Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday With the Master

Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright
I have been an admirer of the game of golf since the first time I went out to my hometown municipal golf course, "the muni," out south of town on several acres of a mesquite-thicketed branch-water-creek ravine and the adjoining fields, plus it was right up next to the city's keiko-muckity-muck country club with its cedar-tree-lined always solid-green fairways, lower than the country club to the point I figured even as a kid the muni was siphoning water from the country club some way--you know, draining the muckity-muck's rain barrel maybe--all golf courses in those days caught rainwater in water tanks and then ran it through their watering system, a system of hydrants around the course to which they attached huge sprinkler units, they looked like toy tractors--one I remember at the muni was painted green and yellow like a John Deere tractor--and these sprinklers tracked back and forth across the fairways and from the middle of the greens in the early mornings before they opened the course for playing. The first time I went to a golf course, to my hometown muni, I went with my brother and the man who cashiered for him during the daytime in his magazine shop--I relieved this guy every afternoon at 4, when I got out of high school, and I worked the register until 7:30 when an 80-year-old man called the Colonel came on. Turned out "Colonel" wasn't a military designation with the Colonel but his real name, his "god-given" name. He was from Toledo, Ohio, and had at one time been a railroad man, a carnival hawker, a boxing referee, a sailor on the Great Lakes, an accordion player, and several other professions no one was really interested in checking to see if he were telling the truth about or not, but he was a straight-as-an-arrow man, with a solid stiff back, an army-straightened back we figured, plus he was meticulous with his checking out his register before he put the cash drawer in, the cash drawer I'd counted and said was all square according to my registry tape and what cash I had in the drawer and god-damn sure 'nuff the old Colonel, the bastard, would come in and right off start checking my figures and also sure 'nuff, I was ready, I knew what was next, "Young Wolf?" "Yes, Colonel." "You were wrong in your calculations. I find you are off by 4 1/2 cents." "Ah come on, Colonel, you old hardheaded bastard, here..." I'd flip a nickel at his ass. "Keep the change, Colonel, you tightwad old bastard." I was the owner's brother so I could treat the Colonel any god-damn kid-mean way I wanted to. Though the Colonel got my ass every night--except occasionally--sometimes I'd be right on the cent and the Colonel, I got to admit, would be very proud acting of me at those times. The poor old bastard was coming to work one afternoon, this was after I had moved on to college, one winter's day right after an ice storm--it didn't snow much in West Texas but it "iced over" as the oldtimers called it all the time. Like it would rain while it was 1 below zero and the rain would immediately freeze as it came down and it eventually started coming down as sheets of ice and it would hit the streets and sidewalks and roofs and telephone lines, everything, the trees, the eaves of the houses, and it would form huge icicles on every thing hanging down and sheets of solid ice on the flat surfaces; even the blades of dead grass on the lawns would ice over and the lawns would sparkle with cold icy glitterings of tiny icicles and the old Colonel came out of the hotel in which he lived and as he headed up toward my brother's magazine stand, as he was high stepping off in his stiff-back upright way, he stepped one time out of whack, slipped feet forward, went a flippin' up into the air and landed right crack splat on the back of his head--and though he was alive when the hotel manager came out and found him, he was DOA by the time they got him to the hospital. My brother sent me the Colonel's obituary from my hometown newspaper and damn the Colonel's name really was Colonel and he was from Toledo and he had been all he said he'd been plus he'd been a US Army boxing champion in WWI, the War to End All Wars.

And Jesus, I've wandered off from the golf course--

The guy who worked the morning and afternoon shift in the magazine stand who went to the golf course with us that day just so happened to have been the city golf champion that very year over at the country club but on this day we had to go to muni 'cause we weren't allowed in the country club though my brother probably could have gotten in the country club since he knew all the members, so did our father and mother--hell they all went to high school together--anyway, that was my first exposure to golf and it excited me--it did. I couldn't wait to try my hand at it and when my brother handed me his putter on a hole and told me to take a shot at the hole and I stepped up there and hit the ball dead straight into the cup that did it--boy that felt so good--I'd played miniature golf a lot so I already had experience putting, but that started my interest in golf and soon I saved my money and bought me a set of Sears and Roebuck golf clubs--JC Higgins--that was Sears's sports equipment brand name--I had no idea who the hell JC Higgins was--and I was ashamed of them because they were from Sears, but secretly I was so proud of them, and I bought me a fancy scotch plaid golf bag and a pair of spiked golf shoes and a golfer's cap and a pair of Munsingwear beltless slacks and a red golfing shirt--Wow was I sharp and I practiced every day in our big backyard using a practice golf ball, a plastic ball with holes all in it where when you hit it it would act like a golf ball though it wouldn't go nowhere near as far as a real golf ball--it went inches where a real golf ball went yards. Practicing like that for a whole winter, came spring, I got up at 5 am one Saturday morning, caught the city bus near my home and rode it all the way out as far as it went, to South 22nd and Buffalo Gap Road, and from the bus stop there I walked about a mile up that road to the gate and dirt road that led up to the muni clubhouse. I went in the clubhouse and there was only the assistant pro there. I introduced myself and told him I wanted to play a round of golf. He told me the sprinklers were on all over the course and I told him I didn't care that I still wanted to play--it was my first time playing and I wanted to go out before anybody else got there so I wouldn't interfere with their serious play. The guy was a college guy, about 5 years older than I was and he took a liking to me. He said, hell, go on out and play--I won't even charge you for it. I needed some balls and he said why didn't I grab some of the better balls out of one of the buckets full of practice balls and I picked out six balls and he said I better pick out six more since I'd never played before. I bought a package of tees, too, and a towel for my golf bag, and he took me out to the first tee and I sat my ball up, took out my JC Higgins driver, 1 wood, and I clobbered that ball. My first drive, wow, and I watched it, and it sailed along the top of the fairway dirt until just where the grass started and then it sailed upwards and started what they call fading, and it faded right and arced way high right and sailed far out over a little grove of mesquite trees and I lost it--way over to the right somewhere--and I lost the damn ball.

When I got back into the clubhouse an hour or so later, I was exhausted. I had no balls left. My last ball I lost on the last hole when I hit another slice--a fade, this one sailing, whistling actually, out at a right angle to where I had tried to hit it and it ended up merrily careening around in a farmer's cornfield across the creek that ran through the golf course. Totally out of bounds.

I didn't keep score that first time. I'm sure I shot 200 perhaps. That really wasn't it. What was it was that I loved the experience. I loved it so much, I was up that next Saturday morning and right back out there again for my second time playing and again the assistant pro was there and he became a great friend, and he began to go through the clubs that had been traded in and also clubs they put in their rental club bags with me and he'd pick out the best of those and sell them to me for 5 or 6 bucks a piece, which was a lot of money in those days--I made $3.00 a day working 6 days a week for my brother--but gradually I managed to put together a much more pro set of clubs and woods and soon, too, by the end of that summer, I felt, and this pro friend agreed with me, that I was ready to try my hand at making a go at a golf career--I got to be a great iron player and putter, though I had trouble hitting woods--my slice stayed with me so meanly I later began hitting a two-iron off the tee with great success though not much distance--still I was so good a long iron player so I could hit another 2 iron off the fairway and make most of the 4-par and 5-par greens in regulation. And the next spring, I went out for and made my high school golf team, B team for a while, and then finally going A team for 2 tournaments, one down in south Texas and the other up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the Southern Hills Golf Course, a famous pro course up there--that's where I met a young girl golfer named Betsy whose picture is in the very first Sports Illustrated magazine and fell in love with her--I was attracted first to her legs, I'd never seen such beautiful legs on a girl, and then her face, just the kind of face I liked, and damn she talked golf with me and she was a hell of a better golfer than I was and she went on to become a Ladies PGA champion and I went on to become a writer and a singer with a bar band, a failed husband, a raconteur with a dwindling audience--but oh my how I loved golf--and women golfers especially--and I've had several close associations with some famous women golfers in my day--by coincidence--like in Dallas I moved into this swank apartment building and I started going over to this big park right across from my apartment compound and hitting golf balls over there and over there one afternoon hitting golf balls I looked up and saw approaching this lady, a young lady, and noticed how cute she was in tight shorts and a tee shirt and carrying a huge golf bag full of bright diamond-shiny new pro signature golf clubs and she comes up by me and says, "Do you mind if I hit alongside you here?" "Hell no, baby, hit away...what's your name?" "Mickey." "Mickey. Hi, I'm Wolfie." "Hi, Wolfie." She hit a 7 iron. It was a perfect swing. "Wow, you swing like a pro. I was at a Hogan golf clinic one time and you swing like Hogan." "Thank you, that's very sharp of you." "Yeah, I try and swing like Lloyd Mangrum. I learned to play golf out of his book, How to Break 90 in Golf, you know it?" "I know Lloyd Mangrum." "Get out of here! You know Lloyd Mangrum?" "Sure. He's from Dallas here, but I met him out in San Diego where I'm from. I knew his brother, too; he was a pro here in Dallas back in the forties." "Wow, Mickey, you're cool. And you live at the North Park?" "Yeah, I just moved in there. You live there?" "Yeah, number 11, right by the pool." "We're by the pool, too, number 20." "You're directly across from me. Great. Maybe we can get together some time." "We're going to have a big pool party if I win the Dallas Open this weekend." "Yeah, you're playing out at Lakewood this weekend?" "Yeah." "Hey, good luck. You an amateur?" "No, no." She laughed and hit another perfect 7 iron. "No, I'm a professional." We hit a bunch of balls and talked some more and then we went and shagged our balls, mine scattered a lot more than hers, and then I walked with her toward a car, a new Oldsmobile, and she said, "Let me get something out of my car here...." and she slid into the front seat of the car and took something from the glove compartment. As she sat in the car the car door was opened facing me. I looked down and saw a small brass plaque screwed to the door--"Presented to Mickey Wright for Winning the 1963 Ladies PGA Golf Championship." Jesus. I'd been knocking balls around and jawing around with Mickey Wright, who later went on to be one of the winningest women golfers of all time--over 80 tour victories--and now a member of the Women's Golf Hall of Fame.

And I did eventually go to a pool party that Mickey was at, but, my hopes were dashed when she introduced me to her lover. Oh well. I really dug Mickey--plus I found her very sexually attractive, but then that's one of my ironies I love, Lesbians love me and are nice to me and treat me as though I were a woman--my feminine self--yes, now I know--to my Lesbian friends "desire begets love."
Mickey WrightMickey Wright

Right after I met Mickey Wright, I gave my golf clubs away and got married to a girl I'd originally met in Anaheim, CA, and later who showed up at my apartment--by God, that same apartment where Mickey Wright lived, too--that great apartment--we called 'em "Danish modern" apartments, split levels they were called, too, or California-style apartments--all with patios out back and fronts facing the pool. I gave my golf clubs away to a friend of mine who had just taken up the game. He borrowed my clubs to play his first game and when he brought them back to me I told him to keep them.

Due to my final performance for my high school team--I lost but played with Gibby Gilbert who later became a PGA tour pro--the crowd following Gibby included golf recruiters from colleges, and then that summer I played a few tournaments on a Texas Pro-Am tour--and my finest hour came in the Sweetwater, Texas, Pro-Am when I made it all the way through to the amateur finals and was paired with Charles Coody who was already a pro and who it turned out knew my cousin who had been on the TCU golf team and later went on to become Texas Pub Links Champion and knew Coody very well, and through these two connections, I got a golf scholarship my first semester in college. It paid my tuition and my books and I could have lived in the athletic dorm, too, but I chose not to. I went out and played my college's course and did pretty good but when I went to the first try out, shit, I knew I was outclassed. The returning team had gone all the way to the NCAA finals where they almost upset the University of Houston--I mean, hell, there I was hitting balls amidst some of the best college players in the US. I soon stopped going. I got a notice in December that my scholarship had been cut off. I also got an F in Golf, my first college F. And that was it for my golf career.

I kept playing though. In the army I met this really nice guy from Oklahoma City and we hit it off big and he had aspirations to become a golf pro and he had already won some tournaments on the Pro-Am circuit in Oklahoma and Kansas, and we played golf on the Fort Sill course and then down on the Lawton, Oklahoma, muni course, and after the army I was looking at a golf tournament listing in the newspaper one day and by god there he was, there was his name, he was a pro golfer, and he was twentieth in the Western Open in Chicago, and then the next time I looked his name at the same tournament finals, his name was gone--not there--and I never saw his name again.

As a golfer I did meet some of the best in the game in those days. I did take a golf clinic with Ben Hogan, who was from Fort Worth and knew my cousin the TCU golfer, TCU being in Fort Worth, and a lot of their matches on the Colonial CC course, Hogan's course. I also met Sam Snead when they had a Pro-Am in my hometown; Tommy Bolt, too, always played in my hometown's tournament; and Don January--who had earlier gone to the same college I did--and I met a golfer named Joe Black, too--and I had a chance to become a great golfer, but, no way. My problem: concentration. I couldn't stay focused on the game and the course and the angles and the distances--I was too busy drinking beers, horsing around doing the clown thing--I could pitch a golf ball up in the air and hit it with my driver like it was a baseball--and I know Tiger Woods can do that, too. And that's what I did all day Sunday morning and afternoon. I watched Tiger Woods playing golf. Outside of Tucson, Arizona, in the desert, playing match play, and Tiger won all his matches and made it all the way to the final 36-hole match with the other finalist, Stuart Cink, a golfer who hadn't won in an embarrassing number of years though later they announced the guy had made 22 million bucks in his career, which ain't bad for a guy who only won 4 tournaments over 15 years and in the final match he was playing Tiger Woods who had won over 60 tournaments in his 10-year career--and Tiger was invincible today. And if you know golf and love it like I do, watching Tiger Woods is watching the best golfer in the history of golf, a man so god-damn confident in his successful game, a game he's been working on since he was 4 years old, he hypnotizes the other players and psyches them out and makes them make errors, and this trick-jobbing works on the best of the other pros, like Phil Mickelson, who is the closest to Tiger in skills on the tour this year. Like in his match today with Cink, Tiger came right out hitting 360-yard drives and making birdies to the point that by the end of the morning 18, Tiger was 4 holes up on Cink. And Cink was rattled. Tiger hit a wild drive on one hole, a wide hook, which Tiger hates--and Tiger went through one of his childish tantrums--and then Cink got up and hit his drive in exactly the same wild place--and from then on Cink was psyched--in fact, he was psyched out--psyched totally out of the game.

But Tiger Woods can't be psyched out unless he has personal problems--like when his precious daddy died and left Tiger alone against the competitive world. But he overcame that trauma by marrying a totally gorgeous blonde Swede model or something--you know, one of those blonde Aryan beauties these privileged rich celebrities manage to nail down--these young blonde babes give all these celebs whether they're black or white beautiful sunshine babies. But Tiger is now back to being a piece of art with a golf stick. Totally synchronized. A perfect golf swing. The left arm stiff as a board. The grip firm and steady. The knees slightly bent. Left eye firmly focused on the ball and nothing else. Everything is timed exactly, like a piece of music is timed out exactly. And then his swing, his long backswing, then his body dropping noticeably and then unwinding upwardly as he uses his hips to give force to his swing, to his clubhead, to put the punch and power in it, the perfect swing that swings around so smoothly and clock-like and then his follow through, wow, the club swinging up high up over his head, swinging up and back to eventually end up with the clubhead way below his ass in the back. What a swing. And Tiger can hit a driver 360 yards easy. And Tiger can putt.

So I had a fun day; watching the perfect golf player playing a perfect game of golf, defeating Stuart Cink 8 and 7, meaning Tiger was 8 holes up on Cink with 7 holes to play and Cink conceded defeat and Tiger won his 7th straight tournament; only the second PGA tour tournament this year but he's won them both and has gone into first place in both the Fed-Ex Cup standings and the money winning list. Tiger has now won over 77 million bucks simply from golf tournaments he's won.

I've seen the greatest from the past, I've seen Lloyd Mangrum play; I've seen Sam Snead, Jimmy Demeret, Jackie Burke, Tommy Bolt, Gene Littler, Ken Venturi, Arnie Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Byron Nelson play--my hometown's own Maxwell Brothers, Billy and Bobby, who also attended the same college as I did--much earlier than me--and whose father was the founder and first pro at my hometown's muni course--and I had watched and learned from playing with my own cousin, the TCU collegiate golf champion, still living out in California, by the way, in his 80s--and, too, I've actually socialized with the likes of Mickey Wright, and one time with Marlene Bauer at a party I gave in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1967, but that's a story for another day, though I end by trumpeting: Tiger is the greatest golfer I've ever seen--ever.

for The Daily Growler

Some Great Women Golfers From the Past Didriksen Zaharias; she was also an Olympic track & field champion. She, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, was from Port Arthur, Texas, originally. She married George Zaharias, a pro-fake kind of rassler; it proved to be a fairly happy marriage. Babe later died of cancer while still fairly young. In 1950, she was voted the Woman Athlete of the Century. Berg. One of the earliest women golfers to turn pro--in 1940. She helped found the Ladies PGA. She won over 80 tournaments during her career. She announced late in life, in her late eighties, she had Alzheimer's, the disease from which she died. Gibson, from Midland, Texas, same as Little Georgie Porgie Bush Baby. After she became a champion tennis star she turned to golf and became a champion player on the Ladies PGA tour. First black tennis pro; and first black golf tour pro. Whitworth, another Texan, and some say the greatest woman golfer ever. Kathy along with Mickey Wright and Patty Berg was one of the leading winners of all time on the Ladies PGA.'s the Bauer Sisters, Marlene on the left and Alice on the right. Born on a golf course in South Dakota, their dad was the club pro, then taken to California by dad in the 1940s where the girls dominated California's women amateur golf. They became the youngest women ever to turn pro--and were among the women golfers who founded the LPGA. Both girls became lady golfer sex objects, especially Marlene. Later, Marlene married Bob Hagge--and then later, the girls caused a big scandal when they switched husbands--and Alice ended up with Bob Hagge. They went by Bauer Hagge, both of them, for a while. Both were natural beauties. They eventually played out of Midland-and-Odessa, Texas. Alice is the one who attended my famous pig roast in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1967. It's a great story I may write one day--me and sweet little Alice in the rose bushes--oh what memories!

Alice wasn't as successful as Marlene. Alice never won an LPGA tournament though she was runner-up quite a few times. Marlene, however, was a big winner, breaking the money winnings record at $22,000 one season. Marlene also held the ladies's nine-hole record of 29, too, for many years. Marlene played golf up into the late nineties and was elected to the Women's Golf Hall of Fame in 2002. Alice died in 2002 at 74 of colon cancer. Marlene, as far as I know, is still kicking out in Palm Desert, California. She made over $220,000 in her career--pretty good for an 20-year-old girl back in those wild 50s.

Here's Marlene at her sexy best:

Alice, believe me, was smaller, cutely petite, and I think better looking than Marlene--though it's hard to imagine this looking at Marlene up there in that great photo.

Adios, Alice. I knew you a little better than Marlene.

for The Daily Growler

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