An Explosive Force
I don’t know what it’s like to go into battle. Never been in one, the soldier-kind, I mean — the shooting-kind. I imagined the Vietcong storming a hill with my friends dug in on top, the lead filling the air like hornets with deadly stings. My cousin told me stories when he came home, wounded, sporting a Purple Heart for his bravery. I went into a different kind of battles, ones in the streets, fighting for our rights, fighting against racism, fighting against the war. Now, I would go into yet a different battle. All battles aren’t the same. Still, you have to fight.
The Bad Boy of Golf
The 1965 PGA Championship was nigh, and I had drawn the bad boy of golf, a professional I will not name, but one who regularly threw tantrums, invective and, of course, his clubs. An explosive force not entirely possessed of his wits when he was prone to rage. When he wasn’t spewing anger, he was calm and unassuming, a nice guy, smart and likable, reassuring. Not someone you would want to commit to your local institution. The thing was, you couldn’t tell when he was about ready to catapult into one of his famous fits. He could erupt at any time. Like a lightning bolt coming down and scorching the Earth. I was conscious of this at all times in his presence, standing as I was to one side, his massive golf bag, stuffed with clubs (and a straightjacket) slung over my shoulders, my back breaking under the extreme weight. Still, he treated me like a human being. At least, until he shanked a shot, then, I was a dog to be kicked out of the way, blamed for giving him the wrong club. I wanted to climb down into the eighteenth hole. I imaged it like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. I’d dive deep and hide in the subterranean dark, pull out the weed, light up and have a good smoke with the Jabberwocky as golf balls danced around us.
My Savior, My Pot
Yes, pot was my savior as a caddy in the PGA. I was cool calm and collected when stoned. I learned this the second day I went out with him. Now, I could calmly deal with the bad boy of golf. I didn’t flinch when he hooked a shot into the water or a trap and came out with accusations. I never liked crowds, and the golf course was teeming with humans of all shapes and sizes, dinosaurs, minotaurs and you name it. The place was overrun with rampant, well-heeled, buttoned-up Republicans high on Ayn Rand. There was no place to escape the madness, except into pockets of woods on the course where I fortified myself with a long deep toke. I had a fantasy that the bad boy himself would ask me for a cigarette and I’d give him a finely rolled Panama Red. He’d take a hit, not knowing what it was. I’d tell him it was a foreign brand and he’d nod blankly, a shit-eating grin coming over him as though you could finally see the sun rising in all its glory after weeks of rain. He’d flick the joint onto the ground and snub it out with one foot, digging it into the grass. I’d groan. He’d take a club and make a perfect shot dead-on to the green, laying the ball up a foot from the hole. In fact, he’d go on to shooting the round without throwing a club. As happy as he’d ever been, never knowing what had come over him. A marijuana high that left him ten under par, the leader on the scoreboard. A gargantuan tip awaited me. Ah, the imagination runs wild and crazy. Calm the demons. Get back to reality.
The tournament started Thursday with all the golfers trickling in a week ahead of time. There was a need for drivers, too. Of course, I volunteered for this job as well, picking up golfers at the airport and transporting them back to motels and private houses where they were staying. One of the big three automobile markers, GM, supplied cars for the tournament. I got to drive these big boats as I called them, Cadillacs, Buicks, Oldsmobiles. They had airy suspensions, and you seemed to ride on clouds, bouncing up and down. I’d light up a joint in the woods behind the club and get uproariously stoned, then climb in the car and float all the way to the airport, pick up the VIP and transport him back to where he was staying for the duration of the tournament. Yes, vastly stoned I was. Completely at ease. No worries for me. Looking in the rearview mirror, I jawed back and forth with these famous golfers like I was one of them. Jack Nicklaus, whom we all called Baby Beef, because he was overweight and had a cherub-looking face, Gary Player, taciturn, thin and stark, dressed in his black attire and, Arnie Palmer, the common man’s savior, good-natured and humble. I was laughing, joking in an outgoing manner that was new and foreign to me, but one that I reveled in because I was higher than a golf ball just being driven off the tee, arcing up and over the hole coming down onto the green and bouncing a few feet away from nirvana. Far out.
As caddies, we were required to wear our special regalia, red pants with a green stripe down the side. Like military uniforms, they were. I felt like they were shipping me off to Vietnam. It was 1965, after all, and American soldiers were dying in droves in the jungles of South East Asia. President Johnson was intensifying the war. I tried to put it out of my mind. Hey, that’s why I was here. I was on a verdant green-scape smackdab in the middle of Republicanville when I had friends stalking the Vietcong. Those friends had chosen to go. I only hoped the war would be over before Uncle Sam took me, too.
The practice rounds were over, and the tournament was set to begin Thursday morning, bright and early. The atmosphere was cheery and festive, but nerve-wracking. At least for me. Pennants waved from the clubhouse, a massive brick building intruding on the green countryside bathed in humidity. ABC network TV cameras were positioned on the holes from fifteen to eighteen with roving cameras elsewhere on the course.
Into the Fray
I had an 8 o’clock tee time with the Bad Boy. If he made the cut, I might be in for a nice tip, in the hundreds, if he did well depending on how I composed myself with this temperamental bomb of a man. The pot fortified me. I pictured myself as the Cheshire Cat, grinning. Nothing could shake me. Still, I didn’t sleep well the night before, even though I tried to smoke myself to sleep. I was up all night, pacing, my nerves fraying. And then, the day arrived, bright and sunny and clean. Thursday. The humidity had finally lifted. The heat was bearable for now. I felt like I was going into battle. I’d have to fight.
Next: A Pothead and the Bad boy of Golf in the PGA Championship