This is a mostly true account of three men who played golf together for a number of years. I will call them Karl, Tom and Jim, because that is their names.
Jim, a former missionary, farmer, anthropologist and truck driver still puts on his academic robes and teaches at a small linguistics graduate school in Dallas. When he plays golf he changes into his golf attire, which looks something like the clothes he wore when milking cows in upstate New York. Jim is big and slightly bulky, has a wonderful smile and is left-handed—which will become more relevant later in the story.
Karl is smaller, not nearly as muscular or bulky. He tries to wear golf-like clothes, but never quite looks the part. He, too, is a former missionary, anthropologist, linguist and storyteller, so he is the natural one to relate this account. He is also left-handed when he swings the golf clubs but prefers to be right-handed when he eats or uses the bathroom.
Tom is more stylish, almost looking the part of a true golfer, although his proper nature will be given away when he putts. Tom is a little over medium size, but in good shape physically, except for two replaced hips, one new knee and problems with his shoulder and neck. He is also a former missionary, linguist, teacher and world traveler. Both Tom and Jim can speak Portuguese, but prefer a Texas dialect of English. It is Tom’s native tongue and both Jim and Karl are attempting to learn it.
They play golf at the course called Pecan Trails—there are plenty of trails, but no pecans, so the owners have it half right. The course consists of 21 holes (that’s how Texans count) spread out over several cow pastures. There are two sets of tees, one shorter to the green and the other longer. Three men will get as close as they can to the green before teeing off, so they use the shorter ones.
Jim gets to the course about a half hour before either Tom and Karl, hires a golf cart and begins his practice holes, usually about 4 of them before he comes back to join the others. He then shares the cart with Tom while Karl is on his own. He is not a particularly good driver so the two men let him go first.
They are now ready to tee off at the initial hole—Jim is always first. As I said, he is left-handed, so striking the ball with his Big Bertha, it sails high and far—into the gully to the left of the first fairway. He has another belt at it and this time the ball magically follows the first—into the gully. After the third misfire, Jim will go down to a spot on the fairway, roughly horizontal to where the first three balls landed, and play his “second” shot. (I should mention here that the men only count strokes if they get a par or, very rarely, a birdie. They are mathematically challenged.)
Karl is next to tee off. His ball follows the flight of Jim’s since he too is left-handed. He then pulls out his faithful 4-iron and “drills” one about 100 yards down the fairway. He will also now play his “second” shot.
Tom is now almost ready to hit, having done his knee bends, shoulder flexes and practice swings. Karl and Jim are down the fairway hiding behind trees. Tom, however, hits a masterful drive over 200 yards down (and then up) the fairway. He is truthfully going to hit his “second” shot.
Jim and then Karl pound their way up the fairway, take a left turn behind a grove of trees, and loft their wedges to terrible lies around the green. Tom, not to be outdone, glances his second shot off a tree and into the fairway. He then dribbles a shot along the ground, but almost to the green. It was his third legitimate shot.
Jim has already putted out—neither Karl or Tom are sure how he got on the green. While Karl stands to the side of the green, Tom is almost in front of it, so he decides to use his putter, a terrible mistake as it turns out. It takes him four more strokes to “almost” get in the hole, which is close enough for Jim to call it an “almost par”, but who’s counting?
There are 17 more holes to play (we don’t usually go for the 21-hole aberrant, adjacent area), but I am only going to recount two more holes—number 9 and number 18. They provide the most entertainment and lies (both on the ground and in our story).
Hole 9 is, alas, over water and should be an easy par 4. But nothing is easy for this trio. Jim, of course, shoots first and his ball follows the normal trajectory—high and to the left, but, with a small kick here and there, still playable. Karl is next and he aims far to the right, knowing that his ball will go far to the left. It ends up, miraculously, in the middle of the fairway. Now it is Tom’s turn. He is deathly afraid of water and it takes him some minutes to get up enough nerve to hit the ball. It goes directly at the surface of the water, skips three times, goes over a wall and ends up in the leaves on the far side of the fairway.
Each of the men are lying a legitimate one stroke, ready for their second shot and that is where the “fun” begins. Jim lofts his ball high toward the equipment barn, banking it off the door and back to edge of the green. Karl hits a “worm-burner” that slithers to the ditch in front of the green. Tom, using a 7-iron, hits his best shot of the day, some 50 yards to the back of the green. They all now lie 2, about to take their third shot. Jim gets out his faithful long-distance putter and almost holes it, except for the downslope that carries it away from the hole. He doesn’t wait, he quickly cleans and replaces his ball and putts it in for a par. He raises his arms and points to the sky. Tom takes out his unfaithful putter and this time he gets it within 6 feet of the hole. Both Jim and Karl shout “that’s a gimmie,” so that Tom won’t have to putt again. He too now has a par. Karl has managed to get his third shot on the green and is now about to putt. He carefully plumbs the line of the ball with his putter, throws grass into the wind to test its direction, spits on his right hand (remember he is left-handed), pulls down his cap, squints and putts. The ball seems to do clever, but unusual things: it goes right, then left, then zips past the cup. He is now lying three and needs to get it in for a par. He cleans the ball again, just in case it has picked up some microscopic germs, lines up the dot on the ball with the cup and putts. Almost, anticlimactically, it goes in. Each man has made a par and they celebrate with a cereal bar and a Dr Pepper from Jim’s ice chest.
We are now on the last hole. It is a par 3 and over water, with bushes to the left, trees to the right and a really big tree at the back of the green. Jim of course knows his ball will go left. This is not a long hole but he is using his driver. He hits a ball that for some unknown reason hooks to the right and ends up in the adjacent fairway. Tom, using his three wood, is now somewhere over near the big tree. Karl, trying to be smart with a 6-iron hits directly at the green and it would have been a beautiful shot had it not gone in the water.
But wait, the water hole is now dry and he will be able to chip on to the green—or so he thinks. Instead, the ball hits the retaining wall and ricochets back into the fairway. In the meantime, Tom is still looking for his ball and Jim is teeing his up over on the other fairway.
I won’t finish the hole—after all, they didn’t either. Oh, eventually, they all got their balls in the cup, but why make a good story into a shaggy dog one? I’ll let you imagine what happened and if you ever meet one of them ask about that 18th hole. By watching their lips you can tell if they are lying.
Well Karl doesn’t play golf any longer with the men—he moved to Waco and is content to paint and write stories. Tom and Jim, however, still meet once a week at Pecan Trails and “play” golf. They still look for lost balls, although Karl gave them over 2,325 used balls from his collection and worth 25 cents each—but who’s counting?