‘SHITS AND GIGGLES’ ON THE GOLF COURSE INCLUDING MULLIGANS AND MIND GAMES; PINK ELEPHANTS AND DEAD BEARS’ BUMS; A LUCKY SEVEN IRON AND A GRANDSTAND FINISH. GOLF AT CHAMBERLAIN PARK MUNICIPAL IN AUCKLAND; THE RYDER CUP WAS NEVER, EVER LIKE THIS.
Men are very good – intuitively good – at measuring themselves against other men. Is he smarter than me, more Alpha Male than me, more of a Mummy’s Boy than me and if I pick a fight with him over that barstool, how long will it take him to batter me senseless? Thus did K-dog and I came to the almost unspoken conclusion that we’d be well matched on a golf course; as he put it, eighteen holes of ‘shits and giggles’ with no egos, no niggle and – in all probability – no birdies. And so it was to prove.
We agreed to meet in the hotel lobby at ten. He arrived two minutes late wearing a jolly smile and – I couldn’t help but notice – a jumper embossed with the legend ‘USPGA Valhalla 2014’. So while he fetched the car, I snuck back to my room to dig out my – tatty but treasured – ‘US Open Pebble Beach 2000’ number. It’s not that I’m competitive, you understand, but I wasn’t leaving the hotel one down.
Chamberlain Park is a – soi-disant – ‘finely manicured test of golf’; fifty bucks a head to include a half set of sticks and a ‘trundler’. I was tempted to ask for a quarter set of sticks and a ‘trundler’ since I never hit anything louder than a seven iron but – not wishing to advertise my inadequacies too early – I opted to button it. I bought four luminous, lake balls while K-dog went for three, virginal ‘Titleists’, the clear implication being that his kind of golf values quality over quantity. He was obviously bluffing. We also went halves on an economy bag of wooden tees, each of which turned out to be the size of a small knitting needle.
Locally it was Winter Rules – lift, wipe and place on the fairways – to which we added some by-laws of our own; no whining, no gloating, no hair-pulling and no backsassing; each player to have the right to one mulligan apiece. I decided I was going to be the 2001 USPGA Champion David Toms (ahead of a Ryder Cup, I once asked him what he washes first when he steps into the shower and – rather wonderfully – he said, ‘that depends what kind of mood I’m in’) while K-dog opted to be Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston ‘because he always smiles and waves at the fans.’ Not that there were many of those on a chilly first tee.
HOLE ONE – 318 METRES – PAR FOUR K-dog took the honour, plucked a well-worn metal three from his bag and tonked his ‘Titleist’ two twenty straight down the pipe. We were ten seconds in and already bickering.
Me: Oi, ‘Beef’. I thought we were both playing off twenty-eight here?
Him: We are.
Me: So how come you’re hitting someone else’s club two hundred and twenty off the first tee without a practice swing?
Him: Beginner’s luck? Anyway you said you once played off fifteen.
Me: That was in 1984.
Him: Really? I was twelve months old in 1984.
Grimly, I hoiked out my ‘bad boy’ seven iron, squared it up behind my six inch tee and my luminous lake ball and – viciously – topped my drive five yards sideways onto the cinder cart path where it staggered like a drunk before passing out in the rough. K-dog – mindful of the draconian ‘no gloating’ rule – had his fist in his mouth. He looked like man halfway through an enema. Thus, tragically, did I spend my precious mulligan on the very first tee, reloading and – irritatingly – firing take two straight down the short stuff. We were both on the green in three but I was thirty feet shy and topped my putt. He was twenty feet up the hill and drained it for a par. Somehow I held my trousers together and coaxed in a ten-footer for a game but worthless bogey. ‘BEEF’ 1UP
HOLE TWO – 149 METRES – PAR THREE I’ll be honest, I slunk to the second under the heavy assumption that I was in a spot of bother. ‘Beef’ has a compact, well-oiled, all-weather swing and his twenty-footer on the last had disappeared down the hole like a ferret. This, I thought, could easily get ugly. It was his honour but – mercifully – he short sided himself on the right behind a greenside bunker. Stupidly but sociably, I did the same, although – god knows how – I fluked a wedge to six feet and holed it while K-dog played hockey on the green. This was a little more like it. ALL SQUARE
HOLE THREE – 489 METRES – PAR FIVE To my quiet delight, K-dog’s ‘compact, well-oiled, all-weather swing’ fell apart on the third. He scuffed his tee shot twenty yards into the undergrowth, cashed in his mulligan, reloaded and fired his ball halfway up a tree. Disappointingly, it dropped out. ‘I’m not quite getting my hands through the ball,’ said ‘Beef’. Yours truly hit three scruffy seven irons, a half-arsed wedge and two putts to take the hole, this despite injuring my ankle on the fairway tripping over a pine cone the size of a dead squirrel. ‘BEEF’ 1DOWN
HOLE FOUR – 417 METRES – PAR FIVE We were now at the – boggy – bottom end of the course where it was so wet that – as K-dog rightly pointed out – a nasty dose of trench-foot was a distinct possibility. I was plugged so badly in the right hand side of the fairway that had my ball been the entire world, all you’d have been able to see would’ve been Belgium. It took ten minutes to find and ten more to dig it out. K-dog had two hundred to the front of the green and a hundred to the front of a stream.
Him: This is going to be wet.
Me: Good, that’s it, ‘Beef’, be positive; hang on to that thought.
Him: No, I’ve just got a bad vibe about this one.
Me: Just stick it on the green, will you and stop pfaffing about?
So, of course, he shanked it into the stream thereby fulfilling his own miserable expectations; indeed K-dog’s miserable expectations of what – to my untrained eye – was a very tidy golf game looked like being my one trump card of the day. My wedge got badly bogged down in the loam around the green as, indeed, did I. Exhausted after dragging my ‘trundler’ fifty yards through a swamp, I three-putted. Miserably, we halved in eights. ‘BEEF’ 1DOWN
HOLE FIVE – 151 METRES – PAR THREE I was a bit heavy-handed planting my knitting needle into the defenseless earth on the fifth tee; in fact it disappeared so far into the ground I couldn’t find it. I’ve lost many things on a golf course – balls, clubs, clothes, my temper – but I’ve never lost a tee on a tee. But the going everywhere at this end of the track was ‘heavy’, so much so that the course was covering my laces. I reached for another tee but – once bitten – left it too high; thus did my subsequent seven iron resemble a Conor Murray box-kick. Worse, I airmailed the green with a clumsy second but – somehow – scrambled for a bogey. K-dog was all over the place off the tee and struggled to reach the green where four ducks waddled across his line. I shooed them away with a sand-wedge whereupon the last of the four – disdainfully – fertilised the green with a long white stripe. K-dog winced and three putted. ‘I think my head’s coming up’, he said. On the contrary, I think I owe that duck a beer. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE SIX – 349 METRES – PAR FOUR I was enjoying this; indeed I suspect we were both enjoying this. The golf was gargoyle ugly but the company, the badinage – the ‘shits and the giggles’ – were a tonic. K-dog was straight down the middle of the sixth but he wasn’t happy. ’I’m not breaking my wrists enough,’ he said. This man is clearly one of world golf’s great technicians. We were nip and tuck down the fairway but it was me to play first to a green with a wide moat.
Him: Look, whatever you do, don’t worry about the water. You’ll carry that easily with a seven iron and, besides, it’s probably not that deep.
Me: Will you stop doing that, please?
Him: Stop doing what?
Me: Pink elephant-ing me.
Me: You’re pink elephant-ing me. You’re telling me not to think about pink elephants so all I think about is pink elephants.
Him: Look, I’m just being supportive, okay?.
Somehow we both stayed dry and K-dog sent a whisper of a putt just past the high side of the hole. I now had a seven-footer for the half and – somehow – the putt slid down the side alley, died on the back doorstep and collapsed into the hole. It was ponderous sixes all round. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE SEVEN – 342 METRES – PAR 4 The seventh looked like a dog-leg but turned out to be a semi-circle; a bizarre banana of a hole where the green only became visible in the last fifty yards. In truth it was tailor-made for my appalling slice but, again, it was K-dog who had the whip hand, thwarted at the death by another squeaky putt from the boy Toms. K-dog had now decapitated five of his ten tees, whereupon I warned him that if he ran out, he’d be having none of mine. We headed to the eighth, bickering. Again. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE EIGHT – 120 METRES – PAR THREE ‘Beef’ hit a high, handsome seven iron that the wind wafted to the western hemisphere of the green many a long mile from the pin, except the swine then lagged a snake of a putt to five feet and – deftly – holed a treacherous left-to-righter for a par. I was twenty feet the other side of the flag where the green looked like the bonnet of a Volkswagen Beetle. The first putt had almost enough line but way too much speed and the second was dead weight but six inches right. It was a flabby four and – damn it – K-dog had a hole back. ‘BEEF’ 1DOWN
HOLE NINE – 305 METRES – PAR FOUR I was behind a bush on the right, behind a hedge on the left and then back behind a tree on the right. The fairway was little more than a rumour although I could see K-dog on the short stuff slapping his ball towards the green in what appeared to be ever-decreasing distances. Back behind the tree, my ball was wearing a lump of mud the size of a dog turd but a slashing, sawn-off seven iron – Seve-esque – got both ball and turd to four feet whence I – comfortably – two putted. Standing over the scorecard it took K-dog a while to compare an awful lot of arithmetic but my two-hole advantage appeared to have been restored. I’ve no idea how. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE 10 – 285METRES – PAR FOUR Out of nowhere, two hackers appeared ahead of us. It’s hard to believe that there’s anyone – anywhere – within Auckland’s city limits who plays more pitiful golf than we do but – astonishingly – it appears there is. The taller of the two took seven practice swings and topped his ball five yards. Chasing them down the hole, K-dog hit a peach of a drive, a gem of an approach and shaved the hole with his birdie putt. I hit two sevens to seven feet and, despite leaving the putt six feet short, scrambled a par. This was more like it; a hole shared in regulation numbers and – suddenly – we almost looked like proper golfers, although K-dog reckoned his hands weren’t ‘catching the rain’. Even now, I have no idea what this means. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE 11 – 354 METRES – PAR FOUR The losers in front walked from the tenth green to the second tee and drove off in the wrong direction. It was a ‘gimme‘ play-through. At the green, K-dog couldn’t find his putter, which – it turned out – he’d mistakenly put in my bag at the back of the tenth, our hired bags and ‘trundlers’ being identical twins. Peevishly I insisted that, having lugged the thing for three hundred and fifty metres, his club was now mine and he couldn’t have it back whereupon he told me to stick my head up a dead bear’s bum and an unseemly squabble ensued. There was a distinct whiff of sulphur in the air as we halved the hole in five and headed to the twelfth tee … ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE 12 – 329 METRES – PAR FOUR … where, as the recriminations continued, K-dog – unwittingly – took my redundant metal three from my bag and spanked a very decent drive down the fairway. I pointed out he’d just stolen my redundant club and that under Rule 4.4 – ‘a player must not add or borrow any club selected for play by any other person playing on the course’ – he now owed me one hole. The obvious problem was that he’d got both the pencil and the scorecard, so – apparently – it was dead bear’s bum time again. Short of the green, my ball had picked up another steaming turd, which meant my chip rolled like an egg eight feet past the hole. K-dog was greenside in two but took four more to get down amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Served him right. For the umpteenth time, it was a hole halved in six. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE 13 – 110 METRES – PAR THREE The afternoon had suddenly morphed from a chummy game of golf into something closely resembling psychological warfare. I’d been two up for two hours yet still couldn’t shake him off; he’d been two down for an eternity and couldn’t close the gap. I spent most of the thirteenth trying to think of ways I could unsettle him, unhinge him, get inside his head and – given he’d gone quiet too – he was presumably thinking exactly the same. For the record, K-dog hit a squiffy tee shot and took three putts and I did the same. As you were. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE 14 – 340 METRES – PAR FOUR The fourteenth – effectively – is the hard shoulder of State Highway Sixteen, a six-lane river of furious freight and fuming cars. K-dog – chortling – offered to jump the fence and hold up the traffic while I teed off. Fur bristling a little, I striped my seven iron down the middle and he followed suit with his metal three, although when I pointed out that a man old enough to be his father has just out-driven him with a seven iron, he – feebly – claimed his tee shot ‘fell off the heel’. As if to prove the point, he nearly came out of his shoes with his second, which left him just short of the green where I, for my sins, was now several yards further back and eyeing up my limited options chipping-wise. Was it a run with the seven or a floater with the wedge? I was still mulling over the topography when K-dog and his ‘trundler’ trundled straight across my view.
Me: Excuse me?
Me: I’m trying to visualise the shot here, if you don’t mind.
Him: I’m a cameraman. I never visualise shots.
Me: Yes, we’ve noticed.
Him: Look, am I walking on your line?
Him: Impeding your swing? Pink elephant-ing you?
Him: Whining, gloating, hair-pulling, backsassing?
Him: Then it must be Dead Bear’s Bum o’clock. Get on with it.
So I got on with it, thinning a chip to five feet – the best bad shot I have ever hit in my entire golfing life – and holing it round the rim while K-dog missed a four-foot open door to claw a shot back. Again, served him right for being rude. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE 15 – 294 METRES – PAR FOUR I was beginning to sense that one of us was wilting and – worryingly – it felt as though it was me. Off the tee I was stymied behind a tree – yes, another one – but then K-dog was hacking his way through the thick stuff on the far side of the fairway like a man looking for the Lost City of Atlantis. Indeed, I ended up with two putts to win the hole and leave him dormy three, the first of which I missed right and the second of which I missed left. I was fit to spit. ‘BEEF’ 2DOWN
HOLE 16 – 281 METRES – PAR FOUR Delving through my bag on the sixteenth tee, I discovered I had two seven irons which meant that, yet again, I’d been shouldering ‘Beef’s’ burden. The question was, which seven iron was his and which seven iron was mine?
Him: What’re you going on about? They’re identical, you idiot. Just hand one over.
Me: Yes, I know they’re identical but one has my mojo and the other one doesn’t.
Me: My mojo. My spirit. And don’t pretend this isn’t a cunning plan on your part to mess with my head and part me from my magic club.
Him: Look, just pick whichever one you want and give me the other one.
I sniffed both sticks, looked at them both through one eye, weighed them in my hands and took the grubbier one.
Him: Happy now?
Me: No, I’m not. This better be the right club.
It wasn’t. I shanked my tee shot into the trees on the fourteenth fairway and took ten. ‘BEEF’ 1DOWN
HOLE 17 – 289 METRES – PAR FOUR There was another unseemly scuffle on the tee while I reclaimed my magic seven iron from his bag and tried to throw his ‘dud’ one into a hedge. Things were getting frisky. He was on the green for two but he was at least ninety feet short. I was on in three but a mere twenty feet away. He then lifted and wiped his ball without marking it, a clear one shot penalty under rule 20-1. Yet again he referred me to the rear end of the nearest dead bear. He then lagged a fabulous putt to five feet but missed the par through a prickle of spike-marks while I drained a wobbly four-footer to stay a hole ahead. Dormy one. ‘BEEF’ 1DOWN
HOLE 18 – 156 METRES – PAR THREE There was a brief wait on the short eighteenth while the group in front putted out. Back on the tee, you could’ve cut the tension with a sand wedge given he needed to win the hole to square the match and I needed just one more measly half to kick his sorry arse.
Him: ‘All square would be poetic, don’t you think? I mean, if that’s how it finished? Friends united, honours even, a fair reflection of the way the round’s gone? Sound good to you?’
Raised on yardages, the metres down here had bamboozled the both of us all day and never more so than now. K-dog had uncorked his five iron but was toying with his trusty metal three, which had been his crutch all day. Normally I’d have been offering him a welter of useless, ill-informed advice but since he appeared to be doing an excellent job of confusing himself, I let him stew in his own juice. In the end he went with the five; a superb, soaring skylark of a shot – damn him – that splashed onto the front of the green. I took my big stick – the seven, what else – and lashed it to the front fringe but my ham-fisted chip skipped eight feet past while he lagged his fifty foot putt a very creditable forty-five feet six inches. So if it was to finish all square and fair, he had to hole and I had to miss and – bugger it – that was precisely what happened, the flimsiest of finishes from David Toms but – fair play – a ballsy putt from ‘Beef’ Johnston under sagging pressure. ALL SQUARE
We hugged like brothers and adjourned to some cold beers where it transpired, we’d both shot miserable ninety-sevens; utter rubbish, obviously, but an utterly wonderful day; not only that but – literally – we still had all our balls. No question, if the Lions win the series on Saturday that’ll be something I’ll remember to my dying day but – forgive me – perhaps not quite as fondly as hanging on for a half at Chamberlain Park with ‘Beef‘ Johnston.