Monday, September 20, 2010

My Dad, The Pimp

When I caught the golf bug at the ripe old age of ten and began swatting balls around Harrington Field in Cuyahoga Falls and on my made-up course in my parent's back yard, I envisioned being a PGA Tour player, beating Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. A typical scenario that kids do in order to spice up the experience. I wasn’t very good, but I had an unquenchable appetite for hitting those golf balls. Hithithit…JERRY! DINNERS READY!…hithithit….JERRY! IT’S DARK OUT!….hithithit…As a result of nothing but this robotic repetition, something interesting happened when I got to be around the age of fifteen. I got good. I was shooting in the low 80's and getting the attention of people, like the local high school golf coach. At the age of sixteen I made my first hole in one.

I would go to a driving range armed with two buckets of balls, would sequester myself into my mental cocoon and start hitting them. After 25 or so shots, I would take a break, turn around, and there would be people standing there, watching me practice. “You have a very fine swing, young man.” Uh, thanks. “Have you ever thought about trying to play right-handed?” Uh, no, why would I?

This was 1973, and the sight of a left-handed teenager smacking 250-yard drives was a bit of a circus sideshow. Until that point, only one lefty had won a tour event, Bob Charles, the 1963 British Open. And many spectators to my practice sessions could not wrap their heads around this odd sight – left-handed golfers were rare. I cannot tell you how many times it was suggested that I jump to the other side of the ball and play righty. You might as well have asked a bear to recite Shakespeare.

A year earlier, I was playing baseball at Harrington Field after school when my dad pulled into the parking lot & hollered to me. “Jerry! Get over here!” In typical teenage slacker form, I ignored him. “Goddammit Jerry! I said get your damn ass over here!” I slunked over. What, Dad. He opened the trunk of the car, and there was a brand new set of left-handed Dunlop Bob Charles (1963 British Open Champ!), matched set of woods and irons in a pristine Dunlop Airliner red white and blue golf bag. Driver, three, four and five woods, two through 9 irons, pitching and sand wedge. A complete set. Up until that point I was playing with a starter set of crappy off brand department store sticks.

“What do you think of those, son?” The slacker attitude vanished. “Are..are…those MINE?”

“No son. I just lost my GODdamn mind and decided to start playing left-handed. Of course they’re yours. But you’re going to have to earn them.” At that point I didn’t care if ‘earning them’ would have consisted of feeding lepers in a diaper. Fortunately, Dad had other plans. Some real savvy plans. Cool plans.

He became my pimp.

When I got home, he laid it out. “Son, you started beating me when you were 12. For us to have a fair match you’d have to spot me four a side. I think it’s time we had some fun. I know some pigeons that we can fleece.”

Pigeons? Why would I want to fleece a bird? Why are you talking funny? What do birds have to do with new golf clubs….

Whenever I exasperated my dad I would get the same response from him – a deep sigh, followed with a salty phrase. In this case it was “Jeeeezuzchrist son. NO! I’m talking about playing golf for money. You and me against guys I know we can BEAT. We call people like that PIGEONS. Comprende?”

‘You mean I can make MONEY playing GOLF?’

(long sigh)…. “Yes son. Money. GodDAMMIT you are dense. But you can hit a golf ball like nobody’s business. We’re going to have a blast.”

J. Edward Good Park Golf Course is a fine public golf course on the west side of Akron. A stout 6,900 yards from the tips, it hosts the Summit County Amateur every summer along with a number of other events. Built in the 1920’s, it is an institution and has stood the test of time. To play there, you, as they say, ‘gotta have game.’ Narrow, tree-lined holes almost all of which dogleg either right or left. Lightning-fast greens. Ankle-high rough. Tough track. You have to work the ball both ways, hit it very straight, and have velvet touch around the greens.

It is also a Hustler’s Haven. Situated not too far from the ‘hood, Good Park is populated with older men in their 50s and 60s, smoking cigars, cussing up a storm, and eyeing easy marks. They literally hang out there all day looking for a game. My Dad used to play a Wednesday night golf league there and knew many of the regulars – “Jonesy! How’s the missus? Frankie! Fixed those yips yet?”

When Dad took me there I was in heaven. I stood there, mouth agape, staring at the lush fairways, the gentle doglegs, rolling terrain…just taking in the scenery. Dad was arranging matches - "Tellya what, Hoss. Me and my son will play the two of you, five bucks a hole, straight up. Look at my son….where in the fuck is my son…JERRY! Get your ass over here! Look at him. He's 125 pounds. You'd be crazy not to take that bet. What ? You want two a side? You’re smoking those funny cigarettes again, Hoss. My back is killing me, I’m getting over this cold..”

‘Dad, I don’t remember you being sick…’

He turned to me and hissed ‘shutyermouthgoddammitoriwillpermanentlyshutitforyou….’

‘Oh yeah, Sick. Bad. Diarrhea and all that stuff.’

“So what you say Hoss? Bet?”

Another unknown dynamic to these unsuspecting saps was that two years earlier my Dad got sober. A raging drunk, he was given a choice – drink and die, or quit and live. He made the wise choice. Now, two years later, his shaky hands were gone, and his touch had returned. Dad was never a ‘good’ golfer, but he could move it around at or near 90. A bogey golfer. But now, sober? That cut five strokes off his score.
“Hey Charlie, I’m gonna get us a couple of six packs for the round.”

“Uh, you go ahead Hoss. Im gonna lay off the sauce today. But drink one for me, willya?”

Dad was smooth. I swear, all he needed was a fur coat, fedora and platform shoes and he would be Huggy Bear.

So off we went. Dad would hit first and park one out there about 200 yards. Then I would step up, and with my interlocking, too-strong grip and exaggerated Reverse-C follow through, I would fly one past him by about 40 yards with a hard draw (which ten years later I got rid of) and with roll would sit out in the middle of the fairway, about 260 yards out.

The look on the pigeon’s faces were priceless, and they would grumble ‘Yeah, but I bet he can’t putt…’

Oh yes I could. That was the best part of my game. I had uncanny touch. I could get it up & down from the ball-washer. I had a great feel for distance with my wedges, and I had a silky-smooth putting stroke. I never three-putted. Never. Ever. Inside six feet I was automatic - you might as well concede the putt because I was going to make it. I knew I would and you knew I would. And it was this attrition-style of play, that, by the end of the match you felt like you just went through a five-hour Chinese Water Torture. You'd pay me just to get me out of your sight.

And at the end of those rounds, that’s exactly what they did. Huggy Dad would saunter over to the pigeon and out would come a roll of twenties wrapped in a rubber band, and my eyes lit up. “Twenty, forty, sixty….”

“Keep going” my Dad would say, “Remember, we pressed the 18th?”…”EIGHTY, one hundred…”

“I think you got it Hoss.”

The drives home were fantastic. “Holy SHIT son! GREAT playing! I am really proud of you! Here’s twenty bucks.”

Yes, I did the math. I realized Dad was making out on this arrangement. But I had just finished playing golf for free, and was handed a sawbuck. Life was good.

And besides, as they say, Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.

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