Goat Hills is gone now. It was swallowed up almost four years ago by the bulldozers of progress, and in the end it was nice to learn that something could take a divot out of those hard fairways. But all of the regular players had left long before. We had grown up at last. Maybe it will be all right to talk about the place now, and about the people and the times we had. Maybe it will be therapeutic. At least it will help explain why I do not play golf so much anymore. I mean, I keep getting invited to Winged Head and Burning Foot and all those fancy clubs we sophisticated New Yorkers are supposed to frequent, places where, I hear, they have real flagsticks instead of broom handles. It sounds fine, but I usually beg off. I am, frankly, still overgolfed from all those years at Goat Hills in Texas. You would be too if.... Well, let me tell you some of it. Not all. I will try to be truthful and not too sentimental. But where shall I begin? With Cecil? Yeah, I think so. He was sort of a symbol in those days, and....
We called him Cecil the Parachute because he fell down a lot. He would attack the golf ball with a whining, leaping half turn—more of a calisthenic than a swing, really—and occasionally, in his spectacular struggles for extra distance, he would soar right off the end of elevated tees.
He was a slim, bony, red-faced little man who wore crepe-soled shoes and heavily starched shirts that crackled like crunched glass. When he was earthbound, Cecil drove a delivery truck for a cookie factory, Grandma's Cookies, and he always parked it—hid it, rather—behind a tall hedge near the clubhouse. When the truck was there, out of sight of passing cars (or of cookie-company dispatchers snooping on cookie-truck drivers), you could be pretty sure that not only was Cecil out on the course but so were Tiny, Easy Reid, Magoo, Foot the Free, Grease Repellent, Ernie, Spec, Matty, Rush, Little Joe, Weldon the Oath, Jerry, John the Band-Aid and Moron Tom.
There was also the very good chance that all of us would be in one hollering, protesting, club-slinging fifteensome. Anyhow, when Cecil the Parachute had the truck hidden, you knew for sure that the game was on.
July 31, 1994
The game was not the kind of golf that Gene Sarazen or any of his stodgy friends ever would have approved of. But it was, nevertheless, the kind we played for about 15 years, from the mid-'40s to the late '50s, at a windy, dusty, indifferently mowed, stone-hard, broomstick-flagged, practically treeless, residentially surrounded public course named Worth Hills in Fort Worth. Goat Hills, we called it, not too originally.
It was a gambling game that went on in some fashion or another, involving from two to 20 players, almost every day of every year. The game survived not just my own shaft-bending, divot-stomping presence, but heat, rain, snow, war, tornadoes, jobs, studies, illness, divorces, birth, death and considerations of infinity. If there were certain days when it seemed the game might help pay part of my tuition through Texas Christian University—a jumble of yellow-brick buildings across the street from the course—there were others when it seemed certain to guarantee a lifetime of indebtedness. Either way you were trapped, incessantly drawn to the Hills, like Durrell to Alexandria.
Most days at the Hills began the same way, with lazy conversations on the front porch of the small white clubhouse. We would be slouched in chairs, smoking, drinking coffee, complaining about worldly things, such as the Seventh Street Theater's not changing its movie in weeks. Say it was August. We would be looking across the putting green at the heat. In Texas in August you can see the heat. It looks like germs under a microscope. In fact, say it was the day of the Great Scooter Wreck.
We were lounging. Matty, who had a crew cut and wore glasses and looked collegiate (and grew up to be a doctor), was resting against a pillar on the porch, playing tunes on his front teeth with his fingernails. He could do that. Learned it in study hall. For money, he could even play Sixty Minute Man, or Rocket 88 or whatever happened to be No. 1 on the jukebox at Jack's Place on the Mansfield Highway, where most of us went at night to "hustle the pretties," as Moron Tom phrased it, and watch truck drivers fight to see who bought the beer. I was reading either The Best of S.J. Perelman or The Brothers Karamazov. Any kind of book would prompt needling whoops from Tiny, who was a railroad conductor, or Weldon the Oath, who was a postman, or Grease Repellent, who worked at the Texaco station three blocks away. ("Hey, Jenkins! What you gonna do with all them facts clangin' around in yer head?") Foot the Free, which was short for Big Foot the Freeloader, was there, practice-putting at a small, chipped-out crevice in the concrete of the porch, a spot that marked the finish of the finest one hole of golf I ever saw played—but more about that later. Magoo was around. And Little Joe. Presently John the Band-Aid showed up, striding grimly from the parking lot, clubs over his shoulder, ready to go. He had beaten a Turf King pinball machine somewhere on University Drive—had found the A, B and C lit, had lit the D, then hit the feature—and had some money.
"You and you and you and you and you, too," said John. "All of you two, two, two automatic one-down presses, whatever gets even on 9 and 18, and whipsaw ever'body 70 or better for five." John the Band-Aid had lost the day before.
We began tying our shoes. Magoo said, "I don't guess anybody's gonna let me play since I didn't drop but a young 50 yesterday."
"You're here, aren't you?" said John. "Joe and me got all teams for five match and five medal. Same game as yesterday. Come on, let's jack it up."
Little Joe, who played without a shirt and had a blond ducktail haircut, said, "Sure wish I'd get to pick my own partner sometime." Then he said, "You gonna play good, John, or scrape it as usual?"
"There ain't no keep-off signs on me if you want some," John said, swinging his driver on the first tee.
"Five's enough," Little Joe said.
"You got it," said John.
Little Joe and I took a scooter, one of those two-seaters with three wheels, and John and Magoo took one. The rest walked. We were an eightsome. If others came later, they would join up along the way, as always, and there would be some action for them, too. Plenty.
With only eight players it was a fairly simple game to book-keep. You played each of the other seven individually on the front nine, on the back and on the 18—three bets each to start. Without any presses—new bets—that was a sizable investment right there. But new bets came quickly because of an automatic one-down press rule and big, get-even bets on 9 and 18. It was certainly nice to birdie the 9th and 18th holes sometimes. Like maybe $100 nice.
Naturally, there was always a long pause at both the 9th and 18th tees to figure out how everybody stood. Like this particular day. John the Band-Aid, I recall, had shot even par but was down to everyone.
"I got to be the alltime world's champion unlucky," he said, beating his driver against the tee marker. "Magoo can't play and he's beatin' me, and Matty can't play and he's beatin' me, and my young partner's dead as an old woman and...."
John the Band-Aid, who wore glasses and a straw hat and kept a handkerchief tied around his neck for protection against sunburn, rarely observed honors on the tee. In fact, the game sort of worked in reverse etiquette. The players who were losing teed off first.
"I'm gonna hit this one right into young Stadium Drive," said John impatiently. The 9th at the Hills was a long par-4. The tee was on a bluff, above a desperate drop-off into a cluster of undernourished hackberry trees, a creek, rocks and weeds. Ideally, the drive had to carry over the trees and creek and into the uphill fairway, leaving about a seven-iron to the green. Stadium Drive was behind the green.
As John the Band-Aid went into his backswing, Little Joe said, "Hit it, Daddy."
John said, "Mother, I'm hittin' hard as I can." He curved a wondrous slice into the right rough, and coming off of his follow-through slung the club in the general direction of Eagle Mountain Lake, just missing Little Joe. The Band-Aid's shot irritated Little Joe, and so did the flying club. "Man, man," said Joe. "They ought to put me in a box and take me to the state fair for bein' in this game."
I was fairly mad too. One under par and no money ahead. Maybe that's why I pointed the scooter straight down the hill and let it run. We were almost instantly out of control. "Son of a young..." said Joe, holding on. The scooter zoomed, but the front wheel struck a boulder and, like a plane taking off, we were in the air. I sailed straight over the front, and Joe went out the right side. The scooter, flipping and spewing clubs, landed on both of us, mostly on my left leg.
I think I was out for about 10 seconds before I heard all of the laughter behind me and felt the clubs and rocks underneath. They pulled the scooter off, and off Joe's white canvas bag—or what was left of it. Battery acid had been jolted out of the scooter and was already beginning to eat away at the bag.
"I got two says Joe don't have a bag before we get to 18," said Magoo. Foot called it. Although my left ankle was so swollen I had to play the rest of the way with only one shoe, we continued. It was on the 14th green that we noticed Magoo was a winner. When Joe went to pick up his bag after putting out, the only things left were the top metal ring, the bottom, the wooden slick and the shoulder strap. And Joe's left pant leg was going fast.
In or out of a runaway scooter, our game frequently took odd directions. Bored, we often played Goat Hills backward, to every other hole, to every third hole, entirely out-of-bounds except for the greens (which meant you had to stay in the roads and lawns), with only one club or at night, which was stimulating because of all the occupied cars parked on the more remote fairways. One of the most interesting games we invented, however, was the Thousand-yard Dash. This was a one-hole marathon. It started at the farthest point on the course from the clubhouse—and ended at the chipped-out place in the concrete on the porch. I have forgotten who invented it. Most likely it was either Foot the Free or myself or Matty, for we had once played from the Majestic Theater to the Tarrant County Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth—anything off Throckmorton Street was out-of-bounds—without getting arrested. At any rate, there were 12 of us who each put $5 in the pot and started flailing away, cutting across fairways, intruding on other games, cursing and carefully counting the strokes of those who had chosen the same route as ours. Some went to the left of the stone restroom, some went to the right. I followed Foot the Free because he could never afford to lose. He carried the same $5 bill, I think, for eight years. We hit a hooked driver, another hooked driver, a third hooked driver and then a hooked three-wood—you had to hook at the Hills to get the roll—and that got us both within pitching distance of the porch. The others were out of it by now, lost in the creek or in the flower beds of the apartment houses bordering the first fairway.
My approach shot carried the concrete porch, hit hard against the clubhouse wall, chased Wells Howard, the pro, back inside the door, brought a screech from his wife, Lola, glanced off one of the pillars and finally came to rest—puttable if I moved a chair—about 20 feet from the hole. Foot played a bounce shot, lofting a high wedge, letting it plop in front of the porch on some gravel, then hop up over the curb and skid against the wall. He was only 10 feet from the hole. Hell of a shot.
We quickly got a broom and began sweeping dirt particles off the porch and took off our cleats because they are very bad for a stance on concrete and put Wells and Lola at ease by convincing them that this would look good in our memoirs one day after we had all won the National Open and got famous.
A couple of rent-club players strolled out of the golf shop, and Foot asked them not to walk in his line. My putt offered one distinct danger, tapping it too firmly and having it roll past the hole and into a row of golf carts lined up at the far end—which is precisely what happened. I tried to argue that the carts were an unnatural hazard and that I deserved a free lift; but Wells, the pro, no doubt believing the game was my idea, ruled I had to play it. On in five, I 18-putted for a 23. Against anyone else I might still have had a chance. But Foot was one of the great putters in history. He calmly tapped his putt and it dribbled slowly, slowly over the concrete, wavering, wobbling—and in.
Foot's 6 was about the best hole I ever saw played, and I have seen several Odessa Pro-Ams. The only thing I ever heard that came close to equaling it happened in Austin a year or so later. A friend of mine named Thor, a Hills man off and on, made a 517 from the Lake Austin Inn to a brown-leather loafer in the closet of an apartment near the University of Texas campus.
I am sure that the longest hole we ever played was from the first tee at Goat Hills to the third green at Colonial Country Club. It was about 10 blocks, regardless of whether you went down Stadium Drive, past the TCU football field, left on Park Hill and over the houses, or down Alton Road and Simondale.
The first time we played it, Tiny wore his bright-red, elastic-waisted slacks—he was 6'3" and weighed close to 300 pounds—and Rush's dad, a retired oilman, caddied for him, driving his big black Lincoln, and Cecil got bit by a cocker spaniel.
Playing through neighborhoods requires an unusual shot. The trick is to stay in the streets as much as possible to get the distance, so a good club to have is a blade putter. We all kept one around. I happened to have sliced a putter shot into a bed of iris on Alton Road and was hunting for it when I saw Cecil the Parachute down the driveway considering an iron shot that would have to rise quickly to clear a towering oak. A dog in the backyard was barking at him. Cecil leaped at the ball and drove it straight into a Cyclone fence—he seldom hit the ball higher than the tops of his rolled-down socks—and his follow-through sailed him forward onto his elbows, like a man who had been dragged behind a team of horses. It also brought him within range of the spaniel, which bit him on the leg. Cecil scrambled up, saying, "Hurried the shot. That sucker was agrowlin' at me, and I seen a lady cussin' at me through the kitchen window."
We picked up—"I.P.'d," as one said at the time, meaning in-pocketed—and began searching for the others in backyards along the way to Colonial. Tiny had quit at a fishpond, and Easy Reid had met a friend and paused to sell him some insurance. The only two left in contention were Foot and Magoo, whom we found hitting seven-irons out of Bermuda-grass lawns over the fence and onto Colonial's first fairway. They had to hole out pretty fast because some Colonial members sent a caddie back to the clubhouse to get the manager. Vergal Bourland. Foot and Magoo each wound up with a 19 and hustled back over the fence before Vergal could get their names.
Quite an argument followed about the playoff. Magoo suggested playing back to the Hills. Foot wanted to play to Herb Massey's restaurant on Eighth Avenue because he thought he would win and be able to afford the specialty, a chicken-fried steak with cream gravy. I thought they should play to the Forest Park Zoo. which wasn't too far. They decided to split the money, so we all went back to the Hills and got in a putting game that lasted until midnight.
To at least partly understand why anyone would hang around a municipal golf course for one third of his life playing games such as these, you have to understand something about the town and the state and what golf means there.
First of all, Fort Worth is basically a quiet place with a river, the Trinity, a fragrant stockyard on the North Side (where no one who lives South, West or East ever goes except to eat Mexican food at Joe Garcia's), a Convair plant, a couple of newspapers, a lot of beer taverns, a few elegant neighborhoods, a downtown area sparkling with loan companies, and a university, TCU, which is primarily noted for producing Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien. It is a town where little has happened, outside of a few important football games, since Vernon Castle, the famous dancer, was killed when he crashed a plane into a field in Benbrook during World War I. Nor has anyone cared to make something happen except, occasionally, on the golf courses.
Fort Worth is where Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson came from, and this is one of the first facts I ever learned. It probably happened to other kids the same way. There you were one day, waving a yardstick like a sword, playing Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, when suddenly your parents decided you had a natural swing. They told you about Hogan and Nelson, and about Jimmy Demaret, who came from Houston, and about Ralph Guldahl, Lloyd Mangrum and Harry Cooper, who came from Dallas, and they shoved you onto the nearest course and said not to come home until you were ready for the Ethiopian Four Ball. So you stayed 20 years curing a shank and learning to love a duck hook.
Probably because of the climate—there are only two weeks out of the year when a man would not play golf, but even those February afternoons might be considered ideal in Pittsburgh—the sport has for 30 years been second in importance only to football. This is true throughout the state: in the north central area of Fort Worth and Dallas, through the thick pines of East Texas, in the hills and woods around Austin, along the palmed coasts of Houston and Corpus Christi, and all across the peach-colored plains of West Texas and the Panhandle, where the fairways wind around mesquite and oil pumps and players are seen wearing silver tool-dresser's helmets and coveralls and carrying clubs in their hands instead of in bags.
Golf always received generous attention in the papers. As soon as you were old enough to read, you saw headlines about people like Gus Moreland and Harry Todd playing in some weird thing called the Cisco Invitation. Almost every town with a henhouse, some tin cans and broomsticks still has an annual invitational tournament. These invitationals begin in mid-March and last through mid-September. Each week there are from 10 to 20, and it is possible for an enterprising, neat-swinging high school or college golfer to play competitively for 22 weeks or more of the year, winning, if he is good enough, more sets of clubs, TV sets and silver trays than he can ever sell to get money to gamble with.
It was this vast amateur circuit that gave you Hogan and Nelson and Demaret, and later on Jackie Burke, Tommy Bolt, Ernie Vossler, Earl Stewart, Shelley Mayfield, Don Cherry, Billy Maxwell, Don January, Joe Conrad and Wes Ellis, and these days Bobby Nichols. Dave Marr. Miller Barber, Jacky Cupit, Rex Baxter, Homero Blancas, Charley Coody, Don Massengale, Dudley Wysong and Jerry Edwards, to name a few.
Vossler and Edwards, I can relate with a certain amount of pride, came right out of our game at Goat Hills. Ernie was a relentless competitor who could not understand why anyone but him ever sank a putt. Sometimes, when someone like Weldon the Oath made one, Ernie would just walk straight to the clubhouse. He was never as proficient as myself at club-breaking. I often broke my eight-iron on the dinky 17th hole, a par-3 flip shot, because I was either long and in the creek or short and in the trap—but Ernie had his moments. He bladed a seven-iron one afternoon at the 6th hole, I remember, and almost killed us all. He hurled the club straight into the brick fairway, and the shaft snapped. Both parts of the club bounced into the air. One jagged end sprang back and hit Ernie in the palm of the hand, causing a five-stitch gash. The other glanced toward Weldon and myself. It looked as if we had been attacked by flashes of lightning as the steel sparkled in the sun, and we dived for safety.
Later on that same day Weldon had one of his talking fits—talking to the ball. He took oaths. Wearing his postman's cap and without golf shoes because he had rushed to the game so quickly, he gave the ball a wonderful lecture on the 14th tee. "This is your last chance, you lousy little crud," he said. "If you slice on me just one more time I'm gonna bite you right in half and chew your rubber guts up. Now I'm gonna hit you straight, you hear me! There's no by God reason why you got to slice on me ever' time, damn it! You hear me? You hear me tellin' you this?"
Then Weldon hit a world-record slice. It crossed at least two fairways, but before it landed, he turned around two, three times, slung the club and went sprinting after the ball. When he got there, he jumped up and down on it.
"I'm dad-bam finished," he said, panting. "This is my last day on any golf course, ever. You picks have guyed me damn stick." He was so mad he couldn't talk straight. "Enough and I'm done. Rotten, stinking, miserable game." He was, of course, back the next day.
After I holed out a 30-foot putt to halve a gimme birdie one afternoon, Vossler left for good. He moved on to bigger things, to the big-money games at Ridglea, to become city champion, state amateur champion, ultimately on to the PGA Tour. I have always considered Ernie our honor graduate, although Edwards may outdo him.
Jerry could drive the ball four miles, or roughly the distance to old Paschal High School, a Gibraltar of formative education that turned most of us out with degrees in Library Pass Forging, Double Lunch Period Registration, Boiler Room Smoking, Chug-a-Lug, Basketball and Marriage. Except for a recurring Goat Hills temper, Jerry has a sound game and has been in the money many times on the PGA Tour. So far, however, his greatest publicity came when he was rumored to have gone AWOL from the Army in 1962 to play in the U.S. Open.
"A true Hills man," Magoo said.
Although Vossler and Edwards were the only two who succeeded, all of us at one time, I believe, envisioned a pro career. Grease Repellent, for example, turned pro after he shot 62 at Goat Hills, eight under, breaking the course record that five of us held at 65. But he did not go on the Tour, and I don't think he took a club job. He only refused to play in any more amateur tournaments, which he didn't play in anyhow.
Sadly, my own dreams were constantly interrupted by reality. The first time was early in the State Junior at San Antonio, when I was defeated 3 and 2 by a cross-handed Mexican wearing tennis shoes. Thirsting for some sort of revenge, I returned the next year and lost to a barefoot 14-year-old who had only five clubs.
But if those experiences were not enough to convince me, the Waxahachie Invitation should have. The Waxahachie Invitation was not exactly the Masters tournament of Texas, but it did draw a few celebrities: Cherry, Stewart, Maxwell, Conrad, for example. I know it was an unusually strong field one particular year, because it took 70 to qualify for 30 of the 32 places in the championship flight. Unluckily, I shot 71 along with 11 others, so there had to be a playoff—swatfest, it was called—for the last two places. A playoff meant a gallery. Bad deal.
We began swinging, and nine players bogeyed the first sudden-death hole and were eliminated. (I envied them all.) One player got a birdie and was in. Two of us made pars and had to go another hole for the remaining berth or the privilege of being thrashed 6 and 5 the next day by a Cherry, a Stewart, a Maxwell or a Conrad.
My opponent was a tall fellow named Shelby, and I did not realize until a few years later that it was the same Carroll Shelby who raced sports cars. This might have been the thing that drove him to it. The crowd stayed—the ritualistic barbecue and dice game were still a good hour off—and it had no respect for either of us. As we stood on the tee, perspiring from fright, I heard someone say, "Who you want?" And the reply: "Aw, neither one. They both chili dippers."
Whatever Shelby did, I did better. He hooked, I hooked. He hit over the fence, I hit over the fence. The giggles trailed us endlessly. He got lost in the gully, I got lost in the gully. He landed in the bunker. I landed in the bunker. At one point I heard a man say, "Well, I been to the Dublin Rodeo, I've met the Light Crust Doughboys, and I've stepped across the Mississippi where it ain't but a foot wide, but I never seen nothin' like this." Finally, perhaps through a bookkeeping error, I won the hole with a 10.
You did not have to venture out of town to enrich the game that you always came back to at Goat Hills. You could go across town to one of the dozen other courses that Fort Worth had. You could sneak into any of the country clubs and play from number 2 through number 17, placing all the Hags in the bunkers for reasons that seemed hilarious then. Our game was substantially influenced by those at other courses. At one time we thought the really good players were mostly at another public course, Meadowbrook. They did things like win the City Tournament. And then there was Ridglea, where Vossler went.
Ridglea had players who may not have been as skilled, but they could certainly outbet you. Occasionally one of us would be deluded by a 67 at wide-open Goat Hills and go to narrow Ridglea. You always came back busted, but at least you had been to the shrine where Titanic Thompson, the famed Evansville hustler, had once defeated Byron Nelson in a head-to-head match, taking $1,000 from Byron's backers. That was back in the early '30s, when Nelson was merely the best amateur in town.
At Ridglea you could hear all the good stories about Titanic Thompson, some of them maybe even true. They would tell how he would throw a ball down on the ground, waggle a driver and say he bet he could hit the green with his driver although the green was 400 yards away. Somebody would call it. And Ti would calmly walk to the green and tap it with his driver and collect. And how he once bet he could throw a watermelon over the Texas Hotel in downtown Fort Worth. He got a watermelon about as big as a baseball, went up on top of the building next door and threw it over. And how he would bet a man in Phoenix that he would have more mail waiting for him in Fort Worth than the other man, having mailed himself 50 postcards. And all those other stories. You would like to have known Ti more than any other celebrity.
Since that was impossible, the next best thing was just being at Ridglea, at the shrine, in the days before they turned it into a country club for Jaycees. There was one day when a few of us were in the old golf shop and saw the pro, Raymond Gafford, on top of a table with a four-iron, put a ball down on the table, address it and aim out the open door toward the 1st green, a par-5.
"Believe I can make five from here?" asked Raymond.
We all looked respectfully at Spec, who had a solemn face, and we saw him do what we figured he would do. "Well, I ain't had nothin' this good lately," Spec said, taking out a roll of bills. Spec was an action man. Craved it.
"I'll guarantee you, this man's got to make me rich some day," Spec continued. "Yes, sir. Ever' meal's a banquet and ever' day's a holiday. We're gonna eat steak tonight and play golf tomorrow."
Raymond said, "All I know is I can make five."
"Well," Spec said, "I don't know a whole lot about it, but I know a man can't make five off a table."
"Just get it on," Raymond said.
"On?" said Spec. "On's here in my hand."
Raymond, who was a fine player, hit a crisp four-iron right off the tabletop, out the door and down the fairway. It was clear that he would have only a three-wood and a long iron to reach the green in three. Spec said, "Oops. Step on the fire and call in the dogs. The hunt's over, boys."
And it was. Raymond made an easy five.
After that, I remember, we hit a lot of shots off the shingle roof of the Goat Hills clubhouse and did a great deal of chipping off the hoods of our cars and, in fact, designed one hole that started on top of the gin-rummy table in the locker room, went through the restaurant, noted for its cheese crackers and R.C. Colas, out the golf shop, around the putting course and concluded on the 1st green.
It was in the last few years at Goat Hills, before the city sold those 106 acres to TCU so the school could build more yellow-brick buildings, that the games got too big, too outrageously expensive. One reason was that most of us were working by then, or were supposed to be. We somehow managed always to have the afternoons free. Anyhow, we virtually were wealthy. For instance, I had ingeniously slithered my way up to $87.50 per week at The Fort Worth Press. So I was a high player now. And then there was Moron Tom, who worked terribly hard at eight ball, poker, gin and pinball. He could high-play you.
Moron Tom was a likable, muscular West Texan who had gone to TCU to play football but had quit when he discovered you had to practice every day during the season. He was a brilliant hustler who talked in a fast code, often describing his long tee shots with such immodest expressions as "quadruple unreal." He almost never spoke English, only a weird gibberish that you had to learn or not know what bets you had with him.
There was one special day—the day of the last truly big game—that began with Moron Tom saying, "I'll take toops and threeps from Youngfut, Youngjun, Youngmut and Youngrus." Translated, that meant he wanted 2 up and 3 up from young Foot, young John, young Matty and young Rush. He wanted the same from Magoo, too, but Magoo said, "Kane go-fert," which was Moronese for "Can't go for it."
Somehow Magoo and I wound up as partners, and this was bad. Magoo was a good player, but he was unlucky. Once, in the Glen Garden Invitation across town—that is the course where Hogan and Nelson caddied as kids—he hit a fine shot to a difficult green and found the ball in a man's mouth, being cleaned. Things like that happened to Magoo. Only this time, all the way around, it did not seem to matter. Frankly, we played superbly.
We birdied so many holes between us that Moron Tom, each time either of us swung, said, "Cod Ee-rack Fockle-dim!" That was his pronunciation of Doc Cary Middlecoff spelled backward, and a compliment. Sometimes Moron Tom said, "Wod Daw-ret-snif," which was Dow Finsterwald, and a cry of doom.
As we came off the 17th green, having birdied every hole since the 13th, Magoo and I calculated that if we could par the 18th we would not be able to get the money home in Cecil the Parachute's cookie truck. With all of the double and triple presses, it was up to around $600, at least. And blood was everywhere.
"Ain't this somethin'?" said Foot. "Man's gonna be took to Dump City by two clutch artists." Meaning us.
"Come off this, Magoo," said Rush. "Man, you're supposed to be standin' in line to give up."
Magoo said, "I don't guess anybody wants a young press to get even, do they?"
There were a few sarcastic snarls. The get-even press was automatic, of course.
Easy Reid said, "Oh, Lordy. I don't want the prize; I just want to get my hand out of the box."
The 18th was an easy par-4. You drove from a windy knoll, with the wind helping, to a wide, wide fairway across a creek and an embankment. There was always a tendency to come out of your shoes at the ball because there was so little danger, and a big drive would leave you with only a 50-yard wedge shot to the green. The only conceivable trouble was far to the right, beyond the bordering 10th fairway, where Stadium Drive was out-of-bounds.
In all my years I never saw anyone slice quite that badly—only Magoo when Moron Tom spoke to him for all that money.
At the top of Magoo's backswing, Moron Tom quietly said, "Tissim, Oogam," which of course was "Miss it, Magoo" backward, and my poor partner sliced out-of-bounds. Well, we had to laugh about the irony of it. Once again Magoo had blown the Open. And there could be no protest. Needles were common. Sneezing, coughing, dropping a full bag of clubs on a player's backswing were part of it. Normally, it was something you ignored. Magoo simply looked at his club and then at me and said, "If you don't make four, I'm gonna stamp this Tommy Armour right on your young forehead."
Now, across the creek at the 18th, laid upright into the embankment, was a storm drain, roughly three feet around. We used to pitch at it with old balls from the ladies' tee, but it was a rare day when anyone ever actually hit it. From up on the men's tee 100 yards back, it was an awfully small target. In fact, it never even entered my mind. I was intending to drive the green, frankly, and get a birdie just to make up for Magoo's slice. That would have been quadruple unreal.
But at the height of my arc, Moron Tom whispered something again.
"Clutch, Mother Zilch," he said.
I did not fall completely down, but almost. The club head hit about two inches behind the ball. The shot snap-hooked into the ground just in front of the ladies' tee, took a giant hop to the right off some rocks and—I swear to you—went straight into the sewage drain.
It was the only hole in one I ever made, and the shot that semiretired me from golf.
This is one of 40 classic Sports Illustrated stories to be presented during 1994 as a special bonus to our readers in celebration of our 40th anniversary.
"It was a gambling game that went on...involving two to 20 players, almost every day of every year."