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.
“I’M TRYING REALLY HARD NOT TO DRINK BEFORE 8AM ON WEEKDAYS. WEEKENDS, TOO, IF I’M HONEST.”