It was not going to be easy. It would mean sleep deprivation and sacrifice. Life in the fast lane. But someone had to do it. And that person had to be me. The team were one short in the match against the triple niners. The Boys in Blue. The Police.
“Just say no” said The Golf Police.
He missed the irony. The dimpled ball addict living with the Golf Police and taking the fight to the crime fighters. The siren screamers. The thin blue line.
I stuck to my agenda. Went with the sleep deprivation and replied in the affirmative. But no one told me it would be me head to head with The Sniper.
The week had been a mixed bag of rain and sunshine. The fairways were soft and the greens had an autumn dressing.
“Give them a few days and they will be good” said Big Rich. And he was not wrong.
Friday night was supper night with friends. A shining star in the firmament for the Golf Police. No burnt bangers and mash. No throat stripping chilli con carne. This was food created with expertise and knowledge. A kitchen full of ladles and cookery books. Herbs, spices and scales. And someone born to cook, not chase dimpled balls.
“I’ll drive there and you drive back” said Golf Police. It was quid pro quo. Alcohol for one. Gold stars in the golfing pot.
“OK but let’s not be late”.
The food was eaten, washed down with fine wines. The moon rode high in the sky and the stars were bright above the rolling hills when we drank a toast to The Few who answered the call and fought the Battle of Britain. Dog fights in the sky above the cheese board. Young boys and men in their flying jackets and goggles who taxied down the runways and often never made it back to base. A missing crew. A voice stilled in the mess. Missing sons and missing smiles. The Few, to whom so much was owed.
We left late. Very late.
“I thought we weren’t going to be late?” There was no answer from the recumbent figure in the front seat. He slept through the search for the lever to put the lights on full beam. The wipers went into overdrive and the cruise control took over before the lever was located. The halogen lights lit up the woods and startled the fox, owl and badger on their nocturnal prowls.
We hit the pillows. The alarm screamed four hours later. The hot steam from the shower soothed eyes, reluctant to open and The Golf Police nursed a red wine induced hangover. We took the first stages of sleep deprivation to Twickenham. A double header in the soft September sun. A day with special friends and loved ones. Seventy five thousand supporters. An Irish band and ‘The Fields of Athenry’ echoing round the stadium. I sent a text.
They are singing your song, Michael. The one about Trevallian and the corn x
The reply pinged back into the inbox.
Forgiven not forgotten. Enjoy the oval ball. Pancake
The Golf Police soothed the hangover with hops. Several pints of hops. The sun rose from east to west and the fifteens ran, scrummed and scored, encouraged by the flag waving, beer supping fans. And when the matches were over. The last ball kicked. The last spin pass and try under the posts, a river of fans left the stadium in their rugby shirts. Heading north south east and west. And the police smiled and the traffic came to a halt.
We walked home at dusk and found another pub. More beer, banter and brotherhood of the oval ball. Rules, players and rituals. More hops, another friendship made in the ale house.
The stars were out again as we went to find our train and way home. We managed to catch a train without the seventy five thousand other oval ball supporters and headed back to the city.
“Anything planned for tomorrow?” asked one of the brotherhood. A quiet man. A sportsman, a man of the sea. Oval ball, dimpled ball. Any ball. Kayaks, waves and paddle steamers heard on a still evening and flat sea. I told him about my litmus test for people. Whether they were good enough to be in my lifeboat. Or be fed to the sharks.
“I would put you in charge of the watch” I said. And we smiled.
We spoke quietly of the following day and what it might hold on the fairways.
“Good luck” he said. I showed him my lucky token. My ‘never ever ever give up’ etched in white letters on a black background.
“No mercy” he whispered. We traded hugs under the clock tower at Waterloo Station. The scene of a thousand hellos and goodbyes. The station where the enebriated oval ball chasers returned with their flags and songs from Fortress Twickers.
Another short night. Another morning when the alarm screamed.
“You should have said no” said the Golf Police and went back to his hop induced slumber.
I hunted out the shower and tried to prise open unwilling eyes and weary brain. Threw the clubs and shoes into the car and lobbed in a few practice balls. This was not the weekly swindle. This one mattered. No mercy, the quiet man had said on the train. It would be so.
The practice ground was fairly empty. One solitary soul chipping onto the green. I found my own patch. Turned on the ipod and listened to the man with the enunciated vowels. Words etched on the hard drive. But somehow it was comforting to hear the calmness of the guru pass on the wisdom. Visualisation. Execution.
I visualised the shot in high definition as it came off the club face. I had added sound effects. I could hear the crisp sweet strike. I hit the balls slowly. Enjoyed them and grooved the swing. This was my day. My win and my match. The solitary chipper had long gone. Tired of thinning his shots across the green. I found the putting green and started grooving the putts. Quiet eye technique. The one I would have told Tiger about. Except he never rang. I watched someone else putt. Good roll on the ball. Shame about the Andy Pandy trousers. I gave him stick about his dress code.
“Get dressed in the dark?”
“Made those from your Granny’s curtains?”
Worryingly, he just kept slotting the putts.
It was four ball better ball. My partner played off fourteen. We drew the guy in the Andy Pandy trousers and the Quiet Big Fella. Dressed in black.
“We play off the men’s card. Three quarters handicap. Three extra shots for the difference in standard scratch”.
“The difference is four” I said. “So that puts you a shot up already”. There was no answer.
“So what’s your handicap then Andy?”
“Three” he said. A man of few words and startling trousers. He probably had John Daly’s tailor on speed dial.
We shook hands. Game on. Andy stuck his shot to the pin and walked off with a birdie. One down. The Quiet Big Fella settled for par. Andy’s back up and back stop. A perfect foil. The man in black.
“So what do you do exactly?” I asked the Quiet Big Fella
“Firearms” he said quietly. Andy was the instructor.
So we walked the soft autumnal fairways with trained killers.
I told him about being a south paw. Right eye dominant. And my gold down on the moors with Little Red and the team.
He told me about telescopic sights and recoil.
I told him my gold was an inner gold, but I didn’t tell him it had taken four years. I told him about the trained killers who split the arrows in the gold. He knew about grouping and clusters.
I asked him if he had seen Toy Story Three. He smiled again.
“No” he said softly. It was on his list of things to do.
I told him about my knuckles and the canoe. The neck and the zip wire.
“Take care of that trigger finger” he said.
The match was tight. Andy Pandy kept sticking the shots to the pin. Andy didn’t know about me. He didn’t know about me needing to win. Not coming second. Never, ever ever giving up. But Andy and the Big Quiet Fella made a good team. They watched one anothers backs. Got themselves out of tight situations. Knew when to attack and when to hold fire. Today was a game. But sorched on their souls, they knew losing was never an option. I had met my match.
It was a match of moments. My partner slotted in some long putts to halve holes.
I had my moment. I took my seven iron on the eighth and blocked the shot low and right. As soon as the shot left the club, I knew the trained killers were in trouble. A nano second is not long enough to call out fore. I knew death was heading their way. In the shape of a Taylor made, marked with an anchor.
Only a sniper and his instructor could have seen the ball and reacted. They dived for cover and lived to tell the tale.
We headed out to the tenth level but lost the hole. Andy nearly holed in one on the eleventh and we were staring down the barrel of a gun. Two down.
I took out my nine iron on the fourteenth. I went into the zone and did the visualisation with sound effects. This was going to be the killer blow. I thought about the quiet man of the sea. And my brother. Losing was not an option. This would be the shot to the pin. Walk off with a birdie. Pull the match back to one down. The ball came off the clubface crisp but it went left. Missed the green. Left. Hole halved. Two down. Four to play.
“Think they would give you a cannon to fire rather than make you a sniper” said my partner.
We lost the match on the seventeenth. Par three. Stroke index sixteen. One hundred and sixty five yards over a heather filled ravine. I did all the imagery bit. Lined up the shot. Then on the take away, tried a leg movement that worked for Andy Pandy. It did not work for my legs. Or my trousers. The ball soared left and disappeared into the woods. Lost. Gone. OB. My partner tried to lessen the damage. Her ball disappeared into the heather filled ravine.
I shook hands with Andy Pandy and the Big Quiet Fella.
“ Look after that trigger finger, right eye dominant southpaw” he said looking at the canoe knuckle.
“Wilco. And you practice reading those putts” I said.
“Speaking of putting, you need to get your putter re-gripped” said the Big Quiet Fella.
He was right. My lucky, plucky blue putter. The grip was shiny and slippery. I knew he would check and recheck his equipment. I knew he wouldn’t use something which slipped in his hands.
Overall, we beat the Boys in Blue and when all the sandwiches and cake was gone, I threw the clubs in the car and returned home to where I lived but seldom slept.
“Good day?” asked the Golf Police, rested from a quiet day with the papers, sofa and remote.
I thought about the trained killers. I knew the record for a sniper was 1.5 miles. I thought about Andy Pandy and the Quiet Big Fella. I thought about the shot with the seven wood which nearly took them out on the seventh. I knew they were lucky and I knew it was the wrong shot. I should have taken the nine iron and played safe.
I knew we had been beaten by better golfers and I knew the Quiet Big Fella would get round to watching Toy Story Three. And I knew he would cry when Woody, Buzz and the crew held hands heading towards the incinerator. And I knew there would be room for him in my life boat.
And next year. Next year, I would get my revenge.
“Good day” I said and went to put the kettle on.