29: Lost and Found

29: Lost and Found

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

Lost and Found

From the satchel on my office desk, forty ungraded compositions whispered at me in grammatically incorrect urgency. But after two days of torrential rainfall, a radiant sun enveloped the local greens in a golden Sunday embrace. After a quick shower, I was off for a lone round before trading in my pitching wedge for the proverbial red pen.

The attendant at the clubhouse greeted me with an only slightly disgruntled countenance; rising early to watch others play golf is apparently not without its limitations. The sign-in sheet indicated only one other gentleman had begun his round. Good. The golf would be quick, private and unhurried.

After sticking my wedding ring in my front pocket for safekeeping (it causes blisters if I leave it on), I astounded myself with my first drive, a sweet whistle down the center of the fairway. I lovingly replaced the head cover on my driver.

By the sixth hole, it was becoming increasingly apparent, even given my poor math skills, that I was having the round of my life. Not that Tiger Woods has to worry just yet; after five holes I was one under, thanks in part to holing a slippery twenty-footer.

Addressing my ball, I peered down the sixth fairway, a beautifully designed par-5 that loped around a kidney-shaped pond fronted with flowering water plants and cattails. Poking around with his ball retriever was Mr. Early. This is what I dubbed him, unable to recall his name from the logbook I had hastily scribbled my signature into less than an hour ago. Hair whiter than a freshly opened pair of tube socks, with a posture that suggested firsthand recollections of the birth of the game, he did not notice my growing impatience on the tee box. Finally, rationalizing that I was playing too well this morning to actually hit him (and feeling the ever-increasing weight of those essays bearing down on the remaining hours of my shortened weekend), I teed off with a shank that would make Sir Murphy and his Book of Laws proud.

Old fart, I grumbled to myself, thrusting the ill-fitting head cover over my driver. Eager to make the turn alone, I promised myself not to engage this feeble duffer in conversation. Trouble is, in my disgust over the missed hit, I had failed to track my ball with any degree of precision. All I knew is that it had sculled somewhere near where Mr. Early was still searching.

“Quite the morning, isn’t it?” he asked as I approached.

“Yeah,” I said, avoiding direct eye contact. Old folks are like animals, I reasoned, they can see the weakness in your eyes.

“We seem to have lost ourselves in here somewhere,” he said, waving his ball remover over the tangled grass in which we waded.

Just as it seemed I was destined to spend my Sunday morning chaperoning a member of the geriatric unit around the links, I spied a dimpled sphere buried deep in the rough.

“Here I am,” I said, reaching for the first thing in my bag. A rotten stick would have done.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “I was hitting a Titleist.”

“Me too,” I said, rolling my eyes in exasperation. Or was it a Top-Flite? Who cares, I finally decided. The ball was mine.

And I was gone.

But the image of the old man staring at me as I made my way around the lake kept me from concentrating. My game suffered. I grew angrier and angrier.

Following another chunked drive, I slammed my driver into the bag, resolved never to grip its evilness again.

My iron game left me as well, literally. On the thirteenth hole, I went to my bag to retrieve my 7-iron, only to find it was not there. I groaned, realizing what I would be forced to endure. Mr. Early was still behind me, and most likely in possession of my club.

Unfortunately, he was gone. Apparently, nine was enough for him this fine Sunday morning. Probably off to church, I steamed, heading for the clubhouse, my round destroyed.

The clubhouse was still empty as I entered, the overhead fan doing little to cool me off. The attendant gazed at me with that same sleepy boredom with which he had greeted me earlier.

“Did anyone else come in here?” I asked.

“Older guy? Head of white hair?” he asked, yawning.

“Yeah,” I said. “Did he leave anything behind?”

“Yup. Said you’d be looking for it. He set everything over on the bar.”

“Everything?” I asked.

“Look, it’s on the bar. That’s all I know,” he said.

I walked over to the mahogany counter, the clicking of the cleats ringing in my ears. There on the bar was the cover to my driver, my 7-iron and a golf ball. Reaching for the ball, I felt my face flush red. Top-Flite. It even had my personalized markings, three dots with a permanent red pen. Then I noticed a drink napkin amidst my returned equipment. Set in the middle, shining as bright as the day on which my wife had slipped it on my finger, was my wedding ring. It had fallen out of my pocket somewhere on the golf course. A miracle itself that he had found it. Even more astonishing that he had somehow known it was mine and to return it, with everything else. My throat tightened as I raced for the parking lot.

Mr. Early was just pulling out as I skidded to a halt in front of his car. I slowly made my way to the driver’s-side window, which he was already rolling down.

“My stuff,” I said. “You returned my stuff. Even after... the ball... your ball... I stole your ball.”

“Let me see it,” he said, gazing up at me.

I almost ripped my pants digging for that ball I still had in my front pocket. With shaking fingers, I slipped it into his palm.

He peered at the ball, turned it in his gnarled hands and sucked on his teeth. After a long moment, he reached the ball back out the window and said, “Nope. This isn’t mine. I was hitting a Titleist 3. This here is a Titleist 1. You keep it, son. You found it.”

In a daze, I retrieved the ball from his hand. “But my stuff, you found all the stuff I lost,” I stammered.

“Not everything,” he replied with a slight smile. “Not everything.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He put his car in gear and eased it forward. As he rolled up his window, he said, “You lost the one thing even I can’t get back for you, son. Go read the napkin on the bar.”

And then he was gone.

Back in the clubhouse, I made my way to the bar. Turning the napkin over, I read in Mr. Early’s scrawled handwriting the following words:

YOUR TEMPER

~Greg R. Bernard
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul

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