An excerpt from...

THE GREEN

                    by Troon McAllister *

 

The Green is the story of what happens when the U.S. Ryder Cup captain puts Eddie Caminetti, a two-bit hustler from a local municipal course, on the team. He runs into great resistance from the other team members, and one of them suggests that Caminetti undergo a kind of audition, by playing a round against "The Kid..."

 

The Kid, of course, was Derek Anouilh (pronounced "on we," like the playwright), a barely-pubescent drink of water fresh off the boat from Borneo. He was destined to be the greatest golfer in history someday, but at one time he was convinced he already was.

That was before his breakdown.

Back then, The Kid hardly opened his mouth but what a soundbite programmed by his aunt didn’t pop out. They had to stop scheduling him onto different talk shows in the same time period because his adoring public was starting to catch on that he was a kind of human compact disc. People who watched him on all the shows, it got so they could mouth all the answers right along with Derek as he spoke them. He even giggled in the same spots, and would start yapping about "his dream" at the slightest provocation, like some presidential candidate gushing "hope, growth and opportunity" even when he was ordering eggs.

So Auntie started spreading out his television appearances so they could custom-tailor each one and cut down on the repetition. America ate it up, especially after Auntie hired a public relations psychologist from a political consulting firm, teamed him up with a pollster from Yankelovich, and wired up The Kid to always say the right thing according to the prevailing social mood of whatever region he was in. For national spots, he’d say nothing, and make it sound so damned profound and wise and mature for a kid his age ("That’s the thing about golf, Bob, you know? Any given day, no matter how good you been playing, it can leave you just like that. Keeps you humble, let me tell you [mile-wide grin]…"), he could start his own goddamned church…if he had the time and somebody paid him. It got so crazy they even had him make some social gaffes on purpose, just so he could publicly apologize and raise his Q ratings through the roof.

The citizenry sucked it all up, totally addicted to it. They knew it was bad for them, suspected some of the bullshit behind it, but they just couldn’t stop. Hardly anybody asked any questions about a television special so laudatory you could get cavities watching the damned thing, even when it leaked out that it had been produced by his agent and scripted by Auntie. Even people who criticized him publicly secretly tuned in to watch him play.

* * *

Just before the match, Andrew Firth of Scotland made his appearance. To say this was one of the more obnoxious guys in the game would be like saying Liberace had an occasional lapse of good taste. Firth had all the social grace of an overheated wasp and nobody could stand to play with him. He was the type of guy who considered everybody else on the course to be his mortal enemy, and I’m not talking about during tournaments, just friendly rounds at the local club. He’d bitch and moan about how slow those sonsabitches in the group ahead were but would never let a fast twosome play through. He was capable of great charm and wit in the post-game press conferences, but his on-course misbehavior has been witnessed by too many in the age of television for him to fool people anymore. Basically, he felt like Scotland had invented the game and nobody else had much of a right to play it, least of all the upstart North American colonists who had come to dominate the sport.

"Jayzus, Bellamy!" he said as he walked up to the putting green, a nasty smile on those puffy lips buried in the middle of his florid face. "Yer callin’ this freakin’ lambchop a toof course, are ya?" He pulled up in front of me, not caring that he was standing right in Eddie’s putting line. "I’ll tell ya toof, laddie." By now Fred Asphal and Mack Merriwell had wandered over, along with Juan Castillo Licenciados and Jürgen Kurzer.

"Once at Auchnafree," Firth went on, "I took me a drop in the gorse on the Switham Bairn hole. Held me hand out shoulder high like so, I did, and let the thing drop straight doon." He turned to the others. "Hoonted high and low for the little booger and never found the bleedin’ thing." Returning to me, he poked me in the chest with his putter. "Now that’s toof, sonny, noot like this fair lassie of a track you’re so bloody proud’a!"

"One time up in Washington State?" It was Eddie, standing behind the bunch of us, unable to putt because of where Firth had taken up residence. "We were playin’ this bitch of a course carved out of an old Indian burial ground." Everybody turned, Firth only reluctantly, not pleased at losing his audience. "I hit into this weird, tangly kind of shit and couldn’t find the ball, so I set my bag down and took a drop. Fifteen full minutes three of us looked around for that damned thing."

"But ya found it, nay?" Firth asked.

"Yeah, we found it," Eddie admitted, setting the putter down and bending over his ball to resume practice. As the Scotsman’s lip began to curl in contempt, Eddie added, "Lost the bag, though." Then he hit the ball, hard, and Firth had to jump quickly out of the way to avoid getting cracked in the ankle.

* * *

Derek held out his hand for Eddie to take the honors. With little preamble, Eddie teed up his ball without even asking anything about the hole. I guessed that the real reason he woke up at three was to come out here and walk the course in addition to stretching. He took a few practice swings, addressed the ball and popped it straight as an arrow about 250 down the middle.

"Nice shot," Derek offered as he moved to the teebox. He took a few practice swings as well, waggled the club once or twice, then hauled off.

I’m not normally one to wax loquacious, but you have to stand next to this string bean when he’s in the zone and playing his best to understand. Something shoots off of him that’s downright intimidating, even for us grizzled veterans of both honest-to-God superstars and bullshit heroes-of-the week. You feel like, if you were to say something frivolous or inappropriate, you’d break the spell and it would all disintegrate right in front of you, and the whole world would blame you, like the lady from New York who stuck a penny in a fuse box at the exact moment the great Northeast power blackout began and was convinced she caused the whole grid to collapse. It’s that fragile, that tenuous and even frightening. Here was a virtual baby who could crack dumb jokes and play video games all night long, changing into costume in some cosmic phone booth somewhere and emerging totally transformed, a Jekyl-and-Hyde metamorphosis that took your breath away. Watching him swing was like watching a bolt of silk unfurl.

His opening drive of this match sounded like a howitzer going off in the early morning silence. At the top of its trajectory the ball caught a glimmer of the sunlight that was starting to peek out from the mountaintops to the east, and looked for a moment like a meteor burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. It went 330 at least, leaving The Kid with less than 225 to the green…

                                                                                                                                                                           

* © Copyright 1999 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. — All Rights Reserved
        "Troon McAllister" is a pseudonym of Lee Gruenfeld

 

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