Golf Australia - - CONTENTS -

IT’S 7:48. Cold. Windy. Threat­en­ing skies and talk of pulling out, but only if things pro­ceeded from the po­ten­tially bleak we had to prop­erly bleak. Our first hole was the par-5 9th, get­table in two given the mild hur­ri­cane up our clack­ers.

Driver high off the toe and it ran like it was be­ing chased past the bunkers into the land of the reach­able.

There was a funny feel­ing about to­day. I’d ditched a con­ven­tional big brand tech­nol­ogy hy­brid to wel­come back to the bag a Maltby 2-iron; Ralph not Roger Maltby. He is my yoda. Al­most ev­ery­one laughs at this club, but it works well enough.

The ball soared, just mak­ing the edge of the green. A two-putt birdie was the sec­ond-best way I could think of start­ing this golf­ing day. A one-putt ea­gle would have been bet­ter, ob­vi­ously, but a three-pointer to kick things off should put the curse to rest. Maybe even get the wheels rolling to­ward the fan­tasy of some kind of rep­re­sen­ta­tive roll for the club. Maybe a Var­don. Maybe a spot on the Se­nior Tour – here first, then Europe. And why not Amer­ica? The Cham­pi­ons Tour, with Gowie, that’d be a cack.

Birdie it was (funny that the greens never feel as fast as the prac­tice green). The boys were rapt. “Loosen the cap, Blacky,” says Lovey. “Pa­tience, Lovey. Pa­tience,” says Blacky. And hon­estly, he did sound just a lit­tle like Thurston How­ell the Third talk­ing to his wife, Eu­nice: af­fec­tion­ately known as ‘Lovey’. Only our Lovey is more a nick­name than a term of en­dear­ment. His last name is Love, so be­ing Aus­tralian he be­comes Lovey. Black be­comes Blacky. Ford be­comes Fordy and so on.

Fordy said, “On the tee, Blacky. Loosen the cap on the tee. He’ll need a bit of help with the hard­est hole on the course.” The 10th is a bru­tal 217-me­tre par-3, up­hill with a wildly slop­ing green. It’s rarely fun, but on this day, maybe it would be.

Blacky went back to his score­card scrib­bling and nod­ded. On the tee he came at me with his mighty paw ex­tended. It looked as if he was hold­ing some kind of tro­phy. Hav­ing never won any­thing, I’ve got a bit of a thing for tro­phies, and this was gor­geous and gleam­ing and sil­ver. Once in fo­cus, I re­al­ized it was ac­tu­ally a hip flask. It wasn’t even 8am. “What’s this?” But even through the freshly cut grass and the hint of lina­ment oil I’d ap­plied in lieu of a warm-up, I caught a whiff. Hard liquor.

“Call me weird,” I of­fered. “But I’m try­ing re­ally hard not to drink be­fore 8am on week­days. Week­ends, too, if I’m hon­est.”

The three of them had me cir­cled. “But it’s a tra­di­tion! Birdie gets a slug of the good stuff!” “Yeah,” chimed in Lovey. “Tra­di­tion’s tra­di­tion, Daddy. Same as not clear­ing the ladies tee buys a round of drinks. Last in the group to three putt buys a round, too. Last man in a bunker is straight to the bar as well. Ev­ery­one knows this stuff.” There was much to rec­on­cile in my head. I’m one un­der af­ter one and star­ing down the bar­rel of the great­est game of my life and a new fu­ture in an­other coun­try and this hap­pens. “I re­ally don’t drink brandy, or rum. Not un­less it’s re­ally late and I can’t bear the thought of an­other beer. But even then …”

Blacky puffed up like a rooster. “It’s sin­gle malt scotch, mate. Glen­morangie. From the High­lands, ma­tured and dis­tilled in Ross Shire. Perfected by the Six­teen Men of Tain. Ten years old. It’s good. From the coun­try that in­vented golf comes the rich re­ward for play­ing it well. Ev­ery birdie gets a slug. Tra­di­tion.”

So, I took the hip flask amid the rich im­agery of a man like me on the links in the home­land. Who was I kid­ding? This could be the start of some­thing spe­cial. I smacked my lips and tried not to wince as the labours of the Six­teen Men of Tain burned down my throat and warmed my gut. “Best get an­other birdie,” I said to nods from the group. “That’s all-bloody-right.” And it was. Buoyed with Dutch courage and un­flap­pable self-be­lief I pulled the Maltby and swung like a man who meant busi­ness.

A sadly fa­mil­iar code was en­tered into the score­card.

Bo­gey. Dou­ble. Dou­ble. Bo­gey. Not un­til the taste of those Six­teen Men had cleared my throat did good golf re­turn, and by then it was all too late.

Damn you, Blacky. Next time I’d have to save the birdie for the end of the round.


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