Randy had warned me I was in for a long afternoon. After a day and half of shaking a few hands and not much else I had been assigned my first real task. I was on the range with Reid McMahon, and enough fitting equipment to hold a full demo day. Reid wanted a new driver, and it was my job to help him find the right match. Randy told me that this had become an annual process, and one that seemed to drag on a little longer each year. He said it would be a test in patience, and about an hour into it I wouldn’t have been able to disagree.
“I think this is a really good combination for you,” I said to Reid, trying to maintain a pleasant tone in my voice. I had said this identical thing about a half dozen other combinations.
“Think so? I’m not sure. What’s the difference between this shaft, and the Diamana?”
“This one is just a few grams lighter. It might get you an extra mile an hour or so of club head speed, but the numbers on the computer are almost identical.”
Reid took a break from hitting balls, and examined the shaft closely. We had been through Titleist, Nike, and were now working on Callaway. The problem with Reid was that he was the kind of guy that hit every driver the same. He had a decent swing, average club head speed, and kept almost everything in play. He’d had been properly fit for a driver the year before, and the difference in technology wasn’t going to be great enough for him to see any advantage.
“This is the one that Mickelson uses, right?” Reid asked, teeing up another ball.
“That’s the club head. The specs are obviously a lot different,” I said.
“You trying to say I couldn’t hit Phil’s driver?”
“Sometimes Phil has trouble with Phil’s driver.”
Reid laughed at this, and then sent another ball down the range. I looked at the readout from the launch monitor, and relayed the statistics.
“Ninety-one club head speed, one thirty-four ball speed, thirteen degrees of launch.”
“How was the backspin?”
“Not bad, thirty-four hundred,” I said.
“That’s a little high, I’d rather have it under three thousand.”
It was a lot harder to fit someone when they knew about all the statistics. A lot of times they would ignore the ball flight, obsessed with what the launch monitor said.
“We’re close,” I said. “Your best spin numbers were with the Nike.”
“Let me try that one again,” Reid said. He tossed the Callaway aside, and I handed him the Nike driver that he had already hit thirty times.
It took me another thirty minutes to get Reid to settle on a driver. I let him keep the demo I had put together for him, and he stayed on the range pounding balls while I cleaned up the fitting equipment. When I had put everything away, and fully loaded my golf cart, Reid approached me again. I feared that he had changed his mind, but it wasn’t the case.
“I appreciate all the help,” Reid said. “You really know what you’re talking about.” He extended a hand towards me.
“You’re welcome,” I said, shaking his hand. “You want a ride back in?”
“Na, I’m going to hit a few more. I want to get used to the new weapon.”
I just shook my head, and drove away. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been excited about a new piece of equipment, and it had probably been months since I had spent a couple of hours on a driving range. I had only been at The Lake Club for a few days, but it was obvious that I was going to be surrounded by golf fanatics.
Randy didn’t stick around to hear about Reid McMahon’s fitting. He took about thirty seconds to tell me that there were four groups left on the course, and then he was gone, leaving me alone in the golf shop. For the first few minutes I tried to look official, standing at attention behind the counter. Then the boredom began to take hold, and I found myself engrossed in the USA Today crossword. When I finished that, I pulled a putter from the display rack, and starting rolling putts all over the golf shop. A few minutes later, with darkness about a half hour away, and with the last group coming up the eighteenth fairway, a head popped in the door of the golf shop.
“Hey kid, come putt me for dollars.”
The man in the door was the same one I had seen on the putting green the night I had arrived at The Lake Club. On this night he had his omnipresent glass of scotch, but was also puffing on a large cigar.
“Putt for dollars?”
“Yeah, come on. A dollar a hole, let’s go,” he said. He slipped back out of the shop, and headed towards the putting green.
I looked around the shop for a moment, shrugged my shoulders for own benefit, grabbed the phone, and followed my mystery opponent out the putting green.
I managed to make out this introduction despite the fact that Freddie’s cigar hadn’t left his mouth, and he was facing away from me, rolling balls toward one of the half dozen target holes on the practice green.
“Dave Althouse,” I said, walking towards Freddie in case a hand shake was in order.
“I know what your name is kid, watch out for my drink,” Freddie nodded towards the glass that rested on the putting green.
I looked down quickly, and managed to avoid kicking over the glass of scotch. I took a ball from my pocket, dropped it on the green, and awaited further instructions.
“You’re ready I suppose? Being a professional and all? We’ll alternate picking holes, but just so you know, I’m going to be picking this one pretty often so I can get a nip. You go ahead and pick first,” Freddie used his putter to pick up his extra ball, and waited for me to choose the first hole.
I quickly surveyed the green, and chose a relatively straightforward twenty footer. I didn’t want to embarrass myself on the first putt of the day. I took a tentative stroke, and guided the ball towards the hole. It died short and right a few feet short of the hole.
“How’d that miss?” Freddie chuckled to himself. He took his cigar out of his mouth to smile for a moment, but then quickly returned it to its home, and focused on the putt.
Freddie’s putting stroke was like its owner, short and stylish. It seemed like he had barely taken the putter back before he flashed it back through the hitting area, and sent the ball racing toward the hole. For a moment I thought he’d made it, but it caught the left lip, and spun out to about two feet.
“Good run. The rest of that’s good,” I said.
“No gimmies,” Freddie mumbled. He quickly walked up to his ball, and tapped it in.
“All right, last hole,” he said. “You’re up two dollars. If I win this hole, we’re even. If you win, I owe you four. If we tie, well shit you can probably figure it out. We’re going back to the scotch Mr. Althouse, but I guess you probably knew that too.”
Freddie took a little longer with the final putt, and put a nice roll on it, but it didn’t carry his characteristic pace. It stopped a couple rotations short of the hole.
“Left it right in the fucking mouth,” Freddie was disgusted. He fired the butt of his cigar into some nearby landscaping.
I felt pretty comfortable with the putt, and sent the ball towards the hole on a good line. It looked like it might repeat the fate of Freddie’s, but at the last moment dropped into the hole.
“Figures you make the last one,” Freddie said. He didn’t seem too agitated, and even picked my ball up out of the hole, and tossed it in my direction. “Guess I better pay up,” Freddie made his way over to me.
Freddie told me to hold his now empty glass, and reached into his pocket from which he removed the largest roll of cash I had ever seen. There was a hundred dollar bill on the outside, and when he flipped the wad open there was a hundred on the inside as well. I was wondering if he was going to expect ninety-six dollars change. I tried not to stare as Freddie peeled off four hundreds, and shoved them into my hand.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Four dollars kid, four hundo. Don’t tell me you didn’t understand the rules.”
“No, I just thought,”
“I know what you thought kid, but you think I’d waste my time playing for a couple bucks? Better hold onto that. Next time you might lose it,” Freddie grabbed his empty glass out of my hand, and turned to walk away.
“Goodnight Freddie,” I said.
“Take it easy kid,” Freddie said.
Freddie headed into the clubhouse, and I went back into the shop to close up for the night. I had forgotten about needing to vacuum the shop, and quickly did a cursory job on the carpet, all the time thinking about the glamour of my new job. After I put the vacuum away, I doubled checked all the locks, and grabbed my pullover out of my locker. So far, it was the only thing I had managed to use the space for. On the way out I passed through the clubhouse, and I saw Freddie back at the bar with a fresh glass of scotch, not looking any worse for wear. For all I knew his drinks could cost more than what he had lost to me on the putting green.
I had intended to have dinner that night back at the cabin. That morning I had found a grocery store, and was planning on taking my first foray into culinary arts, but with my recent influx of cash I wouldn’t have felt right slaving over the stove. On the way home I pulled into Franco’s. What were the chances that Cait had two nights off in a row?
I walked in, and was thankful that Cait wasn’t in sight, because if I thought about it I had no plan for a facial expression when I saw her, let alone a greeting. I tried to shake off my desperation, and headed to a seat at the bar. The lovely Tina was working again, and when she noticed me I thought I saw a hint of recognition.
“What are ya drinking?” She asked gruffly.
“Bud Light,” I said.
“Light tonight? Duke has a way of forcing his beer on everyone,” Tina said, and turned quickly to the cooler.
She grabbed a bottle and uncapped it in one motion. She plucked a napkin from a stack, and placed the bottle in front of me.
“Thanks Tina,” I said. She seemed slightly surprised that I had remembered her name, and flashed a quick smile.
I ordered a pasta dish called Franco’s Alfredo, and Tina told me she would throw in some garlic bread on the house. It seemed I had won her over, and I wished for a moment that I could make this kind of progress with Cait. After I ordered I tried to look comfortable, not like someone self-conscious about sitting by themselves. My attention was focused on the television, and to a lesser extent my Bud Light when I felt someone slide into the stool beside me.
“Hey city boy, where’s your gin and tonic?”
I turned to see Cait leaning against the stool next to me, same outfit, same perfect smile. I didn’t say anything immediately, which was good, because I probably wouldn’t have made any sense.
“I didn’t trust this bartender,” I said, after running a few opening lines through my head.
“ Tina? She taught me everything I know. I think you’re just trying to blend in here, but that’s a lost cause.”
“You stick out like a sore thumb Gin and Tonic? You having dinner?”
“Yeah, want to join me?” I asked, before I really knew what I was saying.
“Well if you want to.”
“Ok, why not?” Cait positioned herself more comfortably on the barstool, and smiled again. “I don’t usually eat here, but how can I turn down such a genuine offer. So you have a name, or are you comfortable with me calling you gin and tonic?”
“Dave Althouse,” I introduced myself, slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t done so earlier.
“Nice to meet you, Dave Althouse, I’m Cait,” she extended her hand to me, and then gave me an exaggerated handshake.
“I already knew that,” I said.
“Ooh, that’s a little creepy. Are you going to make me regret accepting your invitation?” Cait asked. I could tell immediately she was joking, because she was so pleased with herself.
“You’re actually pretty famous around here,” I said.
“Were you asking about me?”
“Not exactly. I came in here with Duke last night, and I put a few things together. He thinks pretty highly of you.”
“You know Duke?” She asked.
I thought I detected a slight blush in Cait’s cheeks, but it was hard to notice. I was having a hard time not staring at her eyes. A brilliant green, I had never seen anything like them.
“He’s so sweet,” she continued. “He keeps all the dirty old me around here in check.”
“I just started working with him over at the golf course,” I said.
“You work at that fancy golf course? I guess that means we’re going to see a lot of you. I thought you were just passing through.”
Before I could say anything Tina had materialized in front of us.
“You sticking around Cait?” She asked.
“Yeah, can I have a meatball sub? And a Bud Light too, like my new bud Dave here.”
“Nice order,” I said.
“Thanks. This is why I don’t eat here that often. If I did,” Cait paused and let out a whistle. “I’d be looking like old Dolores down there,” she nodded towards the opposite end of the bar, where a large woman was elbow deep in a basket of cheese fries.
“That would take a lot of meatball subs,” I said.
“I better stick to light beer just in case,” Cait said. She picked her bottle off the bar, and raised it towards me.
“Cheers,” I said, tilting my bottle towards hers.
“To new friends.”
While we waited for the food to arrive, Cait asked me about the golf course, and asked where I was staying. She seemed vaguely aware of the location of the cabin, and expressed a fleeting interest to check out the place. I learned that she had lived in Dune Harbor for her whole life, leaving for college at Michigan State, but then returning. She seemed comfortable talking about herself, and I was more than happy to listen. The minutes that we were waiting for our food passed in an instant.
“Here we go,” Tina said, placing the dishes in front of us. “Meatball sub, and Franco’s Alfredo.”
I couldn’t believe the size of the plate of pasta that had been placed in front of me. Steam poured off the towering piles of linguine, and honestly I was a little embarrassed with my order. It looked like a dish that belonged on the table of a family style restaurant.
“Franco’s Alfredo, that’s a pretty veteran order for a newbie,” Cait said. She expertly handled her sandwich, and took a large first bite.
“I don’t think I knew what I was getting into,” I said. “I think there’s some garlic bread coming as well.”
“The garlic bread’s delicious,” Cait said, with her mouth slightly full. She then laughed at her own questionable manners. She finished the bite, but left a spot of sauce on the corner of her mouth.
I felt bad laughing, but couldn’t help myself.
“So ladylike right? Great, you’re mortified.”
“It’s not that,” I said. “You just have a little bit of,” I started to point to the corner of her mouth, and Cait instinctually shot her tongue out of her mouth realizing she had sauce on her lip.
“Ok,” she laughed. “No more watching me while I eat. Why don’t you mind your own business, get to work on the mound of pasta you have there?”
There was no doubt that Cait was blushing this time, and it was terribly endearing. As hard as it was to take my eyes off of her I obliged her suggestion, and got to work on my own dinner. When we finished eating Cait asked if she would see me again soon, and without a witty line, or the desire to play it casually, I told her that she would.