In 1959, while still a toddler, I was forcibly indoctrinated into the cult of golf. Handed a plastic 3-wood, I was taught a series of carved-in-stone golf truths that had to be committed to memory and recited like the multiplication tables. First, was Play Fast! Next, I was to always stay out of the backswing zone of big women, because they could knock your teeth out. (Learned that one the hard way.) I also learned that a plastic 3-wood was particularly suited to killing chickens.
In addition, I was never to play Hogan clubs, wear Hogan shoes, use Hogan's swing or hit Hogan balls, unless they were attached to Mr. Hogan. (There had been some kind of altercation* with Mr. Hogan the previous year.) *Note: See "The Greens of Wrath"
I will confess to attempting Hogan's perfect swing, but I always claimed it was actually Julius Boros' swing, so as not to violate family protocol.
But the most important golf truth hammered into my soul was NEVER, EVER, cheat at golf. My grandmother said that was the surest way to get kicked out of the family and carried off by Yankee soldiers. Pastor Elwood gave a whole sermon on cheating at golf, saying it meant you were entirely devoid of character and personal integrity. But it was Dad who warned me of the mysterious entity known as "Fudgie". If you cheated at golf, Fudgie would "get" you. I'm pretty sure it's one of the Ten Commandments.
I can still hear Dad's voice: "Don't ever give in to temptation and cheat on the golf course, because Fudgie will surely get you. Maybe not during that round or even that same year, but rest assured, Fudgie will get you." I never heard Fudgie's name invoked on the subject of poker, high school football referees or boxing, so I guess cheating was acceptable in those areas.
. . . a ghostly presence followed me every time I stepped foot on a golf course
For the next few decades, I was convinced that a ghostly presence followed me every time I stepped on the golf course, watching me closely for the tiniest rule infraction, whereby he would either disintegrate me like a Star Trek transporter or worse . . . cause me to yank-hook a tee shot into the highway.
I became quite neurotic trying to follow all the rules. I refused to hit mulligans, even when alone. I never took a gimme. I turned away when others were bending the rules, just so I wouldn't absorb their impure thoughts. Now please understand, I wasn't some kind of church lady, heaping guilt upon fellow golfers. I never accused someone of cheating, no matter how wicked they were . . . at least until the day I encountered "Riff" Riffington. On that day, I didn't merely accuse the man of cheating, I called down the fire of Fudgie upon him.
It was a hot Friday morning in August of 1971, the day before our biggest tournament of the year, the Woodland Dell Open. I was lovingly washing down our shiny new Toro Triplex greensmower, when Dad, the golf pro/superintendent/GM, walked up and said, "Son, there's a rich guy here for his practice round and he needs a caddie. I told him you caddied for me on Monday qualifying events and he said he'd pay double your rate if you'll tote the bag for him ."
Now, as a lowly teenaged maintenance oaf, I made less than a dollar an hour. But as a caddie, I could make $10 in three hours. I quickly changed into my caddie costume: Cutoff blue jeans, Izod golf shirt, Aussie cowboy hat, mirrored aviators, black Keds High-Tops, and enough coconut flavored suntan oil to choke a T-Rex. (I was cool back then.)
I then presented myself to Mr. Evans, the rich guy client. He was an older, white-haired gentleman, very calm, with enough clubs in the back of his new Cadillac to equip a college golf team. Mr. Evans wanted to hit a few balls and get in a quick practice round, so I took him out to our designated "practice" area. In those days, few courses had practice ranges and it was common for the caddie to "shag" balls in some out of play spot. It's important to note that these balls were not "shagged" in the British sense; the term "shag" simply referred to the player hitting from the rough, in the direction of the caddie. The caddie's job was to stand there like a flagstick, holding a canvas bag, and collect the balls.
As Mr. Evans was a polite, skilled golfer--still very rare even today--we got along really well. I did my best caddie impression, providing exact yardages, watching the ball like a pit bull eyeballing a pork chop, reading greens when asked and keeping a dry towel close by. After the practice round, instead of my normal $10--I charged $2 more than the other caddies, mostly because I didn't want to caddie--Mr. Evans slipped me a $20, putting me in an entirely new tax bracket and also making me very protective of my client.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Evans drew a comfortable mid-morning tee time, thanks to me needing some sleep after watering greens till 0300. Unfortunately, we were paired with known serial cheater Riff Riffington and two hackers from Memphis. I didn't like Riff. He was a tall, cadaverous man about 55 years old, famous for carousing with other men's wives, being cheap as dirt and as previously mentioned, cheating at golf. I couldn't look at Riff without thinking of a bald-headed Ichabod Crane with a sour expression who favored department store golf clubs.
Riff was also the first golfer I ever knew who had his very own personal cart. It was a beastly old Westinghouse that resembled a rolling coffin and Riff always refused to share his cart. His reason for not sharing was it enabled him to race ahead and quickly "find" lost balls. Riff would speed off down the fairway, find his ball, improve the situation and if he had time, accidentally run over other balls. Sometimes balls thought to be in the fairway would turn up in the deep rough or not at all. On blind tee shots, I ran--carrying that heavy bag--trying to catch Riff in the act, but he was too smooth and too fast.
On the last hole of the day, a steep uphill par four, Mr. Evans hit a perfect 8-iron that I was sure would be stiff to the pin. Riff skulled a 6-iron that appeared to go at least 40 yards long. When we got to the green, there was Riff calmly marking his ball about a foot from the hole, while pointing to Mr. Evan's ball in the back bunker.
I took care of Riff's bag and went out to irrigate bermuda.
"Tough luck, Evans," Riff sneered. After 18 holes of blatant, unrepentant, malicious cheating, I could no longer help myself. In a fit of righteous rage, I called down fire upon Riff by pointing at him and muttering, "Fudgie's gonna get you, Mr. Riffington."
Even with all his deviltry, Riff was still only two up on Mr. Evans, but the day had filled me with the hot, blind lust for vengeance. After posting scores, I took Mr. Evan's bag and shoes into the bag room for cleaning. (I had the bag room concession, at $3 per bag per month.) This meant I also had to clean Riff's bag and shoes, a distasteful chore, but business is business. That night, in addition to cleaning about 80 sets of clubs and pairs of nasty kilted Foot-Joys, I still had to water the greens.
While the tournament competitors and their wives and mistresses danced upstairs in the grand ballroom--sounding like drunken lumberjacks stomping rats on a poorly built hardwood floor--I scrubbed and brushed and dried and polished and generally worked up a good hate. Then I took care of Riff's bag and went out to irrigate bermuda.
The next morning, as I shagged balls for Mr. Evans, Riff showed up, and in a shocking display of rudeness, began to hit some of Mr. Evan's balls--without even asking permission! In another breach of protocol, Riff failed to give me the warning signal that ball shaggers depended on for survival: Upraised arms similar to a referee indicating a touchdown. I got the distinct impression that Riff was trying to bounce a Titleist off my skull, but fortunately the sky was blue and I could see the missile.
On the first tee, Riff was in the group behind us. Just before we teed off, Dad pulled me aside. "Son," Dad whispered, "Riffington says his bag smells like . . . pee."
I looked Dad right in the eye and said, "Dad . . . Riffington is a cheater."
In spite of Riff's bag, gloves and extra shirt stinking like an ammonia tanker exploded, he still managed to win the Second Flight. Mr. Evans took third in the same flight, but seemed to enjoy the day regardless. As I loaded his clubs in the trunk of the Cadillac, Mr. Evans slipped me $40, which in today's money equals about $10,000, and he said, "I suppose you were right, young man. Fudgie did get Riff."
"I don't think so, Mr. Evans," I couldn't keep the bitterness out of my voice, "he still got a trophy and a gift certificate for $50."
"No," Mr. Evans shook his head and smiled, "I mean last night during the dance. Riff got punched in the eye by an irate husband . . . and did you get a whiff of him this morning? Smelled like he's been sleeping in kitty litter."
I still wasn't satisfied. I began to question whether Fudgie was even real--at least until a few years later, when Riff was killed with an axe. His wife was the primary suspect at first, but the detectives decided it was a fairly obvious suicide. I think they were golfers.