Friday, February 16, 2007

There's been a lot of talk around the office recently, and apparently everyone but me knew something was up. Mad George, the head word-plumber, has been skipping around the cube farm, laughing to himself and humming like Gene Kelly in the rain. But most disturbing for the inmates has been the whole buttocks-Xeroxing episode. The people in the art department thought it was an overhead view of Charlie Rymer and Phil Blackmar, and it nearly ran in this issue.

"Cheer up, everybody!" he's been saying, clapping people on the back and grinning like the Bachelor. Talk about freaking people out. Normally, after his morning commute the first thing he does after wiping the blood off his brolly and eating his Grape Nuts is read the obits and fire someone.

I had just sobered up after the Ryder Cup and was about to write about it when I thought I'd better deal with my e-mail first. I was going through the usual motions, deleting the obvious crap without opening it, when I noticed there was one from inside the big cube, from the head square himself. This was most unusual, as George usually likes to wear a HazMat suit and have a few layers of employees between him and me when it comes to communication. I'm kind of like a plutonium rod, or a turd on the lawn, you know?

All joking aside, though, for me a message from George has always felt like an unexpected present, as it usually contains more ammo to fire at him. I think most of us -- given the final say -- have enough sense to edit the stuff we didn't like about ourselves, but not George. Of course, it's entirely possible that he can't be bothered to read it, but either way, not many writers get to treat their editors-in-chief the way I do, so fairly gleefully I hit "read." Uh, George had, like, uh, quit.

Holy Arnold Palmer in a nightdress. You could have knocked me down with a pair of those trousers they make for wee dogs! The rotten swine had tossed in his cards and never even asked my permission! I was upset, and I still am.

Who the hell am I supposed to vilify now? The new head honcho Jim Frank, a redheaded Jew with a Catholic sense of humor and a Protestant work ethic? Hmm... sounds like a joke. I might be able to work with him.

But, you see, no one but George realized that I'm an outside pet, and ever since he took me for a walk and let me off the leash, writing has been a most remarkably therapeutic, even cathartic experience for me. George was the one responsible for getting me to lie down on the literary sofa. I know you'd never guess, but I have issues and occasional trouble in the mixed metaphor department. Still, that's what editors are for, and if it's all working properly, no one will ever read this.

During the last, bizarre year of my playing career, I was living in the United States and writing a monthly piece for the British golf publication, Golf Monthly. It seemed like very hard work, and I quickly became disillusioned with what I felt were the narrow confines of golf journalism and the death-by-editing experience, so I gave it up as a bad job. Of course, I'd never had an actual job, or anything that resembled real work. But in 1996, after a horrendous divorce and the subsequent loss of my PGA Tour card, I found myself staring blankly at the prospects of either going back to play in Europe and having to live on a different continent from my children, or finding one of those ghastly working, jobby thingies that other people had.

It wasn't much of a decision because I could never bear to be away from my boys for long, so hi-ho, hi-ho, it was off to work I'd go, feeling like "Moody," the forgotten, suicidal eighth dwarf.

The problem was, it seemed when the playing-golf thing was subtracted from my areas of expertise, I was left with lying down in hotel rooms, watching "The Simpsons," and burping very loudly. Unsurprisingly, there weren't a whole lot of vacancies. (There was one opening at the XFL, but the money was crap.)

Suddenly, leaving school in the middle of an 11th-grade geography class for a life of reckless abandon in the solvent-based workshop atmosphere of the nearest pro shop seemed less brilliant. But then, just as it looked like I would have to take the job as a wringer-outer for a one-armed window cleaner, redemption appeared in the form of CBS, and then from a man who looked like a cross between Harry Potter at 50 and a hamster. I was the right illegal immigrant in the right bar at the right time, and luckily, I had squeaked through English with a "B."

"Peper," he said, like a quietly deranged James Bond. "George Peper." At first, I thought he was from the INS or something, and deportation was imminent. But it turned out he was the editor-in-chief of this magazine, and he'd read the pieces I'd done across the water, and better than that, he wanted me to have a rattle at it here. He was willing to pay me, and he was obviously insane, so I quickly agreed before the authorities caught up with him and changed his medication.

I mean, it wasn't like I hadn't tried to hock the contents of my head to other publications. Before George, several of the industry honchos had blown a snot bubble at the very idea of allowing me loose on their pages, suggesting in not so many words that they didn't need a verbicidal maniac. For a kickoff, all of them had noticed that even when I was playing, I'd never missed an opportunity to piss off, lampoon, skewer, roast, or baste virtually every establishment figure in the game, just for the hell of it. I was so opinionated and self-absorbed that if I'd been a bar of chocolate I probably would have eaten myself. (Actually, I'm still opinionated and self-absorbed. The only difference being that now I'm always right.)

In front of me stood one of the most respected members of both the R&A and the USGA, who was willing to hire me knowing full well the first thing I was liable to do was make him look like an idiot. Of course, at the time I was unaware that George has a very sick sense of humor. I love that in my idiots.

It's hard for me to convey in words the sense of gratitude I feel to George Peper, who is a bastard for leaving us. It strikes me that he may be the most important person in golf that virtually none of the golfing public would recognize. He is entirely unassuming, has a presence which is less than commanding, the ability to blend, gecko-like, into the background, and he's always letting someone else take credit for much of what is his due.

For me, he has been a vital link between what I consider to be the traditional power brokers in the game and the six-pack-and-kick-it crowd that yells at me from behind the ropes. Make no mistake, Tiger or no Tiger, the people in charge of this game have not changed. This is still an old, rich, white man's game, and without George, much of what I have written could easily have been misinterpreted by people who could have made my life harder. But rather than losing friends in high places, it seems to me that since I started at GOLF Magazine, I have more. I'm fairly sure that this would not be the case if it weren't for bold Sir George sticking up for me. At times I haven't made it easy for him, and I will be forever grateful for his support.

In George's wake, he leaves all of us at GOLF Magazine firmly grounded in an institution that has taken 26 years to erect. His achievements in journalism are legendary and will be well chronicled elsewhere, but his greatest gifts to me have been his friendship, his belief that every institution needs a creative irritant, and not just his tolerance, but his love of the absurd. I believe this might also explain his love affair with the game of golf.

And where, we ask ourselves, would a man go after devoting his entire career, and some of his energy, too, ensuring that all of us who sit, bored or infuriated for hours in the waiting room of some doctor or dentist, have something to read and an equal chance of being infected by the bacteria and airborne viruses that undoubtedly cling to the dog-eared copies of this rag? Where would he go to live with the love of his life, his wife Libby, to get away from all the golf madness? To Disney World perhaps, or maybe even Marakesh, or Shreveport?

Not Peper. He's going to live in St. Andrews, the moron. I imagine Libby must be over the moon. I mean, wow, if New York was getting old and gray, just wait until January in St. Andrews. People aren't white over there, they're famously pale blue. George owns the bottom two floors of one of those limestone houses across the road from the 18th fairway, and has a plan to live in and renovate the place in time for the 2005 British Open.

"Let's get out of the rat-race in New York, darling, and live in a 400-year-old dungeon with no plumbing, a bitter Presbyterian ghost called McDuff, and real rats." Yes, George fancies the pace of the Auld Gray Toon for a while, where he's going to change his name to Hamish, wear a kilt, and make use of his R&A membership by topping his way around the Old Course until his nose bleeds. I must admit, I envy him over the golfing venue. He could play there for the rest of his life and never have the same shot twice.

Back in the Big Bagel, the staff are already arguing about what to get him for a going away present, you know, gold watch, gift certificate for Victoria's Secret, etc., but I'm working on something special. I'm making a steam-driven sporran for him, with a little compartment in it to keep his balls warm for when he plays in all that cold weather.

Cheerio, my friend, and thank you for everything. Remember, you started this! I'll miss having you around, although you've made the mistake of telling me where you'll be. Get the spare room ready and start boiling the haggis. It should be ready by the spring. I'm a dab hand with a wallpaper-scraper, and as you know I don't drink much, and of course, both of those last two statements are false. I'll be over when the weather gets a little better.

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