Immortald Dreams Published Novel part 4 of 10
‘If you must walk all over my dreams, then please tread carefully.’
Lying on her back screaming in agony, reached for her knee with both hands, then covered her tearful eyes with one and beat the ground with another. Lauren had instinctively played the ball back into court and therefore won the point, but that was clearly irrelevant now, she quickly ran round the net to check on Darla. As soon as she got to Darla, Lauren frantically motioned for the first aid people to come onto court. All the officials on the court left their stations and surrounded Darla, the first aid staff had to clear a path to get to the cruelly stricken. A deathly hush had fallen upon the stadium which gradually turned into mass murmurings. The medical experts asked Darla a few questions but she was in too much pain to answer any of them coherently. As she lay flat out staring at the sky the excruciating pain in the knee was more than matched by the emotional pain of having the French Open title taken away from her. The snap and the instant pain told her straight away that she was out of this match, through the screams and the tears thoughts came through of just how bad an injury this could be. It was a good couple of minutes before Darla looked at that left knee, dislocated with the patella hanging almost completely loose it was a sickening sight for anybody. Being her own knee meant it literally was, Darla vomited as soon as she observed the damage. Now she started to feel ill as well as the pain, broke out in a cold sweat, extremely dizzy and almost passed out. Being carried off on a stretcher is never a good thing, but when you’ve got two points on your own serve to lead by a set and 5-2 in the French Open final, then depression can hit you as quickly as the pain did. A rousing, standing ovation did nothing to lift Darla’s spirits at the time, but later she would appreciate the moment. Packed into an ambulance with one of her friends for company Darla didn’t speak, there weren’t any words to describe her physical pain or her emotional distress.
Watching that match live in the same bar I’d watched the semi final, I had gone from watching one of my friends dreams being played out in front of me, to having their worst nightmares graphically illustrated. The sinking feeling in my stomach was bitterly low; the instant nature of it all meant it hit me virtually as hard as my tour school flop the previous year. I’d just played badly; I deserved to flop, Darla had something snatched away from her, when the only thing she was guilty of was putting in the ultimate effort.
Either ecstatic joy or agonising despair.
I left Darla a message on her phone, the usual sort sympathetic ramblings that she probably didn’t want to hear at that time, but I thought it was better than nothing at all. This was on the last Saturday before I made my debut appearance in the US Open. I felt so low and numb that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Eventually I did what I normally do when I want to take my mind of something, hit golf balls.
Next day I took my first look at the US Open venue for that year. It was still quiet on the Sunday; most players wouldn’t arrive until the Monday. I have to admit that putting Darla’s nightmare out of my mind was a virtually impossible task. The numbness carried over throughout my preparations. I played a practice round on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and had my usual day off on the Wednesday. To my amazement I just couldn’t get that excited about being in the US Open. It was one of the events I’d always dreamt about playing in and winning, now I was here and not in a good mood at all.
My philosophy had always been if you want something badly enough you’ll get it. Darla’s passion for great achievements at least matched my own, yet now it looked a distinct possibility she may never get them. Melancholy hit me in a way it had never done before. Perhaps there was no point to it all, maybe there was no fairness in the world, and possibly we were just puppets having our strings pulled by fate and destiny. Even whilst I was in this state I knew it would only be temporary, but I couldn’t snap myself out of it. On the Wednesday Darla made a phone call that meant a lot to me and showed how good a person she was. Firstly I got her to update me on her condition. Still in hospital, unable to walk, getting around in a wheel chair, knee had been operated on but they wanted to operate on it again before saying what the extent of the damage would be. It was still causing her considerable pain, but if she kept it still it was bearable. The Doctors wouldn’t promise her that she would ever walk again let alone play tennis, but let her know that a full recovery was still a possibility. She told me that yesterday Lauren Fisher had come to see her and brought the French Open trophy with her so Darla could hold it. Both ladies ended up crying, Darla greatly appreciated the gesture. Her friends off the tour also came to visit her, but none of them knew what to say. Then she told me the only reason she was phoning was to congratulate me on getting to the US Open and to wish me good luck. I was to take it from her that I should enjoy and savour every moment. After thanking her comprehensively for thinking of me at that time, I complimented her on the play in the French Open and told her it would always count as a great achievement in my reckoning. At that point she started to cry, it felt so awful being three thousand miles away and just wanting to give her a hug. She composed herself to tell me to go out and kick some millionaire golfer’s butts, managing to avoid any “win it for me” clichés. I said I’d kick a few for her, and told her that as soon as I was finished doing that I was flying home anyway so a little detour to a French hospital wouldn’t be a problem at all.
So I went into the US Open in a better frame of mind than I would have without that phone call. I woke up in plenty of time for my late morning tee off and felt relaxed. Warm up routine went well, swing felt coordinated and the touch on the short shots was good. On the first tee I felt comfortable, still feeling a little down about Darla, but that may well have helped to take away a lot of nerves that I expected to have on that first tee. Maybe my philosophical outlook would help me into the perfect relaxed state of mind to play a big golf event. Still didn’t feel as excited as I thought I would, as if I wasn’t fully taking in the fact that I was playing in the US Open.
A slightly less than perfect opening tee-shot left me in thick, punishing rough. Hacked out from there onto the fairway and made a bogey five. If I didn’t know before I certainly knew after that first hole, I was playing in the US Open. The toughest examination paper in golf and after that loose start my game began to feel good, I was enjoying the test. Felt at home playing in an event like that. Played with a couple of guys who played regularly on the main tour, but didn’t feel at all out of my depth. I felt I was supposed to be playing in the US Open; it was bringing out the confidence in me. Always I’ve thought that I’d never know how good I could be until I played at the top level, and I always had a feeling that if I could just get into the biggest tournaments then somehow I would be able to raise my game to match the best players in the world.
After that bogey on the first hole I settled into my game delightfully. Each part of my game was functioning well, if not quite at its best. I hit more than my fair share of fairways from the tee and on the odd occasion I did miss a green with an approach shot it wasn’t into too damaging a place. Some good chipping and short putting rescued a few pars, which is something the winner of the US Open has to do a lot of. The main thing missing was holing any putts outside of ten feet. If a few of them had of gone in then my good round of two over par 72 would have been even better. Two over par in a US Open is not a bad score at all, by the end of the tournament sometimes every player is over par, such is the difficulty of the courses. My first round left me just four shots off the leaders, in some very good company and ahead of some notable names. You can’t win it on the first day but you can lose it, and I certainly hadn’t lost it.
The second round was very similar, I was one of the last players out so I could check the leader board and see that one player had got to four under par but other than him only three other players were under par. I was steadily grinding away, keeping myself in contention without doing anything spectacular or anybody noticing me. Level par for the day, only two over for the tournament, after fourteen holes of the second round. At that stage I would have been around fifteenth place in the tournament, it felt like time to make a move and really make an impact on the US Open. I attacked the flag on the fifteenth, missed it by not much at all but ended up off the green and in a horrible spot. From there bogey was virtually inevitable and duly arrived. Not to worry, bogeys in US Opens aren’t that disastrous, they are going to happen to everybody. Missed the fairway off the next tee, hacked out, and missed the green with the third shot, double bogey. Four under looked a long way away now. A missed short putt on seventeen and now I had to par the last hole just to make the cut and play on the weekend. Missed the green, played a reasonable chip shot from where I was to about six feet. Six feet; after being out on a course for a total of just over ten hours it all came down to six feet. After two rounds of missed fairways, sensible recoveries, hit fairways, strategic iron shots, scrambling for pars, ice rink like greens, lots of conscious effort to keep my cool and stop the inevitable frustrations of the US Open taking over, it came down to six feet. If you miss the cut it doesn’t really matter whether you miss it by a shot or by a hundred shots, they’ll just be a big MC after your name in score publications around the world. I knew the putt was going to be quick, I knew it was going to turn right to left. What I had to do was get the right combination of speed and line so the ball would turn to the left just at the right time to fall into the hole. Heart beating fast, legs feeling weak, mouth dry and stomach churning. I went through my usual pre-shot routine and went to hit it. Noise and movement in the crowd. Backed off, stared in the general direction of the guilty and went through my routine again. Imagined the feeling after holing it, told myself this is what it’s all about. Just in time I’d got myself into a good mindset, but when I hit the putt it never looked like going in. Much too hard for the line and it missed on the right. I could just imagine Peter Aliss, the classically quirky English golf commentator; “went off in my hand sir”. Dropped the putter and put my hands on my face, big defining moment in my golfing life and the definition was, “choke”. I’m capable of putting a positive spin on anything golfing, but there’s no point using fancy language to describe what went on the last few holes of that second round. That one word described it and it was one of the words that all sports performers feared. Top level sport is all about performing when it matters. Starting to develop into a worrying habit as far as I was concerned, Tour School, Honda and now the US Open, three tournaments that meant the most to me so far, and I had under performed in all three. I was going to have to work a little on creating any sort of “iceman” under pressure image that would be a dream for any sports person.
After the round there were around half of us who had missed the cut. Most of us had a story about our rounds that we all wanted tell, but none of us wanted to listen. I’d taken one hundred and forty seven shots at it was one too many to be playing on the weekend. After the round I went to the practice putting green. For two hours I hit six foot putts, two hours of six foot putts with a right to left break, over and over again without saying a word. In terms of psychological melt down it was the golfer’s equivalent of sitting in the corner rocking back and to, sucking your thumb. Sunny knew it wasn’t the time for “gee that putt was unlucky”; it wasn’t the time for any words. She patiently sat by the side of the putting green with the bag and waited for me to call time on my own punishment session. Getting dark and there being virtually nobody else around at all and all the other players having left, were eventually my queues to stop the madness.
Not wanting to let the depression sink in as it did after tour school, I went out with Sunny as soon as I had finished my six-foot puttathon. I felt like ten pin bowling, so we went bowling. Always a good stress reliever for me, I didn’t care about my score I just wanted to hurl that ball down as hard as I could. My single bowling ambition was to one day break a pin.
The latest set back made me feel like a little break from golf. I had a week free anyway before I planned to go back to Britain and enter the qualifying for The Open Championship. So I had plenty of time to go and see Darla, someone who had a lot more reason to feel sorry for themselves than I did. Sunny was more than happy to come along for both legs of my European trip, her first trip to Europe.
‘I’ve never been overseas at all before, except Florida Quays but you can’t really call that overseas.’
‘I wouldn’t want to walk it.’
Still in the French hospital she had originally been taken to, Darla had a vast, well equipped room to herself.
‘How’s my favourite tennis player doing?’ I asked boisterously as I entered the room with Sunny.
‘Oh wow, thanks for coming to see me. All the way from America,’ Darla switched off the trashy day time television she was watching.
‘Shall we tell her that we were flying over to Europe anyway?’ Sunny asked me as if Darla wasn’t supposed to hear.
‘No, this way we seem like better people and Darla feels even more loved.’
‘So you’re going to go for the harsh, treat her as normal sort of attitude rather than the sympathetic approach,’ Darla had a familiar smile.
‘Okay we’ll go through the expected checklist of questions, what’s the latest on the knee?’
‘I had a second operation yesterday and they are reasonably happy that the joint itself has relocated. Bad news is that the ligament damage looks bad. I still can’t take any weight at all on it and have to go around in that thing,’ Darla pointed to the wheelchair by her bed.
‘I can’t imagine how bad you feel, not so much the physical pain but the mental torture,’ Sunny got the tone right for the sympathy.
‘I don’t think I’ve fully taken in just how much of a nightmare situation this is for me. A major for the taking, then snap. But hey what can I do?’
‘Cry a lot I suppose.’
‘Believe me I’ve done that, I could’ve ended a few droughts with the tears I’ve produced over the last week or so. At the moment I just don’t know how bad it is, I might never walk again, but I might be back on tour for the start of next year. It’s just too early to tell, even for the medical experts apparently.’
‘How long are you staying here for?’
‘They’re actually moving me to a top place in Belgium in a couple of days. That’ll be where I’ll do all my recuperation.’
‘Loved your press conference.’
‘That was fun, the press are too easy to wind up.’
‘How about that semi final?’ Sunny asked with a beaming smile of a schoolgirl talking to her sporting heroine.
‘That really was great, we could feel the drama of the match whilst playing in it. Sometimes you’re not always aware that you’re playing a great match, but that crowd and the closeness of the match meant we couldn’t miss it.’
‘Psychologically the bathroom break was seriously impressive,’ Sunny always looked at all sporting action from the angle of her sports psychology studies.
‘I’d thought you’d like that, I must have had my last slither of control in tact.’
‘Did that lady official go with you to make sure you didn’t contravene any rules? Or is it that ladies actually can’t possibly go to the toilet on their own?’
‘You’ve been thinking about that line for a while haven’t you?’ Darla asked.
‘Would you judge me if I had?’
‘I wouldn’t judge you any differently than I already do.’
‘What about your performance in the final? That was awesome.’
‘It was like playing in a trance, it really was. I’m sure Sunny you’ve learnt all about flow state and if I wasn’t in it, I was very close. A surreal feeling, one that all hard working sports performers deserve to have at least once. Anyway enough about me, how’s your sporting life going?’
‘Oh I’m not sure I want to talk about that. I’ll only end up whinging and I really don’t want to be whinging to you about my sporting setbacks right now.’
‘Please go ahead, it’ll be good to hear someone else whinging for a change.’
‘If you’re sure. Please stop me anytime it gets annoying. I’ve just played in the second biggest golf tournament in the world and choked, positively chucked my guts up. The only good thing is that I’m not well known yet, so nobody in the golfing world will be starting to class me as a choker. That’s probably the hardest tag in sport to lose. The more you try to prove you can get the job done when it matters, the tighter you get in those situations and the harder it is to close the deal. Everything just seems to be taking so long, I came over to America about a year ago and I’m not any further up the golfing ladder. I’ve had two tastes of the big time and ultimately both times it tasted sour. Now I’m going to play in the qualifiers for the Open, but really this whole year has been about another crack at the tour school. I’m trying to stop myself getting tight about it, but it’s going to be hard. Am I destined to be merely someone who’s good at golf, rather than an international class golfer, let alone a great one? Okay even I’m getting annoyed now.’
‘I was just about to jump in,’ Darla kept the friendliness in her bluntness.
‘Hey your world rankings gone up to four,’ Sunny was a master at the subject change.
‘I know, one of the girls told me. That’s a good feeling, to be able to say that there are only three women in the world that are better at tennis than me. Although it’s kinda weird because I couldn’t beat either of you two right now.’
‘We know somebody world famous, isn’t it cool,’ I said to Sunny.
‘I’d like you to say you’re friends with the best lady tennis player in the world.’
‘Introduce us to Lauren then.’
‘Seen as you’ve been generally sympathetic I’d let that one go.’
‘Seriously mate, it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re ranked one, four or two hundred and four, I’m still very happy to have you as a friend.’
‘Ah, he can be sweet sometimes can’t he?’ Darla checked with Sunny.
‘Every now and then.’
‘That’s all?! I’d thought that line would get a tear in the eye from at least one of you.’
Considering her situation we left Darla in reasonably high spirits, although just how superficial those spirits were was hard for either Sunny or myself to judge. From France Sunny and I flew to Scotland for the qualifiers for The Open Championship.
Qualifying for The Open Championship had two stages. First of all there were qualifying tournaments all over the country, then the next stage was held at four courses local to the course where the tournament itself was to be played. My qualifying for the US Open meant that I could by pass the initial stage and go into final qualifying stage, which was played over two rounds. Just like in the US Open the players in the last stage of qualifying are impressive. When you look down the list you often stop yourself and think “I can’t believe he has to qualify”.
Wind plays a big factor on any golf course but in golf in Scotland it is particularly so. The courses tend to use the wind as its main defence against the players. All of them used for The Open and the qualifiers are right on the coast, so more often than not it is windy. When you get two virtually flat calm days, as we did for that qualifying tournament, then the course is there for the taking and every player knows he needs a low score to qualify. My first round was a little sluggish, I took a while to get going and did well in the end to get it round in a one under par 70, leaving me a lot of work to do to claim one of the four qualifying spots available. Knowing you have to shoot an exceptional score often loosens up a golfer and enables them to play well, knowing you’ve got nothing to lose and that the only option is to play positively has a de-cluttering effect on the mind. Of course sometimes you try too much too soon and end up taking way too many shots. On this occasion I got off to a good start, which improved my mood and my chances a great deal. Nothing much happened in the middle of the round but a strong finish saw me round in 65, I knew I had a chance to qualify but I’d have to wait for a couple of hours or so for everybody to have finished. That’s the sort of time when the nerves can really hit me, so much thought time and not interrupted by hitting a shot every few minutes. I went to the practice ground, which we strongly suspected was normally a farmer’s field, hit some full shots mainly to occupy my mind as well as keeping the muscles loose. Around six o’clock Sunny went away to check on the scores.
‘You’re in a play-off,’ she said in a dead pan tone on her return.
‘Just two of you for the last spot.’
Often in these qualifying events there would be stories of eight guys playing off for one spot or ten guys playing off for two or three spots. This time it was very straight forward. Two of us playing one hole at a time until there was a winner, sudden death, Russian roulette Golf style.
We started on the first hole and would continue until one of us won a hole. The guy was a local lad with some main tour experience in Europe, but had spent most of his playing days on the second tier tour, so it was definitely as big a moment for him as it was for me. Both of us hit good drives on the first, especially under the circumstances. One on one sudden death to get to play in The Open Championship, the biggest and most prestigious Golf tournament in the world, the one every golfer dreams about, the one you tell yourself that ten foot putt on the practice green is to win. I could feel my heart beating as I stood by my ball and waited for him to play his shot to the green on the average length par four. Quite a few locals came out to watch the event and most had stayed to watch the play-off. They were a very knowledgeable bunch when it came to Golf and they knew what was at stake for both of us. He made a really poor swing on his second shot and the ball weakly faded to the right of the green into a horrible spot in some long grass in a hollow. Door had been left ajar, I had to do my best to swing it open.
‘Just a straight, smooth 8 iron,’ Sunny calmly assured me.
Now all I had to do was control my body and my emotions. An extra deep breath and a loosening shrug of the shoulder were added to my normal routine, I managed to control the swing excellently. The ball finished a little short of the flag and a little to the right, about fifteen feet away. Before I know it we’re standing by the green and he’s ready to play. He didn’t waste much time and played the shot with more of a stabbing motion than I’m sure he was intending. The ball came out low and skidded across the green a lot faster than he would have wanted. Only the line of the shot kept him interested, straight at the flag. Hit it flush in the middle, resounding clunk, ball dropped in. It was more of a gasp from the crowd rather than a congratulatory cheer, they knew it wasn’t that good a shot, he did too, and he was too embarrassed to celebrate much. Still I wasn’t out of it, if I holed my putt then we’d continue up the second hole. I caught myself feeling sorry for myself just in time to focus properly on the putt. Gorgeous rhythm, gorgeous stroke, good read from Sunny and the ball hugged the surface all the way to the hole. Turning, turning on the slope of the green homing in on the hole. Just in the last roll it inexplicably stopped turning and held its line, agonisingly rolled around two hundred and seventy degrees of the hole and somehow stayed above the ground. I could gripe about his shot not deserving to be within twenty feet let alone go in, and that my putt did deserve to go in, but there’s really no point, he teed it up in The Open that year and I didn’t. I wished him good luck for the main event. I looked out for his scores, he shot 82-79 to miss the cut by a bundle, still as long as he enjoyed it. For the next couple of weeks I barely went five minutes waking time without having an image of that chip going in and that resounding clunk reverberating in my head. Anything but the exact centre of the flag and it finishes no nearer than ten feet away. If it misses the hole altogether it’s off the green the other side at least twenty feet away. Still I shouldn’t dwell on one off occurrences, lot easier said than done when that occurrence has just stopped you from playing in The Open Championship. In the end the best way I found to clear my mind of that hideous sight and sound, was to be harsher on myself and say that I shouldn’t have even been playing off, I should have qualified straight out.
Sunny had always wanted to visit the UK so we took the opportunity to have our own two week tour. Hired a car and stayed in bed and breakfasts. Hit balls at one driving range or another every couple of days or so to stop me getting withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately the weather stayed fine for those two weeks so Sunny got to see my homeland at its finest. We did a few of the classic tourist trips, especially around London, but what Sunny liked the most was the scenic countryside and winding roads. Also she loved the way everything seemed so close together. Sunny was very aware of history and was fascinated when she realised how old some of the things we saw were. This was especially so anytime we saw something that was around before Columbus. She also enjoyed the tours I gave her of the places where I grew up, showing her my old schools, university, the two houses that I’d grown up in and the golf course where I’d been a member. At least I think she enjoyed it, either that or she was just being polite and did an exceptional job of pretending to be interested. Meanwhile Darla had been taken to the best hospital in Belgium and was receiving all the treatment possible for that knee.
After the few weeks break in Europe I was feeling refreshed and ready to win some more mini tour events and build up for the old enemy that is tour school. With it being summer again it was really too hot to be playing in Florida so we drove up to North Carolina, where I had made my professional debut. To be honest now I had tasted bigger fish I found it hard to give my full attention to those mini tour events. Only anytime I was involved in a close finish to decide the winner did I really feel fully focussed. I was without a doubt a better player than the previous year, so I was still able to pick up plenty of cheques and win my fair share of tournaments. I just hoped I could find that focussed intensity I needed to play my best when the tour school came around again.
Not wanting to feel caught out by tour school again I got to California a lot earlier than the previous year. At the end of September instead of heading to Florida we went straight to California to play some mini tour events there and get fully acclimatised before the big one itself. In California we met up again with Wendell. He’d had a good time back home and had flown into California from Australia a week or so before Sunny and I got there.
Mini tour events anywhere have pretty much the same feel to them. Everybody in them knows they’re not absolutely top rank events, but also the fact that your entry fee is making up the prize money means that every time you play in one it does matter to you. Maybe not fully focussed as I’ve mentioned, but at some stage of the tournament the possibility of some good play winning you a few dollars sharpens your mind a little. Only the people change from one mini tour to another, the best players know that there’s no point them all playing in the same event and that the best way for them all to make money was to stay out of each others way as much as possible. So each field you played in tended to have roughly the same percentage of those top category players.
nearer it got to tour school the more faces of the players I started to recognise. Some of the regulars from the Florida mini tours showed up for their annual crack at the big time, including the four horse men. Before long there were enough of us to be playing games of Baseball, American Football and even cricket. There were just enough of us from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Zimbabwe to get away with playing cricket and even getting the Yanks to understand most of it. Ashes spirit flared up a few times between myself and Wendell, he was a decent batsman so I felt obliged to bowl as fast as I could, Douglas Jardine would’ve been proud. Sledging abounded, but it all stayed on the field or should I say beach. One American Football game we played Americans versus the rest of the world. Having convinced themselves that being American would be enough to make up for being inferior athletes, the home team didn’t react too well to getting beat. One late hit too many on a normally phlegmatic Kiwi set the tone for the rest of the game.
‘Oh wow, the Yankee doodles want to play rough. The funny thing is they have no idea what playing rough really means.’
For half an hour or so we all forgot that we relied on our physical well being for our livelihoods, proceeding to smash into each other in a macho contest that paraded as an American football match. Afterwards all was forgotten, maybe even some new found respect was developed. Before long we were all completely focussed on the serious business we were in town for.
‘Only way to succeed is to try. After a failure the only way to come back is to try again, the cycle is unending.’
For one reason or another I definitely found myself in a lot better frame of mind going into the tour school event than I had the previous year. Appearances at the Honda and the US Open, as well as another years worth of mini tour experience, meant that my feeling of belonging was much greater. My emphasis on enjoyment also helped to keep me relaxed. Just under a year ago Sunny had provided such a stark perspective check, that I never wanted to get too down on myself, or take myself too seriously again. Just another tournament, one shot at a time and trust yourself. Sunny noticed the vastly improved mood and made sure I stayed in that mood throughout my preparations.
The first stage this time was a lot more comfortable, always looked like qualifying and did so with half a dozen shots to spare. As expected the second section of seventy-two holes was a tougher prospect, ultimately though I came through unscathed and qualified without too many alarms. Wendell also got through with a few shots to spare. Although I was hoping more of an imperious performance at that stage it was still a great feeling to progress from the round that I had come so badly unstuck last time. Now I was starting to find out just how much better I was than last year, I’d see if I was ready to make the big step up.
It was a nervous three weeks or so in between the penultimate stage of qualifying and that final round that meant so much to so many. Stayed in California for the whole time, but decided not to play any competitions, planning to save my mental energy for what would hopefully be the six round event.
The course was immaculate and conditions perfect. Other than the magnitude of what was at stake there were no excuses. Sunny had scouted the course expertly and we both felt it suited my game. That first day of the third stage I did feel nervous, extremely nervous, but it was a good nervous. Sort of nerves you get when you’re about to do something you really want to do. Didn’t strike the ball all that well on the range but that didn’t put me off. From the first tee shot I felt completely in control of myself, my game and the course. That added up to a 67 to put me in a tie for fifth place after one round. Second and third days followed a similar pattern as I put together two rounds of 69 to put me in third place. Now there were no thoughts about qualifying for the last two rounds and guaranteeing playing at least on the second tier tour next season. Confidence now dictated I was thinking of finishing as high as I could, guaranteeing me as many invites to next years main tour events as possible. The contrast from last year couldn’t have been starker.
A late tee off time on the fourth day meant there was no rush to go to bed on the third night. So Sunny and I joined Wendell and a few of the other mini tour guys we knew, in a local bar for something to eat and a discussion on the event so far. Wendell was doing well himself, three shots inside the qualifying mark with a round to go. The meal was a relaxed affair with a dozen of us taking up two tables, plenty of joking, some boisterous, some subtle. Sunny had managed to become immune to the usual sort of jovial flirting banter that inevitably came the way of a good looking young lady. Off the cuff remarks she had gotten used to and could handle them, it was only when the words became more personal and serious that she understandably became uptight and introverted. The rest of the guys all knew by now to respect Sunny’s privacy on that issue, even though they didn’t know about the rape. After the meal a few of the guys who were teeing off early the next day went off to bed, the rest of us sat around the bar for a while and played some pool. I was watching a couple of the other guys play pool when I turned and noticed Sunny sitting at the bar, she was getting some unwanted attention from a couple of male strangers. One of them put his arm around her just as I got over there, Sunny threw it off straight away.
‘Please just leave me alone guys.’
‘Come on honey we could have some fun tonight.’
‘Leave the lady alone or you’re going to regret it big time,’ I focussed on the one who had the intrusive arm and was doing the talking.
‘Is this your girl?’
‘Do real people actually talk like that? No she’s not my girl, but that’s irrelevant.’
‘Then back off and let her speak for herself.’
‘She already has, you weren’t listening.’
‘What exactly are you planning to do about this anyway?’
‘Nothing fancy or too subtle, I was planning on hitting you so hard that by the time you came to you clothes would be out of style, whoops too late for that.’
‘You really do want to fight the two of us don’t you?’
‘I’m torn, because I believe if you don’t leave the lady alone then you’ll deserve a good beating. But one of my golden rules is never to have a fight with ugly guys, because they have nothing to lose.’
‘I think you should know that we’re here with a few friends that will show no hesitation in joining in our beating of you.’
‘That is interesting, because I’ve got a few friends here and I think my friends are bigger and tougher than yours. Do you want to find out?’
‘Actually all I want to do is have some fun with this honey,’ he went to put his hands on Sunny again and she responded by throwing a Jack Daniels on the rocks in his face.
‘You bitch!’ Unbelievably he went to hit Sunny, fortunately I punched him first. Wendell and the rest of the guys had been watching the proceedings, as had the two moron’s gang of friends. The guy I hit went down, the other guy went to hit me from behind but Wendell flew into him with a crunching tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place on any Rugby League field. Predictably from there it all went off. The guys came with their pool cues and a bar brawl like something out of a Western ensued. They had a couple more guys, but individually we were bigger and altogether were a lot more sober than they were. If you didn’t know him, you hit him. Sunny got caught up in the middle of all of it, one of their guys was still trying to get his hands on her. I tried to get her out of the bar but some guy swung a stool at my head. Instinctively I flicked up my right arm to protect my head, the wooden stool smashed into my forearm and wrist and the stool shattered. Hit him with a good left hand shot, sending him to the floor grabbing his nose. Sunny grabbed a solid remnant of that stool and swung it viciously into what could diplomatically be described as “the mid section” of the guy who started the whole thing – not me, the loudmouth who was trying to get into her. Most of their guys were on the floor now. Wendell threw another into a wall and Hank and Mitch were doubling up on the one who remained on his feet. A right hook from Hank sent him to the ground and we all got out of there quickly. Sunny and I got outside first, we waited to make sure that all the other “good guys” got out all right then we all set off briskly up the street.
‘You all right mate? I’m sorry, I’m sure you didn’t want me starting fights.’
‘I’m okay. Not the smartest form of action, but I did get to hit a guy with a piece of wood, so it wasn’t all bad.’
‘You guys all okay? Thanks for jumping in.’
‘Hey no worries Jack , that wasn’t even a decision.’ Bud said.
‘Yeah if one of your buddies is in trouble, you help him out,’ Oz added.
‘Plus I haven’t hit anybody in a while,’ Wendell chipped in.
‘As long as everybody enjoyed themselves,’ I was relieved that nobody was giving me a dressing down for starting a fight.
‘I think we just got an insight into what it must be like on the English Football Fans Christmas party,’ Wendell still found time for a jibe.
‘Oh I can’t let that one slide. All right there’s still a few of them that cause trouble abroad but there’s a few other countries that are at least as bad.’
‘Are you okay? That stool hit you pretty hard?’ Sunny asked.
‘Not going to lie to you; that did hurt. I’ll be okay. Although actually. Oh shit.’
‘What? What is it?’
‘I think the adrenalin is wearing off. My wrist is killing me and I can hardly move it at all.’
‘Don’t worry, we’ll get you to a hospital and get it sorted out.’
‘Do you know the way to the nearest hospital?’ Hank asked Sunny.
‘No, do you?’
‘Yeah, I’ll jump in with you guys and direct you.’
The pain was really kicking in and the range of movement continued to minimise. Started to sweat and feel nauseous. By the time we got to the hospital the wrist was twice its normal size and I could hardly move it at all.
Didn’t have to wait too long in the hospital, I had insurance. An x-ray confirmed the Doctors suspicions that I had cracked the end of my ulna and broken some of the small bones in my wrist.
‘So what are the chances of me playing tomorrow?’
‘Oh none I’m afraid,’ in my experience most Doctors didn’t seem to get close to realising the significance of an injury to a sports person. He said it almost with a hint of joviality as if I would be missing my weekly game with a few mates.’
‘I could play, I could play it would just hurt a lot that’s all.’
‘I’m here to tell you that it is not medically possible to play golf with that wrist the way it is, unless you were thinking of playing one-handed.’
‘Just give me something for the pain and I’ll make my own decisions thank you very much.’
‘It’s not just a matter of pain tolerance. The wrist is not physically capable of making the movements it normally would. Plus by playing you’d be risking severe long term damage, as it is you’ll be out of action for a few months.’
‘You don’t seem to understand that if I don’t play tomorrow, then I won’t be doing anything significant next year anyway so I may as well risk the long term damage.’
‘We’re getting away from the point that is you can’t play golf with a wrist like that. Of course I can’t physically stop you from playing but it’s my job to tell you that you can’t play.’
‘All right Doc, we’ve heard enough. Can you leave us alone now?’ Sunny was also a little wound up by the Doctors attitude and tone of voice.
‘Certainly Miss, I’ll be around for the rest of the night. The nurses will know where to find me,’ he left us two in the room, without a clue of the impact of the news he had given.
‘I know his manner isn’t helping but the words he was saying are right,’ Sunny spoke with a respectful air of condolence.
‘It’s only pain.’
Sunny made a point of looking me in the eye, crouching down and looking up at me in my seated position. ‘Look I am so sorry, I know how much this means to you but this is not one of these episodes in your life that a legendary tough guy image can be forged. You simply can’t play.’
I couldn’t muster a verbal response. Just sat on the uncomfortable hospital chair pondering what had happened to me.
‘You just can’t play.’
‘This is normally the point where one of us comes up with some inspirational quote of positive thinking defiance. I’m a little out of ideas right now.’
‘All right then let’s see. How about: “what doesn’t destroy you makes you stronger”.’
‘That one comes to the rescue a lot. That’s the one that someone says when they can’t think of anything positive about the situation they’re in.’
‘All right then here’s another one for you. “Shit happens”. I sure know that.’
‘It most certainly does. Okay let’s get this thing in plaster and get out of here.’
‘I’ll get a nurse.’
‘Thanks for talking to me, I needed an antidote to the irrationality poison and you didn’t it considerately.’
‘Really? Shit happens was considerate?’
‘Maybe I’m just comparing you favourably to the Muppet who was talking before you.’
‘That makes more sense. Besides this whole thing is my fault anyway.’
‘Not even near being true, don’t you dare blame yourself. This whole thing was those two guys fault and nobody else’s. All right maybe I’m not totally absolved of blame, but you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. The only thing that you did was look good and you can’t help that.’
‘I’ll go get that nurse.’
The rest of that tour school event I watched wearing a plaster cast. I actually did seriously consider playing the fourth round one handed. From times spent messing around on the practice ground over the years I knew I could hit the ball half way decent and if I could get it round in about 80 I’d qualify for the final stage and get myself a tour card for the second tier tour. Then the absurdity of those thoughts hit me. One handed I’d struggle to beat a 24 handicapper around an average course. This course was long and reasonably tough and had some serious carries to make, any average 24 handicapper would be delighted to beat 100 around there let alone 80.
Wendell qualified for the final stage, but needed to make up some ground on the last two days to make it onto the big tour. He played well over the last two days but not quite well enough to become a main tour player. However he had put his foot firmly on the next rung and his finishing position meant that he might be eligible to play in some of the less prestigious main tour events.
I watched those last three days in an absolute daze. We were in the same state as Disneyland and I felt like was in it. For hours I sat by the eighteenth green, staring blankly across not taking any notice of the play on there. Other times I would stare at the scoreboard for just as long, my name was now missing as if I no longer existed. I thought of the guy who’d end up getting that last spot on the tour, he’d probably never know how much he had a guy and a bar stool to thank for changing his life. I noticed on the last day a few agents were trying to attract new clientele. One lady was not with one of the big organisations and I had to laugh at all the ego’s walking past her and not giving her a second look or the courtesy to listen to what she had to say. Most of these guys had played one good tournament to get their tour card and all of a sudden they were holding out for IMG. I got talking to her and she told me she was just starting out in the business in partnership with her husband. Most impressively she recognised my name as the guy who lied in third after three rounds and had to pull out injured. With a personal touch like that she will make a good agent, which is not necessarily to say she will ever be classed within the business as a successful one. I told her that if I ever got in the situation where I wanted an agent and could afford her then I’d think of her.
In most ways this was the worst tournament for things to go wrong in. You had to wait a year to put it right. A hard school indeed.
How fickle a sporting a life could be. Even though a bad injury had happened to a good friend earlier that year, I still hadn’t considered it as something that could happen to me. The irony of me getting injured in a bar at night was not lost on me. Some people can go out most nights for years and get completely smashed out of their head and never get hurt. As Sunny said, shit happens. Couldn’t make my mind up whether this failure not being my fault was better than the last one. If I hadn’t played well enough, then I could have practiced more, practiced better, prepared better, changed my game, got fitter, anything. This freak result left me wondering whether there was some sort of destiny I was fighting against. Only time would tell.
For once I didn’t take issue with them when someone said to me ‘bad luck’. Just not being able to play golf for two or three months would be torture in itself on top of the cruel timing.
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