Written By: Steve Wise
The first one was a golfer’s miracle and nightmare, all compressed into tight spirals of sweet time like his Titleist was when perfectly struck by his trusty seven-iron. Tough little par three it was –number 6, Columbia Country Club. 167 to the middle, fronted by water, elevated green perched atop a knoll that accepted only well-played shots. No more than half of the flagstick visible, it was a hole that even good players often walked away from satisfied with bogey.
“Leasy” (a combination of “Lefty” and “Easy”) his buddies called him, was a guy with a lefty swing that didn’t turn heads. Yet he was often one of the ones toward whom the folding money was pushed when they added everything up at the nineteenth hole. Leasy knew he had hit it good as he watched the ball climb to its apex and then descend softly toward the flag.
“Oh, you little darling,” he whispered to himself, posing his finish for no one but himself and the summer sky bleeding into sunset.
Leasy flipped the bag on his shoulder and began the steady walk up the grassy slope. Gotta be inside ten feet…maybe stiff. His eyes walked down the flagstick as he neared the green, and then quickly scanned the empty surface. A tiny sigh leaked from his chest. Well, you did nut it, bub…must have airmailed it right over the top. He planted his bag and walked behind the green, only to see verdant, low-cut rough . No golf ball, no hiding place. He then walked to the front and looked down that slope. No golf ball, no hiding place. It was then that Leasy allowed the thought to creep into his brain, and four paces later he locked onto the fresh ball mark two feet short and just left of the hole. Three more paces, measured with quick breaths, and then lean and peek.
Leasy raised his arms, tilted his head skyward, and shouted “You gotta be kiddin’ meeee!” He laughed from his belly and did a full turn—arms still high. “30 years and I finally get one…by my freakin’ self!”
Twenty yards behind the green, halfway up a big hickory, a fox squirrel chattered angrily back at him. “Ha…you saw it, I bet.” Leasy reached down and two-fingered the ball out of the cup and tossed it into the palm of his hand. Proud owner of his first ace, he shouldered the bag and headed for the next tee box. He glanced back at the squirrel and said, “You and Hogan’s ghost, little buddy. This is dang near cruel.”
Number seven, par four demanding a nice little draw off the tee. He barely remembered hitting as he trudged down the fairway. He glanced over at five green, saw two of his buddies just leaving, and knew instantly that keep his secret was not an option. He trotted to pick up his drive off seven and veered back to six tee.
Hank tugged at the bill of his cap and scrunched his red features into a squint. “So…Leasy by his lonesome…couldn’t stand it any longer, huh?”
Dillard from under his floppy hat, moustache hiding the middle of his face, said “More likely couldn’t find anyone who wanted to contribute today.”
“Yeah, yeah…whatever…Listen you two…” Leasy paused, shook his head, looked back up the slope at six green, and said, “I just aced this thing.”
“Sure,” said Dillard, “and I’m teeing it up at Augusta next year. You too, right Hank…the green jackets sent your invite, too, ain’t they?”
Hank stuck his hand in his back pocket and said, “Yeah, think I got it right here.”
“Go on, go on. Get it out of your systems,” said Leasy. “I’ll wait.”
Hank said, “I finally broke 60 on this simple little track last week, Leasy. Did I forget to tell you? Dang it, anyhow. Must have forgot. Told Dillard here. Was by myself…but hey, when a guy hangs up a fifty-eight he ought to tell SOMEBODY, for cryin’ out loud, huh?”
Dillard snorted out a laugh in unison with Hank’s…rising he…he…he wheezes.
“You done now?” asked Leasy.
They glanced at each other, laughs subsiding into possum grins. “That ought to do,” said Dillard. “Stick a tee in the ground, Ace Man. You get first pop.”
Leasy stroked his chin with his gloved right hand and said, “I just thought of something for you comedians to consider when we get up there.”
They grunted in unison.
“I was so jacked up I forgot to fix my ball mark. You’ll see a fresh one two feet short and a bit left of the hole. That’ll be mine, and it’s only about tem minutes old.”
Hank said, “You gonna story-tell us to death or play golf.”
Leasy grabbed a tee stub and pushed it down with the ball. Dillard said, “Surely, you’ve retired your ace ball, right?”
“Matter of fact, this is that ball,” said Leasy. He took one last look at the flag and swung.
“Woooo, now,” said Hank, “that’s a handsome one, all right.”
Leasy shook his head, kissed the face of the seven-iron, and said, “Identical shot, boys…two of the best sevens in my life. If I had a brain I’d walk in right now and never touch another club.”
Hank said, “You do that and your wife’ll get so sick of you she’ll smother you with a pillow one night.”
“He’s right,” said Dillard. “I once threatened to quit and mine reminded me that she cooked the food…and she wasn’t smiling.”
Hank tugged a six-iron left of the green, muttered, and stabbed the club back in his bag. Dillard said, “Seen that little tugster before.”
Hank said, “Let’s see what you’ve got, Tiger. Take enough club. Maybe you’ll actually get to putt instead of choppin’ at it from your spot on the hairy slope.”
Dillard pulled the six and said, “Don’t reckon I need any more than your old bones.”
The shot looked good, but hung in the sky a second too long. The ball bounced once against the slope before trickling back into the rough. “Caught a little gust there at the top,” Dillard said.
Hank said, “Gimme a break. There ain’t a rabbit’s fart worth of breeze out here.”
Leasy was already walking and paid little attention to the woofing going on behind him. When the green popped into view it was as if his mind rewound to an old film—hazy, black and white—of a dusky, smooth little landscape devoid of any object but the flagstick. He blinked the old thing away and focused on the new. Two ball marks, an inch apart, two feet short and a bit left of the hole.
Hank walked onto the green, looked down at the two ball marks, and said to Leasy, “You see what I see?” Leasy nodded silently. “Dillard, get your butt up here…look at this.”
Dillard’s bushy eyebrows arched like grey worms poked with sticks. “Uh ohhh..uh ohhh. We might have us a situation here, reckon?” He exchanged glances with Hank and they both looked at Leasy. Dillard said, “Well, ain’t you going to look?”
Leasy shook his head as he turned around and fixed his gaze to the sky. “I will not,” he said.
Hank said, “Bet you will if we leave you standin’ here.”
“You’re neither one going anywhere, and you know it,“ he said.
Hank cocked his head toward Dillard and shrugged his shoulders. Dillard pointed a thumb toward the hole and said, “Well, old Hankster, let us have a little peek-a-boo in the jar.” They stretched their necks like two boys peeking over the edge of a forbidden well hole. Dillard made a sound that was part bellow, part scream. “Arnoold the King immooorrrtal Palmer!!”
Hank spun away from the flagstick and released it all in one long spasm:
Leasy didn’t turn around. His arms were clamped tightly around his chest. Slowly, he extended his left arm and hand behind him, palm up. At first neither Dillard nor Hank understood the gesture. But the seconds ticked past, his hand hanging behind him, and then a switch flipped and Dillard said, “But don’t you wanna see it in there yourself?”
“I do not, as a matter of fact,” Leasy answered. “You two didn’t see the first one jarred and I didn’t see this one. That makes us even.”
Dillard reached into the cup and got the ball. He slowly walked over to Leasy and placed the ball into his hand.
Hank walked quietly over to stand beside Leasy and Dillard. A threesome now, all staring at the Missouri sunset lost in their own thoughts. Behind them, a fox squirrel scolded loudly from the hickory.
Leasy huffed a little laugh and said, “Did you know squirrels can talk?”
Hank rolled his eyes toward Dillard. “You got your phone, Hank? Probably ought to go ahead and reserve him a padded cell over in Fulton.”
“Cut him some slack,” said Dillard. “Been you or me we’d probably have soiled ourselves and be brain dead by now.”
Leasy ignored them and said, “The little bugger saw ‘em both…I just know it. He’s talkin’ about it.”
Hank said, “What about the big 54+ in the sky?”
“The WHAT in the sky?, asked Dillard.
Hank sighed, and said, “The WHO, not the WHAT. Your name Dillard or Dullard? God on the first tee, getting’ ready to make 18 aces…lays 54 and ain’t swung a club.”
Leasy looked up, smiled ruefully, and laughed again-clean and deep from his core. “Witnesses…mercy me. One talks squirrel and the other one don’t do formal announcements about aces.”
Hank said, “But we got the two ball marks.”
Dillard quickly chimed in, “Besides, any real golfer knows that a guy like you would never lie about something like this.”
Leasy nodded. “Yeah, I suppose. But you know what? (He didn’t wait for an answer.) It just doesn’t matter to me who believes me. The squirrel and the big 54+ in the sky will do.”