young players in the world—Scotto and Le Tricia. Le roi est mort, vive le moi."
"The king is dead, long live me."
"Did you major in French at Southern Cal?"
"Took a year. Polishing up. Good for the Euro biz."
I looked off, took a breath, looked back.
"Does Gwen know you're going to sign Tricia Hurt?" I said.
"I told her at breakfast."
"You and Gwen had breakfast?"
"At the Pine Crest."
"I had breakfast with Gwen at the Carolina."
"Must have been later."
"No wonder she only wanted coffee."
I would have appreciated a moment to myself to control my anger, pull the dagger out of my heart, but Rick was still talking.
"The best way for me to drive this bus is move the main office to New York City, New York. That's Manhattan Island, Big Town, Gotham, the Big Apple. I'm there most of the time now anyway. What I'm trying to talk Gwenny into doing is running my Beverly Hills office."
"Gwen would be your employee?"
"Surely you know Gwenny better than that. She would have an ownership position. And that ain't just ka-jing, Groovo. We're talking blimpo coinage. Centavos meet drachmas, krona meet guilders, liras meet rupees, and whammo. Multo shekelroids."
"So it's strictly business? You and Gwen?"
"Well, not to tread on your turf-o-rama, Bobbo, but Gwenny and I do have a history. Who can say what the future holds?"
Sometimes you play better when you're mad. That was the theory of Baldy Toler, my old high school basketball coach. When you went into a fray, he wanted you to be "hot as a pot of collards." I recall making every effort to be exactly that, even though at the time I didn't know what a collard was.
A knee in a rival's stones was Coach Toler's idea of setting a good screen. Same as breaking a guy's rib with your elbow representing the correct way to snare a rebound. Accomplish two things at once.
Many life lessons were learned from Coach Toler. Torture and discipline were his allies. He made practice such insufferable agony, the games were cake.
How to resurrect such competitive anger and transfer it to golf?
That was my question for my caddie, Mitch, as we stood on the first tee waiting to begin the first round of the Open.
"You mad at Gwendolyn," Mitch said, "and you want to take it out on the golf course?"
"I would, yeah."
Mitch said, "Let's punish Pinehurst and all them other things with the driver today."
The first two rounds I played with Claude Steekley, he of the University of Texas burnt-orange brow, and my old pal Knut Thorssun, he of the prodigious sexual powers. This put two unique ladies in our gallery Thursday. One was Pookie Steekley. I wasn't keen on overbites, but Pookie's made her seem sexy in the same sort of aristocratic way.
The other lady was Vashtine Ulberg, or I should say Snapper, Sweden's own rap diva—and Knut Thorssun's bride-to-be.
Vashtine was dressed like she was there to make a music video with a plot revolving around the roller derby. She wore tight cutoff jeans, a yellow V-neck tank top and black patent-leather boots, and her wild blond hair was almost as long as Knut's.
Vashtine drew a larger crowd off to the side than our threesome on the tee. She was surrounded by droves of her music-loving fans, an indication that none of them had finished the sixth grade.
It might not have been Vashtine's outfit alone that caused the incident. Her fame among imbeciles might have contributed.
We saw the shoving and scuffling before the golf carts arrived. A half-dozen USGA officials unpiled from the carts, some of them in their white button-down shirts and striped ties of yesteryear, all of them armbanded and walkie-talkie'd up.
I recognized Jameson Swindley, the tall pinhead who was the USGA president, and Dace Fackle, the executive director. Swindley led the group into the middle of things, saying, "Young lady, you are causing a disturbance at our Open championship."
Knut said to one and all, "This lady is my fiancee, it is so. She is to be my wife, as soon as I can work it into my commitments, to be sure."
Swindley said, "Mr. Thorssun, I suggest you tell her not to dress so indecently at our championship."
Knut said, "Her way is not to be considered indecent in Stockholm, or anywhere in our homeland, the point you are making. But to make an effort for peace in this matter, I must say to Vashty, my love, it is perhaps best for you to rethink your costume for today, is it not?"
"Oh, jah?" she screeched at Knut. "Vell, vut you tank of these?"
With that, she lifted up her top and flashed the crowd. It was more like a full display than a flash. She turned this way and that, to thunderous applause.
That clinched it. Vashtine was transported to the clubhouse and given the option of changing her attire and behaving herself or spending the rest of the day under house arrest.
Thus, after settling down to a medium boil over Gwendolyn Pritchard's treachery, and after having accidentally been in the right place at the right time to observe Vashtine Ulberg's healthy set of lungs, I was able to devote the rest of Thursday to golf.
A lesser man would have shuddered at the sight of his name at the top of the dreaded leader board after my three-under-par 67. I say dreaded because if you're not Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus or Bobby Jones, you're not comfortable on top of the leader board after the first round of the United States Open. It's an engraved invitation for destiny to put his foot on your throat.
But that was before the space-alien teen witch came in with a 70 that put her in second place.
After Gwen and I argued over Rick we declared a truce, and to make sure the truce got off to a good start we invited other people to join us for dinner that evening.
I invited Grady Don Maples and Jerry Grimes. Gwen invited her son. We were a table for five at the Carolina, and Grady Don ordered an expensive bottle of wine and proposed a toast to me and my 67.
Looking around the table, he said, "Here's to the man who went out there today and bit off Pinehurst's head and sucked out his lungs."
Gwen lifted her glass and said, "I couldn't have put it better myself—although I would have tried."
The same group assembled for dinner Friday night, minus one. Scott Pritchard shot a 79 and missed the cut by three strokes. Which put him in a carefree mood to wander over to the lively Pine Crest bar instead of dining with boring grownups.
"I'm gonna go hang," he announced to his mother at our table. "Catch some pour."
There were more things to celebrate Friday night. One was my even-par 70, which kept me in the lead by two.
Grady Don and Jerry were among the cut survivors. They were particularly happy about it because three of the big favorites, Woods, Els, and Mickelson, all missed the cut. Or, as Grady Don likes to refer to them: Elvis, Madonna and Britney, as in Elvis Woods, Madonna Els and Britney Mickelson. This was no insinuation that Ernie and Phil had become interior decorators. It was flattery. Grady Don said they'd achieved a celebrity status that required only one name. Nonetheless, Elvis, Madonna and Britney were done.
Jerry Grimes said at dinner, "Bobby Joe, it don't hurt your chances to know Elvis and them have gone to Downtown Cut City."
Grady Don amused himself by saying, "I like your pairing tomorrow, is what I like."
Which meant I was paired with the space-alien teen witch.
Gwen gave me a thumbs-up sign and a good-luck grin the next day as I walked past her on the way to my 2:30 tee time, where a gallery of 400 million people was waiting for the last group of the day.
My 15-year-old playing partner came over and introduced herself on the first tee, saying, "Hi, Mr. Grooves, I'm Tricia Hurt."
I shook her hand.
"Tricia," I said, "make it Bobby Joe."
"OK, sure," she said. "Bobby Joe."
"Play good today," I said.
"You, too," she said, and walked back to the other side of the tee.
Tricia had started the round trailing me by two strokes. We had both parred the first seven holes until she lost her genius at the eighth hole. It must be a terrible thing to lose your genius. Her problem began when her approach slid off the green and wound up in a swale, leaving her with a long chip up a severe slope.
Tricia's first chip rolled halfway up the severe but smooth slope and came back down to her feet. She looked up and said something to the heavens. She chipped her next one a little harder. But not hard enough. It came back down the slope to her feet again.
Furious with herself, she took two steps forward and met the ball as it was rolling back toward her and almost rapped it again before it stopped rolling. Her third try made it onto the green, and she two-putted from 40 feet for a triple-bogey 7.
After my par she was quickly five back—and steaming. As we walked to the next tee, I tried to console her. "There's still a long way to go. Now's the time to call on your patience."
She didn't say anything. Head down. I said, "Incidentally, you do know if you'd hit that second chip back there before it came to rest, it would have been two more. That's a two-stroke penalty. Same thing happened to John Daly last time the Open was here."
"I don't need you to tell me the rules," she said.
I was startled by her response.
"I know the rules," she said.
I said, "I'm sure you do. You've been in a lot of competition for someone your age."
"I know the rules as well as you do."
"That might well be true."
"It is true."
"Hey, I surrender."
"I scored a perfect 100 on the rules quiz at the golf academy."
"I'm impressed. Everyone there must have been."
"They were," she said. "Nobody had ever scored 100 before I did."
"What do you say we drop it and play golf, huh?"
Suddenly, Tricia wasn't as gracious as she'd been back on the first tee. We didn't speak for the next two hours. We were busy grinding, struggling to make pars.
Soon enough came the incident that was either a tragedy or a comedy.
A tragicomedy is what Miz Dinker would have called it. But my old continental lit professor would have been talking about Europeans who wrote books thicker than their beards. Not golf. It started when I couldn't decide what to hit on 18.
Confused is the worst thing any athlete can be in competition. I'd only known that since high school, but I momentarily forgot it. Which was why I made an indecisive swing with the driver—let out or let up?—and hit the looping, out-of-nowhere, Baker-Finch hook that looked for all the world like it would sail over the pines and into the practice range, out-of-bounds.
"It could be OK," Mitch said.
"Or not," I said.
I looked over at Tricia and said, "I'm gonna reload, just in case."
Meaning I was going to hit a second ball to play in the event that my first drive was, in fact, out-of-bounds. I steer-jobbed a 3-wood this time, making sure I threaded it into the fairway. Damage control. Stroke and distance is the penalty for out-of-bounds. If I was forced to play the second ball, I'd be lying 3, hitting 4—and still 200 yards from the green.
As you might imagine, I was overjoyed to find my ball inside the boundary stakes by a few heartwarming feet. Not only that, I had a clear shot to the green. Standing there, I took a silent moment to thank the Skipper for looking after me.
Tricia Hurt's voice interrupted my thoughts.
"I'm calling a ruling on you, Bobby Joe."
"I'm afraid I'm going to insist you play the second ball. You lie 3, playing 4."
"What are you talking about?"
"A violation of the rules."
"I violated a rule?" "Yes."
"What rule did I violate?"
"It comes under rule 27. You committed a verbal."
"I did what?"
"Back on the tee, before you hit your second tee shot, you did not announce to me that you were playing a provisional ball."
"Yeah, I did."
"No, you did not."
"I damn sure did."
"Do you remember what you said?"
"Sure. I said, uh—I said what I always say—I said what we say on tour. I said, 'I'm gonna reload, just in case.' My exact words."
"You did not use the word 'provisional.' A player must say, 'I am going to play a provisional ball.' It's in the rulebook. You admit you did not specifically use the word 'provisional.' That is a clear violation. I invoke the penalty. You must play the second ball."
"Like hell I will," I said. "I want a rules official."
"You have one."
I wheeled around to find a middle-age woman in a navy blue blazer, white blouse, khaki pants and a USGA armband.
In as pleasant a voice as she could muster, she said, "I'm Brenda Claire Hopkins. I'm a vice president of the United States Golf Association, and the rules official on this hole. Tricia is correct about the rule. You must play the second ball."
I said, "Do you know what's riding on this? I believe I'll find me a higher opinion than ... Brenda Claire ... whatever your name is. .. whoever you are."
"You are entitled to another opinion," Brenda Claire Hopkins said calmly. She spoke into her walkie-talkie.
"Bunny, are you there? Come in, Bunny. Need you on 18."
"Who?" I said.
"Bunny Pemberton is the rover on this nine."
"Man or woman?"
"You've never heard of Bunny Pemberton?" she said. "Goodness, he won the Senior Amateur two years ago at Ridgewood!"
I said, "Ah, that Bunny Pemberton. Gosh, I've been following his career for years."
Bunny Pemberton arrived in a golf cart and didn't take long to make up his mind after he listened to Brenda Claire Hopkins' explanation. He upheld her decision. "You people are dead wrong," I said. "I want to appeal to the chairman of the competition committee. Call him up, please."
Bunny Pemberton said, "He might be out of touch at the moment. He was in a hospitality tent a moment ago. I'm sure he won't overrule us—he's a stickler for the rules."
"Who's the chairman?"
"Jarvis Phillip W. Burchcroft."
"Oh my God."
"Do you know him? He's known as Mr. Rules."
"Mr. Rules?" I said, looking like I smelled sour milk. "I know the chinless lightweight. He gave me a horse—ruling that cost me at the Masters."
"Mr. Grooves! Your language!"
"Get him down here."
Bunny Pemberton summoned the chairman on his walkie-talkie.
They had a long discussion. Then Brenda Claire Hopkins had a discussion with him before Jarvis Phillip W. Burchcroft showed up in a cart. He said, "Mr. Grooves, you and your rules problems are becoming a habit, if you don't mind my saying so." I thought he might have hiccupped. He said, "My ruling is the same one I gave Bunny and Brenda when they interrupted me as I was putting a delicious dab of beluga on a wedge of toast in the Bank of America tent."
Bunny said, "I hope you tried the quail eggs in the mushroom cap."
"The foie gras was exquisite, too," Brenda said.
"It most assuredly was," the rules chairman said. "But I must say the caviar went very well with the Cristal Bellini and fresh peach."
I said, "Does anybody mind if I find out what my ruling is?"
"Indeed not," Jarvis Phillip W. Burchcroft said. "You of course must play the second ball. It's covered under 27-2." He produced a little spiral notebook and pen from his blazer pocket, wrote "27-2a/1" on a piece of paper and handed it to me.
He said, "It's a rule that's usually excused or ignored by competitors, but when it's invoked, I am obligated to investigate and enforce it if necessary, as in this case. You'll find it under the decisions section in the Rules of Golf.
Twenty-seven dash two ... small letter 'a' ... slash ... numeral one. Are we clear? Everyone?"
With that, Jarvis Phillip W. Burchcroft hopped back into the cart and sped away. I glanced at Mitch. "We just lost the Open."
"It ain't over," he said.
"Yeah, it is," I said.
I lobbed several f-bombs into the atmosphere before I reached my ball. Having done that, I proceeded to make sure I lost the Open. I made a lovely 10 on the hole. In other words, I watched so many guys blow past me, I might as well have been a dead man lying by the side of the road.
Gwen and I were at a table in a back corner of the Pine Crest dining room, the place empty except for three weary British journalists and their third bottle of wine. It was Sunday night, the Open was over, most people had cleared out of the village, gone.
I was on my third martini rocks and my ninth olive. Gwen was nursing a vodka soda, poking around at the fried-shrimp appetizer.
I'd finished second to Cheetah Farmer. I made an admirable comeback in the last round with a 70, but it was two shy of what I needed for a playoff. I'd blown it in Saturday's third round. With a considerable amount of help from the space-alien teen witch and the USGA's rules clowns.
Numerous fellow-competitors in the locker room had offered me warm handshakes and looks of heartfelt concern. There were the sympathetic phone messages taken by the locker-room attendant and passed on to me.
Alleene Simmons, my first ex-wife, business partner, and still my pal, sent me a message that actually made me smile. The locker-room attendant wrote it down word for word because he didn't understand it.
Her message was: "So your fifth-grade teacher gave you a D. Let it go, dude."
A little later, after my steak had barely been touched and my fourth or fifth martini had rudely shoved the cup of coffee aside, Gwen said, "Not to be insensitive, but there's another way to look at it, Bobby Joe. You didn't have to make a 10."
Piss me off, was what that remark did. So I said, "You've got that right. I should have given it more thought. I should have realized I could win the Open by three if I could have made a 5 on 18 Saturday. ... Or I could have won by two if I could have just made a double-bogey 6. ... Hell, I still could have won if I'd only made a 7. I can't imagine why none of that occurred to me."
"Is that what I meant?"
"I know what you meant. I didn't have to let the ruling bother me that much."
"It was a learning experience. I gather that's what your buddy Alleene was trying to tell you in her message. I'm looking forward to meeting your favorite ex someday."
"Yeah, another life lesson for me," I sighed. "Another character builder. I'll tell you what. I'm about ready for the Skipper to start building character on somebody else."
"I'm sure you are."
"How'd Tricia finish? I haven't bothered to look."
"Her inexperience must have caught up with her. She shot a 77. Tied for ninth. She says she's sorry about what happened to you Saturday. She feels badly about it now."
"Who'd she say that to?"
"She said it at her press conference yesterday. It's in the paper today." "I didn't read the paper this morning. It's bad luck to read the paper before the last round if you're a contender."
Gwen said, "Tricia told the press she was just trying to play with your head when she used the rules violation on you. She didn't think it would be upheld. She said she was surprised when it was."
"She was playing with my head? She really said that?"
"That was the quote. She was five back at the time and trying to gain ground in whatever way she could. She was trying to upset you mentally. She said high school and college coaches teach it. You do whatever you can to unsettle your opponent. Rattle the clubs in your bag when the opponent is addressing a shot. Play slow if they play fast. Play fast if they play slow. All kinds of things. Gamesmanship."
"She said they teach that? To teenagers?"
"I'm only telling you what was in the paper. It seems to me the real culprits in your case were the officials."
"Taking up for your new client, are you?"
"That's not called for."
"Why not? Tricia's going to be your client. Yours and Rick's. He told me that. He said he has a verbal agreement with Tricia's father."
"I am not a part of IST. Not yet. Maybe never. It's something we're going to discuss, right?"
"I should say not."
"What's that tone supposed to mean? I'm not allowed to be pissed because I lost the Open?"
"Bobby Joe ... "
"You know what's occurred to me, Gwen?"
"I'd be delighted to know what's occurred to you."
"You and I have been together—what?—three months? I've been practically the same thing as in love with you for three whole months ... and it's been great. I mean, I don't edge out too many guys in the romance department. But while I'm wallowing around in this love, something else happens. I lose two majors. Two I deserve to win. I'm out here almost 20 years and I finally get two real shots at a major—hell, I'll settle for one—but I get screwed out of the Masters when I'm playing really good, and then I come here and I get screwed out of the Open when I'm playing really good. So guess what, babe? You might be the all-time dynamite lady, but I have to tell you: Since I'm a golfer, I'm about to believe you're a damn voodoo curse."
She might have set a PGA Tour speed record for a lady slamming a napkin down and leaving a dinner table.
The main thing I was going to do in the weeks between the U.S. Open and the British Open was fetch my love life out of the sewer.