MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- For Thursday's final preliminary round at the World Amateur Handicap Championship no one in my threesome was in serious contention, so we did what we were supposed to do -- have fun.
That wasn't necessarily easy. We teed it up at the Fazio Course at Barefoot Resort, a demanding track in North Myrtle Beach. It was by far the best-conditioned course we played in our four-course tourney rotation -- it was breezy and it was tough. I made it tougher by cleverly yanking an 8-iron shot on the 13th hole, my first hole, left of the green into a marshy hazard. Didn't find the ball, had to take a drop, ended up making a four-footer to save double bogey. This is not how to have fun, kids.
Sometimes you need a punch in the gut to focus. That got my attention. Once again, however, the mystery of grain and bermuda greens eluded this Northerner. I had a few skanky swings here and there but otherwise played pretty well. I pitched a shutout in the birdie column, which makes it difficult to shoot a good score. Still, 75 with an inexcusable double on the opening hole wasn't all bad. A 74 would've gone down a little better had I made a five-footer for birdie on the final hole, the par-5 12th. But why start making putts now, Chumley?
I played with Mike, a Baltimore guy who wanted to talk Ravens football with a Pittsburgh guy (me). He was interested to hear that I thought the Steelers might -- note that I said might, Steelers fans -- be getting a bit old this year and could stumble. The Ravens, I said, look like the team to beat. He didn't disagree.
Our third was Doug, who's got his own heating and air installation company in South Carolina and is a self-described redneck. He's even got "Redneck" stamped on the heads of his Ping irons, which prompted Ping to call and ask if that was really what he wanted on his clubs before they printed it. Git 'er done, boys.
Doug wielded a long putter pretty well most of the day, except for two glitches, and was solid off the tee. He was taken aback at the start of the round when a photographer from our web empire came out to shoot some photos of me in action. (Doesn't that sound like a choice assignment?) He wanted to know what kind of celebrity I was and later, after the photog left, began referring to me as a supermodel.
He and Mike asked what I was going to write about today. I said I don't know, "but I'm definitely blasting you guys." That was a joke. Doug laughed and said, "Well, you better be nice to me 'cuz I'll hunt you down and shoot you."
That, too, was a joke. Doug mentioned how he got his nickname, Redneck, back home. He'd gotten hooked on golf, was playing quite a bit and sometimes went to the course straight from work -- sometimes wearing denim shorts or jeans and work boots. He was at his course, about to tee off by himself, when another golfer asked if he wanted to join his group. Doug said sure, he didn't really want to play by himself. The man said, OK, I've got two more friends coming and we like to gamble a little on the course.
How much is a little, Doug asked. Usually $20 a hole, plus junk, the man said. That was considerably less than the stakes Doug's buddies played for so his eyes lit up and he said he was in. They went out on the course and the man walked into the shop after the round with his bag and said he was leaving. You're quitting, the club pro asked.
"Yeah," the man said. "I just lost $180 in nine holes to some damn redneck! I'm outta here!"
After that, Doug said, his club pro always addressed him as Redneck. Hence the nickname on his Ping irons.
When Doug made a funny remark on one of the greens (that I won't repeat here), I told him that's perfect, that's a quote I'm going to use for my story.
"Hey, I'll give you a quote," Doug said. "Don't pick your nose while you're driving on a bumpy road. That's good advice."
After I finished laughing, I agreed that it was very good advice.
Doug also enjoyed ribbing Diana, the photographer. On one par 4, he pushed his approach shot into some trees on bare ground, then thinned his next shot over the green and out of play. He took a drop, chipped across the green, chipped on and eventually made an 8. "Did you get a shot of that?" he asked the photographer.
"Yeah," I said, "I'm definitely buying a copy of that print from you."
No, Diana said, shaking her head, she didn't capture that shot. She stuck around for eight or nine holes, way more than she needed to get a decent shot of me hacking away. I apologized early on for not making some dramatic gestures and reactions. Plus, it's not like I was racking up birdies. Why would I fist-pump after holing another dicey two-and-a-half footer for par?
When she informed me she was leaving after our next tee shot, we felt compelled to do something. I split the fairway with my drive and then, after a few seconds of silence, raised my arms in the traditional "the field goal is good!" signal, indicating I'd finally found one. Doug hit a drive and, a bit off-balance, capped it with the Gary Player walk-through follow-through, then he punched the air in triumph, getting into the spirit of the moment.
"I just 'bout fell down there," he admitted.
"I definitely want a copy of that print, too," I told Diana.
Mike hit a low snipe-hook off the tee that he didn't particularly like. No theatrics. On the green, Doug rolled in a birdie putt and said, "You see that? The lady photographer leaves and right away I make a putt. She missed a big chance there. Make sure you tell her that when you see her."
Consider yourself told, Diana. You missed a potential Pulitzer shot, without a doubt.
So maybe you get the idea of what kind of day we really had. We rooted for each other's shots and putts and enjoyed our tension-free golf.
It was a fun day. Somebody in the flight made a hole-in-one, but back at the clubhouse, I forgot to stop by the bar to collect my free drink on the acer's bar tab. The guys in this flight, the low handicappers in the tourney, had a skins game each day. Hopefully, the man who fired the ace won enough for that skin to cover his bar bill.
Maybe my round moved me up to a top-ten finish, maybe not. It doesn't matter because Mike, a returning competitor, has the World Am figured out.
"A lot of guys come here for the golf," he said. "I come for the people."
Now there's a quote I can use. Thanks, Mike. See you at next year's World Am. (Photo: Diana Eliazov/SI)