The Golfer

Best of the World 2018

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Here, however, on the heather-rimmed fairways, cut as close as putting surfaces back home, yet with no trace of mower tracks, and cheerfully marred by the scratching and burrows of the nocturnal rabbits that lived and bred beneath the impenetrably thorny, waist high gorse, energy came up through the turf, as if Farrell's cleats were making contact with primal spirits below the soil, and he felt he could walk forever. The terrain, the proximity of the wind-whipped sea, the rain that came and went with the suddenness of thought— they composed the ancient matrix of the game, and the darkly muttering caddies were also part of this matrix. T hat first morning in the drizzly shuffle around the golf bags, his bag was hoisted up by a hunched shadow who, as they walked together in pursuit of Farrell's first drive (good contact, but pulled to the left, toward some shaggy mounds), muttered half to himself, with those hiccups or glottal stops the Scots accent inserts, "Sandy's wha' th' call me." Farrell hesitated, then confessed, "Gus." His given name, Augustus, had always embarrassed him, but its shortened version seemed a little short on dignity, and at the office, his colleagues had settled on his initials, "A.J." "Ye want now tae geh oover th' second boosh fra' th' laift," Sandy said, handing Farrell a seven-iron. The green was out of sight behind shaggy mounds, which were covered with a long tan grass that whitened in waves as gusts beat in from the sea. "What's the distance?" Farrell was accustomed to yardage markers—yellow stakes, or sprinkler heads. The caddie looked reflectively at a sand bunker not far off, and then at the winking red signal light on the train tracks beyond, and finally at a large bird, a gull or a crow, winging against the wind beneath the low, tattered, blue-black clouds. "Ah hunnert thirty-eight tae th' edge o' th' green, near a hunnert fifty tae th' pin, where they ha' 't." "I can't hit a seven-iron one fifty. I can't hit it even one forty, against this wind." Yet the caddie's fist, in a fingerless wool glove, did not withdraw the offered club. "Siven's what ye need." As Farrell bent his face to the ball, the wet wind cut across his eyes and made him cry. His tears turned one ball into two; he supposed the brighter one was real. He concentrated on taking the clubhead away slowly and low to the turf, initiating his downswing with a twitch of the left hip, and suppressing his tendency to dip the right shoulder. The shot seemed sweet, soaring with a gentle draw precisely over the second bush. He looked toward the caddie, expecting congratulations or at least some small sign of shared pleasure. But the man, whose creased face was weathered the strangely even brown of a white actor playing Othello, followed the flight of the ball as he had that of the crow, reflectively. "Yer right hand's a wee bit forward," he observed, and the ball, they saw as they climbed to the green, was indeed pulled to the left, into a deep pot bunker. Furthermore, it was fifteen yards short. The caddie had underclubbed him, but showed no sign of remorse as he handed Farrell the sand wedge. In Sandy's dyed-looking face, pallid gray eyes showed like touches of morning light; it shocked Farrell to suspect that the other man, weathered and bent beneath the weight of a perpetual golf bag, was younger than himself—a prematurely wizened Pict, a concentrate of Farrell's diluted, Yankeefied Celtic blood. The side of the bunker toward the hole was as tall as Farrell and sheer, built up of bricks of sod in a way he had never seen before, not even at Shinnecock Hills. Rattled, irritated at having been unrepentantly underclubbed, Farrell swung five times into the damp, brown sand, darker and denser than any sand on Long Island; each time, the ball thudded short of the trap's lip and dribbled back at his feet. "'it at it well beheend," the caddie advised, "and dinna stop th' cloob." Farrell's sixth swing brought the ball bobbling up onto the green, within six feet of the hole. His fellow Americans lavished ironical praise on the tardily excellent shot but the caddie, with the same deadpan solemnity with which Farrell had repeatedly struck the ball, handed him his putter. "Ae ball tae th' laift," he advised, and Farrell was so interested in this quaint concept—the ball as a unit of measure—that his putt stopped short. "Ye forgot tae 'it it, Goos," Sandy told him. Farrell tersely nodded. The caddie made him feel obliged to keep up a show of golfing virtues. Asked for his score, he said loudly, in a stagey voice, "That was an honest ten." "We'll call it a six," said the player keeping score, in the forgiving, corrupting American way. A s the round progressed, through a rapid alternation of brisk showers and silvery sunshine, with rainbows springing up around them and tiny white daisies gleaming underfoot, Farrell and his caddie began to grow into one another, as a foot in damp weather grows into a shoe. Sandy consistently handed Farrell one club too short to make the green, but Farrell came to accept the failure as his own; his caddie was handing the club to the stronger golfer latent in Farrell, and it was Farrell's job to let this superior

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