“I heard you can really move it,” Duke said casually.
We stood on the first tee at The Lake Club, a lazy dog-leg left par four that measured a manageable 410 yards from the back tees. My first day of work had lasted all of five hours, when struck by boredom Duke had come into the shop, and asked if anyone wanted to play. Randy didn’t hesitate before nominating me, and the next thing I knew I was on my way to the parking lot to get my clubs out of the trunk. It was time to dust off the sticks.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I haven’t played in a while.”
“You can either move it or you can’t kid, and I know you can, so there’s no use in denying it.” Duke looked at me, daring me to contradict him.
“Maybe a little bit,” I conceded.
“That’s what I thought. So, I figure you give me four shots, play for twenty bucks?”
“Four shots, how’d you come up with that?” I asked.
I wasn’t worried about losing the twenty bucks, but I didn’t want to get hustled either, and I was a little wary of Duke. We’d spent all of five minutes together, but I already knew that he had played golf in the Army, and according to Randy was quite a player. In the three years since he had retired he was playing more than ever.
“I’m a four, but I figure from all the way back here, probably more like an eight. You have to be at least a scratch, right? So four shots a side,” Duke nodded at his own explanation.
“All right, what the hell.”
Duke wasn’t going to give an inch, and I assumed the worst thing that could happen is I would lose, and Duke would probably like me a little better.
“Fire away,” I said. “Show me where we’re going.”
“Well, all right,” Duke answered. “Miss this fairway, you might as well turn around and go home.”
The first fairway was very generous, probably fifty yards to play with at its widest point, and it would take a wayward shot to miss the target. Any miss would be greatly penalized, though, as deep faced bunkers protected the corner of the dogleg, and right of the fairway brush covered dunes implied a lost ball. Duke wasted no time with his tee shot. He uncovered his driver, stuck the tee in the ground, aimed a little right, swung a little left, and smoothed one out to the corner of the dogleg, just to the right of the bunkers. Pleased, Duke picked up his tee, and looked to me for some kind of confirmation.
“Shot,” I offered casually. “What do you think it is to carry that dogleg, two-forty?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. That’s not the kind of game I play,” Duke appeared to be doing calculations in his head. “That sounds about right, though. Two-forty at the most.”
I had chosen a three wood for my first shot in several months assuming I could guide it into the fairway, and if I did happen to jerk it a little left it should still have enough juice to carry the bunker. I took several practice swings, building the speed in my swing, and after I was finished Duke let out an audible whistle. Satisfied that I was loose enough, I addressed the ball, and fired away. I pulled the ball left, but it was very well struck, and I watched it closely, all the time expecting it to carry the bunker.
“Smoked,” Duke said.
Before he could add anything else we both watched the ball hit in the lip of the farthest bunker, and then slowly trickle out of sight.
“Did that go in the trap?” Duke feigned surprise. “You know what? From back here it probably is a little more than two-forty. You want to hit another one?”
“Nope,” I walked by Duke and hopped into the cart, seeing Duke’s smile out of the corner of my eye. It looked like for the rest of the afternoon I was going to have to get my own yardages.
From the bunker I hit a crisp nine-iron to the back of the green, but with fifty feet and a swale to negotiate I three putted for bogey and was quickly one down to Duke.
“Probably be the only par I make all day,” Duke said as we took the short walk to the second tee.
“Just keep playing hard Duke.”
Duke let out a little chuckle as he teed it up, but quickly gathered himself, and sent another drive right down the middle of the fairway. The second was a mammoth par four. The ribbon of fairway that cut between the dunes seemed to disappear in the distance, and without the luxury of being able to opt for a three wood, I took driver out of the bag. I teed the ball up, took aim at a fairway bunker on the right, and fired away. The ball followed my natural right to left flight, but with a little too much haste. It landed in the fairway, but bounded through, and into the left rough.
“That won’t hurt you over there,” Duke said, hopping into the cart. Considering the source of the information I assumed I was dead.
As the nine progressed I could feel myself getting a little sharper, and despite spotting Duke a 3-up lead through four holes I had fought back to one down as I stood in the ninth fairway. Nine was a long par five with a hazard down the left side, and with a good drive it presented a risk-reward second shot. I had busted one down the left side of the fairway, and surveyed a second shot that left me a 250 yard carry to reach the front of the green. It was the kind of shot that didn’t require much thought given the circumstances. If I was protecting a three shot lead in the U.S. Open, I would have bumped a pitching wedge down the fairway, but with Duke lying net one about a hundred and fifty yards from the green it wasn’t a time for playing safe.
Duke had pulled the cart up close to where my ball rested in the fairway, and was an interested onlooker as I got ready to hit my second shot. As soon as I hit the ball I knew I had gotten enough of it to carry the hazard, and when I looked up to see it travelling on a good line, I thought I might have stuck one in close. The ball landed a few paces onto the green, and rolled all the way to the back of the green before catching a slope, and stopping about twenty feet from the hole.
“Been a while since he played, he said,” Duke offered from the cart.
I turned to look at him, but instead of finding an opponent dejected at my good shot Duke had a smile from ear to ear.
“Fucking great shot dude.” He extended a hand to me, and I couldn’t help smiling myself as I walked by. I slapped his hand quickly, and we drove off to his ball.
Duke squeezed his third shot a little right, and ended up making bogey. It left me with an easy two-putt for a tied match. Instead of going for sudden death Duke and I decided to head to Franco’s for a quick beer or two. Considering I wanted to see my new favorite bartender, and Duke was my best friend in Dune Harbor, it wasn’t a decision that required much thought. We stopped by the shop to see if we could recruit Randy to come with us and have a drink, but he was long gone, and the only person in sight was the kid who was waiting for us to come in with the last cart. I felt bad about making the kid stick around, and I threw him the twenty I almost lost to Duke. I told him to go ahead and leave, and I parked the last cart and locked up the garage myself.
Duke beat me Franco’s and when I took a seat next to him at the bar he had already taken down most of a bottle of Budweiser. He pushed a full bottle in my direction.
“Got you a beer,” he said.
I took a sip of the beer, and looked around the bar as casually as possible trying to spot the girl from the night before. She definitely wasn’t tending bar, and I didn’t see her anywhere.
“What you looking for?” Duke asked.
“Nothing, just taking a look around.”
“Never much here to look at, unless Cait’s working. She don’t work tonight though.”
“Real good looking girl tends bar here. She’s probably about your age. You’d like her. Every one of these old stiffs that come in here has a hard on for her. I don’t waste my time. She’s a sweet one, though. Sassier than hell too.”
I nodded at this description, knowing immediately that the bartender I met the night before had to be Cait. Before I had time to think of something to say an older woman who wore the same Franco’s t-shirt as Cait, but didn’t have her smile came over to take our order. Duke addressed Tina by name, and ordered a sandwich, no further description.
“Tina this is David Althouse,” he just started working over at golf course.
“Nice to meet you Tina,” I said. Tina didn’t seem impressed and forced a weak smile. She impatiently waited for my order as I tried to remember something I had seen on the menu the night before. I quickly ordered a cheesesteak just so she would walk away.
“Pretty gutsy order by a Philly guy, getting a cheesesteak in this place,” Duke said.
“Bad choice?” I asked. I immediately regretted my order. I should have stuck with the chicken parmagiana.
“Nah, I’m just fucking with you. It’s not bad. I haven’t been to Philly in years, but I think they do a decent impersonation here.”
Throughout dinner Duke made small talk, talking mostly about The Lake Club, and stopping only to make occasional comments about the Cubs game that was on the television. I tried to steer the conversation away from myself as much as possible, and when we finished our sandwiches I thought I was going to escape the conversation relatively unscathed. That’s when Duke asked Tina for two more beers, and started in with the real question.
“So what’s your story? What the hell are you doing in Dune Harbor?”
I sat in silence, not knowing exactly what to say. It was the kind of question I would never ask someone, but Duke didn’t have those types of boundaries.
“What do you mean?” I finally managed, answering a question with a question.
“I heard you used to really be hot shit. Heard you played Q-School and all that.”
“The Q-School part is true,” I said.
“I think the other part is true too,” Duke laughed. “So how do you go from that to working here? Don’t get me wrong, we have a hell of a golf course, but this ain’t exactly the nexus of the universe if you know what I mean. And, I wouldn’t be working a club job if I thought I could be on Tour someday.”
“I guess I don’t think I can play on Tour.”
“You’re shitting me?”
“No. I mean, I’ve had my chances. It’s a lot harder than you think Duke.”
“If you have no shot, I don’t think I want to know how hard it is. You got that look like you might trip out of the golf cart on the first tee and shoot sixty-six. Doesn’t seem like you see that too much, but I’d guess you know better than me.”
“I haven’t shot too many sixty-sixes when I really needed them.”
“I know how that goes,” Duke nodded, and finished off another beer. “Shit, I couldn’t even finish you out today.”
“You probably thought I was hustling you,” he continued. “The truth is, though, I’m just a flat out dog. I close like the Cubs.”
“I don’t know. I’d take you as a partner,” I said.
“Well there goes the last shred of respect I had for you,” Duke let out another hearty laugh. “So no more Q-School? That don’t exactly explain how you ended up here. You running from a broken heart? What was her name?”
“No girl, just needed a change of scenery.”
“And the scenery back in Philly? What was her name?”
“Duke, there’s no girl,” I laughed.
“All right, well when you want to go back and visit her, just say the word, I can cover your hours in the shop.”
“Very gentlemanly of you to offer that,” I said. Denial wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I tried another route.
“That’s what I figured,” Duke said. “It’s all right if you don’t want to come clean. It’ll be nice having you around no matter what you’re here for. Haven’t had any new blood around in a while.”
“I’m happy to be here, especially if I can work a few hours and play nine holes every day,” I said honestly. I hadn’t been looking forward to playing golf, but once I got out on the course I realized I had missed it a little bit. It was a part of my life, you can’t get away from a truth like that.
“Oh we’re going to play a shit load of golf. Bet your ass on that one.”
The thought of all this golf made Duke smile, but before adding something else he looked up at the television, and the smile disappeared. The Cardinals, who already had a two run lead, had men circling the bases. Suddenly, it was a five-run hole.
“Fucking Cubs. Why do I even bother? Well I was going to say let’s have another beer, but there isn’t any point in watching any more of this shit. You about ready to call it a night, Davey?”
I made a move for my wallet, but Duke brushed me off quickly.
“On me, in honor of your first day. Don’t get sentimental on me either, we ever go somewhere nicer than this I’m sticking you with the tab. Plus, I figure I’ll win the money back on the course soon enough,” Duke threw a few twenties onto the bar.
I didn’t bother with any further protests about the bill. Duke was going to have his way again, so after I took my last swallow of beer we said a quick goodbye, and went our separate ways. When I got behind the wheel of my car I regretted not convincing Duke to stay out a little longer. I had absolutely nothing to do back in the cabin, and I thought about driving around aimlessly until I found another bar, but I thought I had probably had enough for the night. I didn’t come to Michigan to turn myself into an alcoholic.