Chapter 1

 
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1     THE GHOST

 

It was a huge photo. They saw it every day in the basement, their primary playground in flyover country with harsh weather. Not many other places had tornadoes, ice storms, piercing humidity, and snow days. A Grand Slam of misery. The scene in this picture window was a lone tree on a cliff by the sea. Unicorns must have lived there. The first golfer gave it to their mother, and said this was one of his favorite places, and that his walls and attic were full. Even rust belt residents could tell it was far away. With twice as many children as bedrooms and the airlines still regulated, this was a trip too far. They drove to vacations, and their only move was down the block. So this mural photo seemed destined to amaze, but not inspire – just a zoo or circus scene, not a spot on their map of possibilities. They could not zoom out that far.

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The first golfer had gone several par fives beyond his own upbringing. Misfortune had shadowed his family like lake-effect clouds, but abnormal amounts of tenacity and good luck helped him become wealthy and well traveled. Unusually, he was a golfer long before having a healthy bank account, and first played as a young man while preaching the Good Word in Scotland, the home of golf. One evening, a local named Goodman invited him out to the city’s public links, probably feeling sorry for a young man facing a hostile audience.

The game proved just as hostile, producing scores well past the century mark and a very sore back. But who could resist infection in a land with an epidemic? After returning, golf soon became his main source of recreation, and he spent many years rising before the dawn to play a speed round of eighteen holes - three balls at six pins. Since other club members only saw his footprints in the dew, he was affectionately known as the “ghost,” and he became legendary for his devotion to the game in all kinds of weather. Winter was a time to play with balls he painted red, not for a respite, much to the greenskeeper’s chagrin.

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Sadly, his children did not embrace golf, and rarely played. Neither did his grandchildren, but eight of them lived nearby in the house with the tree photo. Such a diluted gene pool should offer little resistance, he reasoned, especially for a superb salesman who had sold small cars to a nation in love with length and tail fins. So at any sign of interest, he would fan these embers with gifts of hand-me-down clubs and golf balls retrieved from water hazards. He also did yard work with them in old golf shoes, and showed off his hole-in-one trophy to keep golf top of mind. It was not working, and rage would be an understatement if he saw them hit his water- logged golf balls back into lakes, ponds, and neighbors’ yards instead of on to fairways and greens. 

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After many years, he must have wanted to give up, but did not. Some said it was because he had gasoline in his veins, but why would mister fuel-efficient compact car waste energy on this? On a game no less? There were many others that provided a better work out, and required less time and money. They should be more appealing to a Depression-era, frugal, and time-conscious executive. Maybe it was the lingering tastes of his generation, like boxing or horse racing or baseball, which no longer had a monopoly on the sports scene. It was not even his first love since he had played several sports in high school, and was still a fan of them. Clearly it was not a class issue as he had grown up poor, and did not want his progeny thinking they were privileged or superior in some way.

So why golf? There must be something he wanted them to discover and appreciate, not something they could pick up from playing once or twice a year. But after years with rounds as frequent as visiting comets, golf remained a half a day of shanks, skulls, and chili dips over dog tracks and daisy fields. And the occasional good shot was more startling than savored since it was three standard deviations away from the mean. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.