April 28, 2009
The No. 1 tee is the stage for one of life's great lotteries.
Arrive as a single or twosome at your typical muni on anything but the slowest of days and you'll be handed a travel partner, maybe two or three. And there won't be a vetting process. No screening interview, no compatibility check – just an intro and a handshake and you're on your way.
It's like a cross-country flight, only without the option of losing yourself in a magazine or an iPod (drowning yourself in Amstel Light – still an option). There will be interaction. You're in the battle together and, yes, there's the possibility that the pairing could sour your day.
Strike it rich and you may wind up with a friend for life, or a new boss or a new client. You might land the golf tip that saves your short game, or the stock tip that rescues your long-term portfolio. Crap out and an otherwise enjoyable afternoon may be forever remembered as the time you got stuck with "that guy."
Who is "that guy?" Allow me to introduce you to a few …
I remember the time I got paired with That Guy at Peacock Gap in San Rafael, Calif. He'd let out a long and loud "wooooooooooo!" every time he struck a drive flush. If it was a particularly good tee shot, he'd punctuate the achievement by yelling "Combat golf!" I have no idea to this day what combat golf is. The guy didn't strike me as a voracious reader.
During a break on one tee, TG decided to balance his driver on his nose like a trained seal bouncing a beach ball. This provided a nice diversion while we waited for the fairway to clear. That is, until the guy, nose to the heavens, tripped over my buddy's golf bag, which sent the bag, the driver and That Guy sprawling to the tee box.
Combat golf, baby.
I ran into another That Guy in San Francisco. He spent the entire day making it clear to me and my two buddies that he couldn't believe how poorly he was playing. This was a once-in-a-lifetime meltdown for the poor guy, and he just couldn't have us walk away thinking we'd seen him at his best.
To what lengths would he go prove to us that his round was an anomaly? Here's how far: On the 18th tee he asked my friend Tom to sign his scorecard, the reasoning being that there's no way they would have allowed him to post the score without some kind of independent verification.
Uhhhh, somehow I think that one would have slipped past the censors at the Royal and Ancient.
There have been others along the journey. Too Methodical Guy. Racist Guy. Plumb-Bob Guy. Overly Inquisitive Guy. Short Fuse Guy. All-Show Guy. You know the types.
And don't brand me as judgmental here. We all size up our random playing partners, if not on the first tee, then likely before we've holed out on No. 1. And the vast majority of playing partners are delightful people. It's the legion of nice folks I've played with over the years that makes the outliers stand out in my memory.
Which reminds me of another story …
Last year playing as a single on my adopted home course, I was paired with two brothers, one of whom had spent some time playing on the Hooters Tour. They played the black tees, made the par-5s look like pitch-and-putt holes and, if you believe that you play up or down to the level of your companions, were the ideal playing partners.
On No. 8, a deceptively tough par-3 measuring only 127 yards from the back tees, one of the brothers landed a wedge a few yards past the pin and spun it back for an ace. A couple holes later his brother dialed up the cell phone to call home with the good news.
"Tell dad Kevin just got his seventh hole in one," he said when mom picked up the phone.
"All today?" was her reply.
Gotta love moms.
So let's hear it, Devil Ballers. Ever had a nightmare pairing? Randomly land in a group with a celebrity? Meet a spouse or your future best man on the No. 1 tee? Please dress accordingly – no denim, collared shirts for men – and share your stories in the comments.