101: Angel’s Flight

101: Angel’s Flight

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

Angel’s Flight

“Fore!”

Instinctively I ducked, covering my head with my arms. A golf ball sizzled past me and landed no more than twenty feet from my quaking body. It careened off a hillock, rolled down a nearby cart path and, then, as if to punctuate its passing, neatly plopped into the water hazard beyond the green.

“What the?” I turned slowly, nostrils flaring, my eyes fixing upon the culprit. Marching up the fairway and smiling radiantly was a creature of such incredible beauty I have yet to recover. Her hair, blowing back from her temples, was fiery red. Her prancing gait ran a shock through my senses. It was the kind of shock any man would love to receive.

“Oh, I am sorry,” she said, glancing at me and then peering beyond to the murky pond. Her enormous green eyes returned to me and she said, “Did I frighten you?”

I began to stammer my response. I was frightened, but more as a result of being intimidated by her ravishing beauty. She stood patiently, alternating her gaze between me and the pond. I finally emitted something audible.

“No, no, certainly it’s a part of the game. Nothing special about having a ball fly by.”

She looked again at the pond and then said, “Well, I must say, I never will trust the yardage on this scorecard. I was sure I had at least a hundred yards to the pin.” She frowned and then again looked directly into my eyes.

“Ah, well, this is a short hole,” I offered. “The seventh has something of a reputation for being deceptive that way.”

“The seventh?! Oh, I feel so foolish.” She paused, and then began fumbling through the pockets of her neatly tailored windbreaker. Then, after examining a wrinkled scorecard, she said, “I thought I was playing the sixth.”

She smiled and looked at me sheepishly, perhaps expecting me to be amused by her mistake. But I stood silently, my face expressionless. Finally, after a moment, she extended her hand.

“I’m so sorry. I have neglected to introduce myself.”

Her soft hand, warm for so brisk an autumn morning, fell across my palm as gently as a feather. Her voice betrayed a Southern gentility. This beauty had so soundly smitten me, I was nearly catatonic.

“I’m Clarice McGraw,” she said.

Fumbling with my golf bag, and feeling as if my cardigan sweater was starting to unravel, I mimicked her polite gestures and sputtered, “Ah yes, ah well... I’m Jimmy Olden.”

As I shook her hand and looked into her eyes, I imagined I saw a growing discernment of my condition. She must encounter fools like me often, I thought. But in a comfortable way she gave my hand one last shake, surprisingly firm for so soft a hand, and released it. Somehow, I felt assured that I would not be so quickly dismissed.

I gradually loosened up, and we had something of a conversation. Since we were both playing alone we finished the front nine together. She had an appointment, so I continued on alone, enjoying the back nine. But before we parted I did learn that she was new to the area, had opened up a ladies’ dress shop along the boardwalk in town and liked to play golf in the early morning. I told her a little about myself and expressed the hope I would see her again soon. She smiled warmly.

That night I couldn’t sleep, and it was still dark when I pulled my car into the club. As I rolled down the long sloping drive to the parking lot I could hear sprinklers clacking faintly somewhere in the distance. I parked and turned off my headlights. A lone light shone over the door of the golf shop.

I sat quietly, clutching a cup of decaffeinated coffee. As the rays of morning sun began to filter through the stand of eucalyptus at the edge of the course, I started wondering if I was doing the right thing. What if we did hit it off? What if my dreams came true? Could I take all the pressure of being at my best every moment of the day? How could I survive with this beauty?

The sunlight strengthened, and the warming glow of a new day filled my car. I stretched my arms out across the rim of the steering wheel, and cracked my neck with a sudden twist. After a while the assistant pro opened the shop and turned on the lights. Soon he would be brewing his own coffee, dark and strong, and setting up for the morning business. His name was Ted, and we called him “Go Ball.” He was a young, strong man who could drive the ball prodigiously. When he really laid the wood on he’d shout out, “Go ball!” He had such exuberance—it was more natural than anything.

There it was. It struck me that I had the perfect medium through which I could speak to Clarice. It was the game of golf. There is nothing more natural or easy than the bond that grows between players enjoying a round. All I had to do was to play a round of golf with her. I thought of the many times I had teed off with three strangers who soon became three friends. In fact I had met many of my oldest and dearest friends playing golf.

Clarice drove her Volvo into the parking lot and pulled in right alongside my old Fiat Spider. I just happened to have arrived there a mere hour before, and so I casually dismounted my rusting steed.

“Oh, hello,” I said in my best Gary Cooper voice.

“Oh, Jimmy, so nice to see you again.”

“Are you about to go play?” she asked, looking at me with those beautiful eyes.

I was slightly dumbstruck but finally said, “Yeah sure, you bet. Would you like to join me?”

She smiled broadly and laughed. “I suppose you think it might be safer to play with me instead of ahead of me.”

I had to laugh.

We teed off and walked down the fairway, speaking of the things golfers do.

By the time we had completed the front nine we knew each other well enough to say we were friends. We laughed and commiserated over errant shots and generously conceded putts. I was encouraged when she asked if I would play the back nine with her. By the time we came up the eighteenth fairway we each in our own way began to hatch plans. I asked if she would have dinner with me.

She feigned a moment of concentration, as if to envision her cluttered social calendar. Then, smiling impishly, she invited me to her house for meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Our friendship was born, and we met regularly to play during the remaining fall days. We found new passion in the winter months as a snowy shroud covered the greens. She gave me a driver for Christmas. I gave her a putter. We became more than friends and traveled to a warmer climate to try them out. By spring, I had asked her for her hand.

We were married at the church on the road behind the tenth green, and as we walked out the front door a band of our golfing friends saluted us with golf clubs held high, splashing us with grass seed. At first, the game did all the talking, but soon our hearts were filled with love. It all was so natural and relaxed. And I grew to like being at my best all the time for Clarice.

In sharing our new life together we spent what time we could on the links. We vacationed by traveling across the country and playing all the finest courses.

One year I cheered as Clarice nearly won the ladies’ championship at the club. I bought a bottle of champagne with which we celebrated her third-place finish and drowned her disappointment. Our heads clouded with the bubbles, I told her she had easily won the championship of my heart. She was my champion of all champions. She was the winner of the Angel’s flight.

For twelve years the game gave us joy, and made it possible for us to see each other in ways that were otherwise probably impossible. Our lives together were filled with many rich experiences. The people and places and our love for the game that brought us together were all so interwoven. It was like a warm quilt, and my memories of it will never tarnish with time.

But one day my Clarice came home from a checkup with her doctor and told me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. We sat for an eternity, looking into each other’s eyes, neither wanting to show weakness in the face of so daunting an ordeal. Her last days in the hospital came just after Christmas. At home for the last time, we had exchanged gifts beneath the tree. She gave me a new driver, one picked out by our head pro, Ted. I gave her a red sweater with a pattern of falling leaves. It reminded me of the day we met.

My Clarice passed away the first Tuesday of January.

I took a long trip, but I left my clubs at home. When I returned in early spring, my first impulse was to go out to the club. When I arrived I was greeted by all our dear friends. I decided to go to the range and see if I could loosen my spine. After a while I found I was hitting the ball pretty well. I decided to go out and play a few holes alone. As I set my bag down aside the first tee, I realized that this would be my first opportunity to see how my new driver felt. It was a beauty. I laced a good drive straight up the fairway. From the golf shop window I heard Ted yell out, “Go ball!” I smiled and waved to him.

Of course, my mind was on Clarice. The first buds of spring were just beginning to open and the grass was a deep lush green. We always reveled in the beauty of springtime. I was playing well for so long a layoff; I hit a nice shot toward the seventh green. My ball lay at the edge of the green, so I used my surefire 7-iron and chipped it to the very lip of the cup.

As I walked toward the hole a gentle breeze gave my ball just a nudge and in it went. A warmth filled my senses as I looked skyward and whispered, “Are you with me, my Angel?”

As I collected my ball from the cup, I heard a distant voice. It spoke to me with urgency, and sounded almost like...

“Fore!”

A golf ball landed with a thud no more than twenty feet away. I raised one arm belatedly to protect my head. Then I turned and looked up the fairway. There, in half-gallop, was a young redheaded lad with a bag nearly equal his size draped over his back.

“Sorry, mister, I didn’t think I could reach this green.”

As he stood before me I smiled, thinking back to someone else who didn’t think she could reach this green. I looked into this young boy’s green eyes and said, “It’s all right, boy. It’s part of the game. Nothing special about having a ball fly by.”

We walked in together and talked of the things golfers do.

That evening I sat near our fireplace in the company of a glass of red wine. As the embers cast an orange glow about the room, I looked back over the years and thought about how the game of golf had enriched my life. I thought of Clarice and how golf had introduced us, nurturing first our friendship and then our love. Somehow, I knew that every day I spent on the course Clarice would be with me, and perhaps occasionally, with the gentle breeze of her wing, would give my ball a nudge into the hole.

~J. G. Nursall
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul

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