We had another 36 holes the next day. Clearly, Roberts wanted us to clear out of his new place as quickly as possible. To me, there was no question the course was up to the task of holding a big golf tournament with the likes of Jones, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and the rest. But 36 holes two days in a row was two days of long walks spoiled.
The hikes were no problem for Skids. He looked as if he could tote a beer keg 72 holes a day and not miss a beat. The day before, I asked him to read a medium-length putt for me at the 18th green. His jaw dropped so quickly that the toothpick fell out of his teeth, he was so surprised that I asked. Skids gave it a long look, squatted low to the ground and shook his head. “Don’ see nothin’, Mistuh Hank,” he concluded. I’d already decided the same thing so I played it straight and it went right in the cup, almost as if struck by Calamity Jane herself.
Skids gave me a nod of approval, I gave him one back. “I’ll be damned if you aren’t turning into a caddie, Skids,” I told him. “You may have to give up your factory job for this one day.” Skids grinned but kept walking.
What I remember about the second day was a short but heavy overnight shower. I heard it pelting the Partridge Inn’s tin roof. The rain softened the course and made it play longer—right up my alley. The breeze came up, too.
Mostly, though, I remember having just about total control of the golf ball. You don’t get many days like that—at least, I didn’t—and that made playing 36 holes a blessing for me.
Wiffy owed me a favor or three. He had a temper and a foul mouth on and off the course. I learned a few new curse words the first day we played a practice round at the Biltmore in Florida, in fact. He would get hotter than a volcano at times and turn into his own worst enemy. I once saw Wiffy hit a poor shot, turn and hurl the club into a tall Georgia pine and when the club stayed stuck in the tree, he stormed off to the clubhouse in search of a saw to cut to “cut that goddam thing down.” Other times, he played so dadgummed (sic) well, he couldn’t help but win, like in the 1931 North & South Open.
My fondest memory of Big Whiff, as I used to call him, was driving to Savannah on some washboard roads that made my kidneys hurt. Whiff was in the car ahead, so we were forced to eat his dust. He was driving a big, fancy Lincoln convertible that he’d won a month earlier off some captain of industry who’d made the mistake of pressing on the back nine at Seminole. Me and Mortie Dutra, Olin’s older brother, trailed behind at a distance in Mortie’s jalopy, a well-worn Ford Model A that was missing a door handle on one side and a door on the other. Mortie was a nice little player but Olin had the gift. He was terrific with a spoon, he expected to make every putt and he often did.
Anyway, Big Whiff played poorly in some pro-am in Jacksonville. He was still steaming during the drive apparently, because all of a sudden, I saw a mashie go sailing out of the white Lincoln and into the brush along the roadway. It was no accident. Whiff said later those blankety-blank clubs had it coming. Another iron followed the mashie. I didn’t catch the number. And then another. And another. Pretty soon, there came a brassie and a spoon and a driver and, finally, the bag itself, which landed with a thump on the hardpan road and immediately spewed a geyser of golf balls in all directions. I doubt if Old Faithful could match this display but I’ve never seen Old Faithful in person, just on a newsreel at the movie house. Mortie and I laughed until we cried. And because our mouths were open from laughing, we ingested enough dust to build a new road to Valdosta.
Later, we found out Big Whiff hadn’t discarded his putter along with the rest of the clubs. I asked him why he hadn’t given it the bum’s rush, too. He looked at me like I’d just asked to date his mother. “Whaddaya think I am, stupid?” he half-shouted. That was followed by his usual volley of good-natured obscenities. I tried not to laugh but that just fussed him even more. Whiff was all right, though—most of the time. I didn’t tell him then that Mortie and I had stopped and retrieved his strewn clubs and bag from the ditch. I was going to let him go back and look for them first before returning them—for a small fee.
Whiff put up with me because I pulled him out of a couple of jams. We were in a dive in St. Augustine one time and he made a play for a blonde who’d been bringing drinks to a trio of Navy swabbies in a booth. I guess they thought they were making time with her and didn’t appreciate Big Whiff butting in. Well, Whiff had downed just enough hooch to be brave but too much to be smart and he was about to get his stuffing removed out in the alley. They didn’t reach the door before I stepped in, all 6 feet 2 inches of me, and gave ‘em my best Bethlehem steelworker growl after knocking over the table with my beer on it. (That was tragic but damn, sometimes you’ve gotta sacrifice for your friends.)
Luckily, one of the three sailors was a pipsqueak and the other two decided the odds suddenly didn’t look so good. If they had been Marines, though, I’d have let Whiff take his beating and drive him to a hospital after I finished my beer. I saved his bacon that night and he didn’t forget it.
The Secret Masters: A Story Too Good To Be True
by Gary Van Sickle
The tournament began the next morning, bright and clear and crisp. Mortie and Big Whiff were treating this whole thing like some kind of party but it was business for me, big business. That’s why Skids and I did a bunch of extra walking in the practice round, checking out the best places to hit the ball and, more important, the places to avoid. Like over the green up that hillside at No. 3, the par 3, or long over the green at No. 14, a brutish par 4. Nothing good is going to happen from those places.
It was 36 holes the first day and let me tell you, that was quite a hike. I was paired with Wiffy, by the way. It probably wasn’t a coincidence since he’s the one who vouched for me to get into the field, so maybe Mr. Roberts sent him out to keep an eye on me. I believe I shot 79-75 and was within sniffing distance of the lead. It was a good day, I drove it pretty long and straight but good night, those greens were something else. Some of them resembled elephant burial grounds. I’m not too proud to admit that I took eight putts on the fifth green the first day and only once was my fourth putt inside the leather.
When we finished the first round, it was a nice touch, I thought, that a table was set up beneath the veranda with some ladies serving chicken sandwiches, soup and liquid refreshments to the players between rounds. I enjoyed the chance to get off my feet and mingle with a few other players, many of whom were apparently club pros.
I met a fellow named Ralph Stonehouse, who told me about his course back in Indianapolis and also about the thrill he had getting paired with Bobby Jones.
“He hit some hellacious shots,” Stonehouse said. “He’s not a big feller but he dang sure hits it out there. And he can putt. Ol’ Calamity Jane sank a couple of ocean liners out there.”
I looked around for Jones but he was nowhere in sight. I asked Stoney, as I called him, where he’d gone. Oh, Stoney said, he went inside to get his own special sandwich made—pimento cheese. “Ugh, that sounds horrible,” I said, making a face. “Yeah,” Stoney said, “No one’s ever gonna wanna be a member at a club with that kind of mess on the menu.” I agreed.
We finished the second round in the early twilight and just made it in time. I checked the inky, hand-written scoreboard on the veranda and saw that Jones shot 70-73 and was leading this little affair.
It was a quick dinner for me at the Partridge Inn again and I heard Big Whiff recount his heroic shots of the day, all 160 of them, I think. Apparently, he made an unintentional visit to Rae’s Creek. While looking for his ball along the edge of the water on the par-5 fourth hole, he stepped on a loose rock and plunged face-first into the creek. Mortie and I laughed until we cried at this story and I said I’d pay my $50 guarantee to have seen that in person. Wiffy offered to re-enact the scene if we both gave him fifty bucks. Whiff and Mortie were giggling a bit too hard at the offer, which may have been the bourbon talking. They’d each had a few. I had only one warm beer that I nursed it for the whole meal.
Later, I took a warm bath to relax my back and soak my aching feet.
(An extensive search of tournament results from the era turned up no mention of Hank or Henry Wadsworth. In addition, no birth records from Bethlehem General Hospital could be found, nor any clippings from the local newspaper, the New Bethlehem Vindicator, to provide evidence of the existence of a Henry Wadsworth. This document should be viewed with extreme skepticism.)
Skids barked at the ball but between his Deep South and my Old North accents, I couldn’t translate what he said. I know what I was thinking—get lucky, ball
Just when it looked like I was going to get away with this slip-up, the ball caught a branch on a skinny pine tree and shot backwards into the straw. Jones, of course, plowed one down the middle, as usual.
We arrived at my ball and surveyed the situation. Two young pines were in my line of fire. I was going to have to pitch out to the fairway and take my chances at saving par.
When I reached for my niblick and started to pull it out of the bag, Skids grabbed my hand and stopped me.
He nodded with his head toward Jones in the fairway. “Mistuh Jones gon’ make birdie,” he said solemnly. “You, too, if’n you wants to win, Mistuh Hank.”
Instead of debating, I pointed to the two pines in front of us. Skids shook his head and held his left hand up like an arrow. He drew a sharp left-to-right arc with that hand. “Hit dat one,” he said. “You done it befo’, lotsa times.”
I looked back at the pines. Well, if I cut it close to the trunk and sliced one like a banana, I might be able to get up the hill to the last green. It was a risky shot. And I’d have to really mash a mashie, pardon my redundancy. “But Skids, what if…” Skids didn’t let me finish the sentence. The mashie’s face was now in front of my face, as he held it up to make his point. He whispered, “Show me sump’n, Mistuh Hank.”
The dumbest play of my golfing life then turned into the greatest shot of my golfing life. I did, indeed, mash that mashie off the pine straw. It tickled a few needles on the tree but missed the branch. More important, it curved toward the green like an English setter hunting a downed duck. I squinted to see where the ball finished but I felt a thump on my chest before I could make it out. That was Skids handing me the putter. I was on the green?
Back in the fairway, I saw Bobby’s caddie holding up two palms three feet apart. Was he estimating the length of my putt? I don’t know but Jones pursed his lips and hit a sweet iron shot that took two bounces and and disappeared over the rise. Hell, it could’ve gone in the cup, that’s how sweet it looked.
I climbed the hill and approached the green until I could finally see our golf balls. One was three feet away. One was three inches away. Oh, brother, I thought, I’ve got to shake this short one in to beat Jones. I looked at Skids, who winked at me with a funny look.
Jones got there first. He bent down to look at the closest ball and froze. Then Jones yanked the pin out and passed it to his caddie without a word. That wasn’t his ball closest to the hole. It was mine!
Calamity Jane made short work of Bobby’s birdie putt. You’d be surprised how hard a three-inch putt is when it’s to beat Bobby Jones and almost certainly win a golf tournament at the course he built. I tapped it in but I have to confess, the ball might’ve caught some lip before falling in. But it dropped, that’s all that mattered.
Jones put out his hand to shake mine. “Helluva putt,” he said quickly, then turned and walked away. I barely got “Thanks,” out before I realized what he’d said. Before I could wonder if he meant to say “Helluva shot” instead or if he was ribbing me, Skids took the putter said, “See, Mistuh Hank? Easy.”
I grabbed him around the shoulders and shook him until he finally started laughing, too. We walked to the veranda, an arm around each other’s shoulder, grinning like two little kids. Which, looking back, I guess we were.
There was no grand ceremony at the end. I got slaps on the back from a few of my friends, and congratulations from a lot of other players that I didn’t know. The prize money was paid in cash. Mister Roberts didn’t want any checks out there as written evidence of a tournament that was never supposed to have happened. So all the golfers had to wait until the finish to collect.
It looked like a breadline out the clubhouse door and it moved quickly. As each player collected, he made haste to leave, like sailors suddenly going on shore leave. I waited until everyone else was paid, then I walked up to Mr. Roberts.
“Fine playing, Mr. Wadsworth,” he said. “I imagine you enjoyed the course?”
I told him I did, that it lived up to its billing and was the finest course I’d ever seen in the North or South.
He counted out some bills. I got $750 for winning, a shocking sum. I still recall how he swiftly but carefully doled out three hundreds, three fifties and 15 twenties. He was a man used to handling money, that much was certain.
Skids waited for me in front of the clubhouse at the bag rack. “What’s the most money you’ve ever held in your hands, Skid?” I asked.
His brow furrowed but he began smiling. He said he reckoned that he picked up nearly $40 from the basket left out at his daddy’s funeral two years earlier. “Your father’s gone?” I asked with concern. He nodded. “Jes’ me ‘n momma and my sistuh, Junie,” he said.
I swallowed hard. I handed him all the hundreds and the twenties. I kept $150 for myself, more than enough to keep me rolling in clover for the next few tournaments.
“I never would’ve pulled off that last shot without you,” I told him. “You’re a natural-born caddie, Skids. Best I ever had. You earned every cent.”
He stared at the bills, adding the numbers as his eyes got watery. He turned slightly, hoping I wouldn’t notice, then said, “You mean that, Mistuh Hank?”
“Yes,” I said. “And Skids, call me Hank from now on. Deal?”
He agreed and gave me an impetuous hug. “Next year?” he asked.
As defending champion, I said, I am obligated to return and I will insist that only you, the best caddie in Augusta, works my bag.
Satisfied with my answer, Skids stuffed the bills in his shirt pocket, gave me a wave and walked toward Washington Road. I was about to follow when a fellow wearing a white shirt, suspenders and a matching red bowtie hurried toward me from the clubhouse. Another well-wisher, I assumed. I didn’t know who he was, exactly, but he apparently worked at the club in some capacity.
“Hey,” he said, “don’t go huggin’ no caddies in front of the clubhouse. The members don’t want that, Mr. Roberts don’t want that.”
I was taken aback, for a moment. “Sir, I didn’t hug no caddie in front of the clubhouse,” I said. The man looked at me suspiciously, like I was trying to sell him a King James Bible. “I hugged a friend,” I said.
His eyebrows raised and his mouth opened but no sound came out. As I grabbed my bag off the rack, I could feel his glare trying to give my back a sunburn. I quick-stepped toward the road, then headed back up the hill toward the Partridge Inn, where I hoped Wiffy or Mortie were waiting to give me a ride to the next tournament, wherever that might be.
As I left, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be invited back to Augusta National.
And I never was.
That incident is relevant because when we got to Savannah for some rinky-dink tournament and a chance to maybe win gas money, Whiff got a telegram from a Mister Clifford Roberts, whose name was unknown to me at that time. Because Whiff had won the prestigious North & South Open, he was invited to this new course in sleepy Augusta, Ga., for some kind of furtive outing. There was a phone number he was supposed to call in Augusta—and reverse the charges--if he was interested.
So, he did and he got through to Roberts, who turned out to be a stiff, proper, New York banker-type who may have feasted on the woes of others and gotten rich during the Great Depression of 1929. It was a bit of a surprise that a Southern lawyer like Bobby Jones would know a man like Roberts. Then again, maybe it was just business.
Whiff was invited to this proposed tournament six weeks away in the spring of 1933. He would be one of 40 players in the field, mostly pros, and he would receive a modest stipend for showing up. The field would play for some better-than-decent prize money.
There was one catch, he was told. Absolute silence. He couldn’t tell anyone about the tournament—not that he’d played in it, not how he finished or not even that it so much as ever happened. If he broke the code, he was warned, the penalty was the repayment of all monies received, with interest, EVEN if he spilled the beans ten years later. Also, there was the implicit knowledge that any perpetrator would be blacklisted and bad-mouthed as far as the reach of Jones and Roberts extended. Which, in 1933, was pretty damned far, I later came to realize. The code of silence was never broken as far as I know.
Whiff knew how to play the yes-sir, yes-sir game with aristocrats or would-be aristocrats such as Roberts. He also wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. So after he agreed to the stipulations, he boldly asked Roberts if the tournament needed any more players to fill the field because he knew two fellow pros who could be counted on for their discretion. When I heard Whiff give out our names over the phone, I worried that he was talking to the police and turning us in for one of his misdeeds. Nope, Roberts gave him the okey-doke to bring us to the tournament that wasn’t a tournament, as long as we understood the secrecy mandate. That’s how I got my ticket punched to Augusta, Ga.
I wasn’t flat broke but I was the kind of broke just barely better than that. A dice game at a local speakeasy led to my predicament but anyway, I was not too proud to jump a northbound freight train in Valdosta to get to Augusta after Mortie left me behind to pluck some Pullman executives on a golfing excursion in Pinehurst.
When I say jump, that’s just what I did. Train-hopping is a far sight harder when you’re lugging a golf bag full of clanking clubs through a freightyard. Luckily, there were plenty of open boxcars and I made it undiscovered and without incident. All I remember is that my boxcar smelled curiously like sulfur and cigars and by the time I dismounted just outside Augusta, so did I. That episode remained untold because if some newsman knew about it and dubbed me “The Hobo Golfer,” I’d be stuck with it for life.
Once in Augusta, it took me only two phone calls to hotel desks to find out that Mr. Dutra was registered at the Partridge Inn. It was a quaint little place and very nice, though possibly not as stately as it thought it was. I knocked on Mortie’s room door and said, “Package, sir!” He quickly opened the door, gaped at me for a second and then started to guffaw. Once I barged into the room, satchel and golf clubs in hand, we both knew I was staying. Mortie slapped me on the back and ordered me into a shower. I gladly obliged. I let Mortie buy me a steak dinner that evening—the Pullman gents never knew what hit ‘em, Mortie said—and loan me a few sawbucks.
Jones still had a mashie to the green. Skids handed me the niblick. Jones missed the green left and made a nice up-and-in. I hit my shot to three feet and made birdie. It was a blur after that. We threw birdies mixed with the occasional bogey at each other but Jones never got his nose out in front of me.
It came down to the last two holes. Jones played a wonderful bump-and-run shot along the ground from 50 yards out at No. 17 to about six feet. It was a shame there was no gallery to see it. I could only marvel. There was no luck involved in that shot, it was all touch. Jones still had magic. I knew he’d hole the putt.
I hit a spoon just left and short of par-5 green in two and answered the great one’s shot with a good one of my own, a careful chip the length of the very-long green that stopped a foot away. Two birdies, so I took a one-stroke lead to the last.
Skids handed me driver on the 18th tee. “All a’ dat,” he said, tossing his toothpick on the ground. That was his way of telling me it was time to buckle down, I think.
Jones may have thought I succumbed to the pressure when he saw my drive but that wasn’t the truth. I was so confident in busting another good drive that I hadn’t paid attention to the teebox. A couple of stray pine needles were on the ground and damned if my left foot didn’t spin out on them as I started my downswing. I gave the ball a good smash but I it yanked left toward a smattering of trees.
If you are reading this, then I am gone from the realm of Earth and most surely forgotten. In this addendum to my last will and testament, I ask that the following document not be made public until 25 years after my death or the death of Clifford Roberts, whichever comes later.
You may know the name of Clifford Roberts. He was the long-time chairman of the tournament that came to be known as the Masters. He was a man not to be crossed. He was as ornery a fellow as I’ve ever met, so ornery I’m not sure he’ll stay buried after God or that Other Fellow calls him home. I figure 25 years would convince me he’s going to stay dead. Since you are reading this, his departure must be permanent.
I submit this story, faithfully recorded to the best of my recollection, in the interest of history. The record says that Horton Smith, a friend of mine, won the first Masters Tournament in 1934 when it was known as the National Invitation Tournament. Horton played some fine golf, no doubt about it.
However, Horton didn’t win the first Masters. I did. It was played in the spring of 1933 at the brand new, barely grassed Augusta National Golf Club. It wasn’t called the National Invitation Tournament yet. It wasn’t called anything. You’ve never heard about it because every participant was sworn to an oath of silence.
I call it The Secret Masters.
Who am I? That’s a helluva good question. My name is Henry Longfellow Wadsworth.
About my name: My mother, Alma, loved poetry and took advantage of her marriage to a steelworker named Alphonse Wadsworth to make a clever mixed-word tribute to her literary idol when it was time to fill in my birth certificate at Bethlehem General in 1908. My middle name never caused me any trouble in school, maybe because I was bigger, stronger and faster than most of the other boys. Everyone called me Hank. The Longfellow shoe didn’t fit me at all. I steered as far away as I could from book-learning and numbing odes by Byron and Shelley and my reverse namesake. I’m sure that disappointed my mother. I imagine I disappointed plenty of other folks, too.
My life story is for another time and I’m not in the mood. Thinking about being buried makes me cranky, I suppose.
Masters' Golf Tourney Opens. Gene Sarazen of Brookfield Center, Conn., drove off from the first tee in the opening round of the annual Masters' Golf Tournament at Augusta, Ga.
The following was delivered in a plain brown envelope, postmarked Sarasota, FL, with no return address and no other information. It is dated April 2, 1989.
Let me tell you about The Secret Masters. You could call it the Trial Run Masters. Jones held it so the endlessly fussy Roberts could be sure the course would live up to its billing as The World’s Wonder Inland Course, a nickname that caught on like rotten tomatoes. Jones was a southern gentleman but he had an ego and no tournament he hosted was going to lay an egg, by god. Especially with Roberts serving as his tailgunner.
I played some pretty good golf that week at the sprawling new course that Jones and Alister MacKenzie designed. I had to play my best in order to beat the likes of Smith, Jug McSpaden, Paul Runyan and His Lawdship Himself, whom I dusted by six. I shot 290, 2 over par, and won by one. I’d like to say you can look it up but you can’t. So you’ll have to take my word for it.
It was Wiffy Cox’s doing that I played in The Secret Masters. He was a barn-storming touring pro of my day, hustling mostly in the Southeast all winter to make a living, just like me. If he wasn’t playing in some actual tournament, like the Miami Four-Ball, he was hanging around swank resort hotels looking for rich guys who thought they could play golf. Wiffy usually showed them they were wrong and lightened their wallets in the process.
The next day, we went over to this brand new course that we’d all heard about—Augusta National, a course that Bobby Jones himself helped build. Well, it was something, all right. It was big and sprawling with all sorts of freshly flowering plants and trees in bloom. It was April and this place used to be a nursery. Lilac, wisteria, dogwood, azalea and other things a kid from Pennsylvania wouldn’t recognize.
The course was hilly and demanding and one-of-a-kind. The opening hole was a real alley cat. It hooked left down a steep slope and you played a second shot, probably a mashie or more, from a downhill lie to a green guarded by just about the biggest dadgum bunker I’d ever seen. Good night, it was a par 5 disguised as a par 4. Later, Jones reversed the nines so this hole became No. 10 and years later, they backed the green back up into a small hillside so it would drain.
Another out-of-this-world spot was where No. 2 (the future No. 11), another demanding par 4, gave way to the par-3 3rd hole over the muddy brown water of what was called Rae’s Creek. That same creek wandered around the left side of the par-5 4th hole and cut across in front of the green. I laid up in the practice round but when I saw how shallow the creek was—there were sandbars and patches of green and gravel—I figured it was 50-50 a fellow could play a ball out if he did happen to hit in there. So I planned to be aggressive within reason.
I almost forgot, I had to check in at the clubhouse before the practice round. I walked down the hill from the Partridge Inn with my clubs slung over my shoulder. I leaned my bag up against a rack. Inside the new clubhouse smelled of fresh-cut wood. It felt clean, if you know what I mean. Parts were still pretty bare, not much in the way of furniture.
I was directed to an area upstairs where I arrived at a desk in front of Mr. Roberts. He gave me the once-over as he checked me off a type-written list on a clipboard. Then he slid over a paper and handed me a pen. “Mr. Wadsworth, are you aware of the details of this agreement regarding our little tournament?” he asked sternly. Yes sir, Wiffy Cox filled me in, I answered. “There is no discussing this event at any time in the future,” he added. I gave him a quick nod and a smile and said, “What event, sir?”
It took him a second but he got my message and suppressed a smile. I signed, so I was now officially under contract to play in the tournament, win some prize money and keep my mouth shut. Also, I got $50 cash for showing up, which Roberts slid over on the desk—five ten-dollar bills. I remember those bills because I needed the dough so badly. Roberts may have noticed my eyes bulging, or maybe not. He didn’t let on. “Play well, Mr. Wadsworth,” he said. “I hope you enjoy our Elysian Fields.”
On my way to the first tee, I found the caddie-master. He assigned me a caddie whose name was Skids and this would be his second time around the course. Most of the caddies, I discovered, were learning on the job because the course had been open for play for only a short time.
Skids was a tall black youngster, maybe 16. He looked strong and had a wide smile that usually featured a toothpick, a hay straw or a twig lodged in his mouth like he was smoking a cigarette, I soon learned. Skids seemed pleasant enough that day. He didn’t say much, which suited me. I asked him what the toothpick was for and he shrugged. “Jes’ sumpin’ to do,” he said.
He was happy to tote the bag, hand me the club I asked for or toss me a ball when needed. Skids kept up easily with his long strides.
How come they call you Skids, I asked as we walked up a fairway. “Aw, thass cuz when I ain’t workin’ the fields, I works the lumber yard,” he said. When I didn’t react, he added, “I makes skids fo’ the warehouse. Gimme nails and wood and a hammuh, Mistuh Hank, and I makes you a fine skid.” I decided I liked Skids. He knew hard work.
That evening, I enjoyed a nice steak dinner at the Partridge Inn with Mortie and a late arrival, of course, Wiffy. I enjoyed the dinner and the company almost as much as having Mr. Roberts’ dough in my pocket.
There was something else. Somehow, some way, I was paired with Jones. Maybe he got wind that I reached No. 17 in two mighty blows the day before and wanted to check me out or, more likely, wanted to be there in person to intimidate me into blowing up. Which wouldn’t have surprised me none. Me blowing up in front of Jones, I mean.
Instead, just the opposite happened. I had a strange calm. I kept picturing Wiffy’s majestic dive into the muddy creek at the fourth hole. That kept me loose.
Jones had Calamity Jane but I had something that worked maybe better, at least on this day. One club Mortie left behind once in a pique of frustration was a putter made by his more-successful brother, Olin, a player who was fearsome on any putting surface or even a pool table. According to one tale I heard, Olin once climbed onto a pool table to win a bar bet, stroked three putts in a row that knocked over a hairpin on the other end, and collected the money.
My putter didn’t have a name like Bobby’s but my confidence was such that I started having Skids read every putt, starting on the first green in the second round. Not only did I roll it well, but between us, we read those greens like a book, although I was a little sketchy in the real book-reading department as, I suspect, was Skids.
Even though Jones was a real pro—for an amateur, I mean—my big drives may have gotten to him. By the second nine, his ego got in the way and he trying to outdrive me, or at least keep up. The next thing he knew, Jones was playing out of the pine straw and Calamity Jane was putting for pars and bogeys.
I eagled Nos. 11 and 17, carving brassies around the corner of the trees and up onto the greens after what I would modestly call colossal drives. After the second one at 17, I may have imagined it but Jones almost turned a little pale.
I shot 67, a new course record, I was told, and Jones struggled home in 78. “Some playing,” he told me with a weak smile as we shook hands on the 18th green and headed off to the veranda for our lunch break.
Wiffy had played in the twosome just ahead of us. At lunch, he came over and slapped me on the back so hard I almost fell over. “What a round!” he exclaimed. “I bet our Bobby got an eyeful of you!”
I laughed and explained how it had been a lot of luck on the greens but Whiff wouldn’t let it go. “C’mon, Hank, you’ve got him on the run now,” he said. “Bobby Jones, the great man, the slayer of the Impregnable Quadrilateral, and he’s met his match in...” Wiffy paused to think. “The Bethlehem Bomber, Hank Wadsworth!”
That sounds like a boxing undercard at a down-and-out gym, I told him. We laughed but it got me thinking. I checked the veranda scoreboard. I hadn’t realized it before but those 11 strokes I trailed Jones by after the first day? I made them all up in today’s first 18. Jones and I were dead even going into the final round.
It sounds stupid but a thought as simple as that can throw a man. I was skittish as a black cat in the snow on the first tee with Jones but I faked my way through it and accidentally hit my best drive of the tournament—right on the screws and long, with a little draw. Jones was back in form and looking determined. He played a fine drive himself, a nice, hard draw around the corner.
When we got to our golf balls, Bobby’s best was 50 yards behind my best. Sure, my drive caught the slope and ran out but still, I could see that moment wounded him. In the back of my mind, I sensed he wasn’t going to beat me no matter what he did—a foolish thought I did my best to ignore.