59: Your Cheatin’ Heart

59: Your Cheatin’ Heart

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

Your Cheatin’ Heart

Golf gives you an insight into human nature, your own as well as your opponent’s.

~Grantland Rice

The one thing to be said about my Uncle Steve was that he never let a rule stand in his way of winning. I first witnessed this behavior when I challenged him to a game of Snakes and Ladders. I was only a mere child of five, but that didn’t keep him from using his warped logic to win. He argued that since he was not afraid of snakes, he should be allowed to climb the beasts as well as the ladders. This comment, of course, begged the question: If my uncle would go to that much effort to win a child’s game, how far would he go for something important?

By the time Steve was in his early thirties, he had become an adequate golfer whose handicap was that he still hated to lose. Because of his attitude and temper he was often forced to play alone, which did not keep him from playing as though his life depended on a victory. Rules became suggestions for people with limited imaginations. He would take a one-foot gimme and then whirl around to see if I was going to argue. I, of course, had long since learned that reminding my uncle of the rules meant a small tip.

I turned fifteen the summer Pine Greens Golf Club held its fiftieth annual championship. Pine Greens was the oldest business or club in the area and therefore was viewed with reverence. The Golf Trophy, a truly unimaginative name for the award, was the most prestigious prize in the county, and my uncle was geared up for the victory.

“Al, my boy,” he said, “this year the Golf Trophy is mine and you’ll be my caddie.”

I hesitated to remind him of his promise to never play in the tournament again. This oath had been made after calling the tournament officials fascists for refusing to allow him his multi-mulligan rule.

“Are you sure you want to play?” I asked cautiously. “After all, you did offend quite a few people last year.”

“Water under the bridge,” he assured me. “I’m a changed man.”

This appeared to be true. As the tournament wore on, my uncle demonstrated levels of self-control that would have put a Zen master to shame. He followed, without the slightest complaint, every rule he had ever dismissed as archaic. What made the situation even more unbelievable was that he managed to keep his anger in check.

At the 8th hole, he missed a three-foot putt and smiled. Everybody in the group, myself included, had fallen to the ground in preparation for the ritual tossing of the putter. “What gives?” I asked as I placed the putter back in the bag. “You’re acting like a good sport. You should have lost your temper back at the 1st hole.”

“I told you I was prepared this year,” whispered Steve. “I went and got myself hypnotized last night. According to the Amazing Freddie, every time I would normally get angry, I focus the energy on the next shot. Considering the quality of my last drive, my tee shot should be a beaut.”

It was. The hole was a dogleg left, 350 yards. Steve was on the green after his first shot and sunk a long putt for eagle. He smiled politely as the rest of his party bogeyed.

At the end of the day, Steve was tied with Angus Popovitch, a man whose reputation for cheating made Steve look like an amateur. According to club rules, they would face off the following day in an eighteen-hole match.

It was a lovely fall day as the two golfers prepared to tee off. Word had spread as to who was in the final, and a huge crowd had assembled. They had not come to see a great round of golf, but rather to witness what had the potential to be the first brawl in the history of Pine Greens.

The first sign of animosity occurred at the 2nd green. Angus’s shot was within three feet of the cup, and he bent down to pick up his ball. Steve asked his opponent what he was doing, and Angus replied that anything under three feet was a gimme.

“Anything under three feet is a pygmy,” snarled Steve. “Now putt the ball.”

Thus the floodgates were thrust open, and those who had come to watch flagrant breaking of the rules were not disappointed. Angus drew first blood when he swore the wind from his practice swing had knocked the ball off his tee. It was not until Angus and his caddie were prepared to sign a sworn affidavit that Steve dropped his complaint.

At No. 3, Angus’s second shot bounced into the rough among some daisies. It was not a difficult shot to recover from as the weeds offered a minimum of difficulty. Angus, however, was not one to take chances. He plucked a handful of daisies and dropped them in front of Steve’s face.

“Wind appears to be from the west,” he laughed.

There was a murmuring of displeasure from the gallery at what was generally considered poor decorum. Steve surprised everyone by not saying anything.

My uncle’s second shot at the 6th hole saw his 5-iron take him into the rough. It was not a totally bad shot except that his ball landed behind a small boulder. Steve surveyed the ball from all angles, as did Angus. The shot was difficult, if not impossible, as the ball was less than an inch away from the rock. Angus showed his usual compassion. “Drop the ball and take a stroke. It’s getting late.”

Steve was ready to comply when he was struck with an epiphany. He reached down and grabbed the boulder with two hands and slowly lifted the rock off the ground. The boulder must have weighed about two hundred pounds, and Steve only managed to lift it waisthigh. Before Angus could utter a protest, Steve tossed the rock away from his ball.

“You’re right, Angus. The wind is westerly,” Steve said, and he proceeded to hit his ball onto the green.

This time the gallery gave a polite round of applause at what it deemed to be poetic justice. Steve doffed his cap, leaving Angus to complain to his caddie.

At last the combatants arrived at the 18th. Angus had the lead by one stroke, and the par-3 offered little hope for my uncle to mount a comeback. Still, he did his best as his tee shot landed twenty yards from the green. We waited as Angus prepared for his tee shot and were rewarded by a drive that trailed left, toward the woods.

“Keep an eye on him, Al,” warned Uncle Steve. “Angus will try to drop a ball in play if he can’t find his.”

We walked toward the green and watched as Angus and his caddie searched for the ball. I joined in the search, but Steve wouldn’t move from where he was standing. It was not easy to look for the ball and watch Angus and his caddie. I was about to suggest that Steve help when I heard a shout of joy as Angus found his ball. It was a feat just short of a miracle, I thought, as I had searched the same piece of ground just moments earlier. I rushed back to Steve.

“We got him,” I whispered. “That’s not his ball.”

The prestige of winning the tournament and the trophy disappeared with Steve’s sharp retort. “I know,” he answered. “I’m standing on it.”

~Alan Broderick
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, The 2nd Round

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