Immortal Dreams Published Novel Part 6 of 10
‘If a dream doesn’t come true, have you been lying to yourself or is it something far worse than that?’
For the next few weeks, with the cast still on, practice was out of the question. So I took the time to work on my aerobic fitness, mainly by the way of long distance running, often on the energy sapping beach. Still determined to do all I could to get the most out of my golfing potential, even though I was temporarily handicapped. Even in January and February the heat in California could make the running particularly uncomfortable. Any time I was really struggling whilst out for a run and felt like stopping, I’d say to myself something along the lines of, ‘if you keep running until you get back to the house then you will win a major championship, come on how much do you really want it?’. Each time I managed to get back to the house without stopping, mind you going up some hills on occasion I couldn’t have gone much slower if I had walked. Endurance has never been one of my natural strengths so it was good to have a sustained period to focus on that.
Darla had been left with nothing to work on. Her world had crashed in around her. A gap had been left in her life so cavernous she couldn’t even begin to contemplate how to fill it. Initially she had met the news with anger, but within a day or two that had turned to severe depression. She sat around the house all day, not at all interested in conversation and was always either drunk, hung-over or both. Sunny and I both made several attempts to engage her in a conversation with the intention of cheering her up, but Darla steered well clear of anything that could have lead to any happy emotions. She started going out at nights, sampling the Los Angeles night life. We went with her the first couple of times, to keep an eye on her, but Darla made it perfectly clear she didn’t want us there if we weren’t going to join in with her levels of debauchery. As we had no desire to visit those sorts of establishments we decided to leave her to it. After a few weeks I decided the softly, softly, egg shell treading approach wasn’t working, so I thought an approach more in the “cruel to be kind” style was worth a try. Sitting in the lounge area one mid afternoon when Darla walked in through the patio doors still wearing her clubbing outfit from the night before.
‘So how are you feeling today? Hung-over? Still drunk? Depressed and feeling sorry for yourself? Or all of the above?’
‘Oh it’s great to come home and have caring sympathetic friends around you,’ Darla slumped into the big comfy chair next to the one I was sitting in.
‘I just want to clarify that I don’t feel sorry for you in an absolute sense.’
‘Don’t get too philosophical on me, you know I’ve had a rough night.’
‘All right then, you want to know why I don’t feel sorry for you even though you were in the French Open final and winning when you suffered a serious knee injury? I don’t feel that sorry for you because you were in the French Open Final, you got extremely close to fulfilling your dream, and that is a damn sight closer than the vast, vast majority of people get. You’re easily a millionaire, got a fantastic beach house on the Californian coast and have already lived an exciting life. I can definitely think of people I feel a lot sorrier for. People with terminal diseases, people who get abused, people suffering from drought and famine.’
‘The fate of other people can console you for a few minutes, until you realise you are still stuck with your own life and your own problems. If you’ve finished preaching for now I’m going to have a bath. I hope something this bad never happens to you Jack, but if it does I’d love to see if you handle it any better than I am.’
‘I promise you honey, I’m just trying to help. Sunny and I just want to help and be there for you but you’re not making it easy for us.’
‘Oh I’m sorry if staying in my luxury house whilst I’m feeling a little down is awkward for you. By the way I’m having a big party here tonight, it will be an all nighter, and you’re invited,’ as Darla headed for the bath room Sunny came out of it. ‘Hey Sunny I was just saying that there’s a party here tonight and you can come if you want. I’ve somewhat been taking a few for the team lately, so they’ll be plenty of guys here, you’ll be able to take your pick.’
‘I think I’ll leave you to it.’
At first we were slightly taken aback by Darla’s vulgarity, but it didn’t really surprise us given her recent behaviour.
Sunny and I decided to spend that night in the motor home, wishing to stay well away from this new crowd of acquaintances Darla had made. However we did keep parked near to the house so we could keep and eye on proceedings. The two of us played cards for most of the night, whilst watching the people turning up for the party. Luckily the neighbouring houses were about half a mile away on each side, otherwise I’m sure the noise would’ve caused some complaints. The party didn’t seem to get going until about midnight, just before two o’clock curiosity led me to go into the house myself. Thirty or so people attended the party, with roughly an even amount of males and females. Music was blaring from the stereo in the lounge area, a vast array of drinks were laid out on the breakfast bar for anybody to help themselves to, people were dancing, people were chatting –or rather shouting into each others ears- one couple were copulating on the sofa, another in a corner. Amidst this unruly, chaotic sight I couldn’t find Darla. I went to check out her room, walking past alcohol bottles laid out all over the floor as well as some empty glasses. On the way to Darla’s room I checked in the bathroom, another girl was vomiting down the toilet. The door to Darla’s bedroom was closed but the commotion inside didn’t require any great deal of detection to deduce that there were people inside. Indeed it turned out that there were eight people in there, four men and four ladies, one of which was Darla. Each of them were at various stages of undress, some completely so. Two of the men and one of the ladies were in a corner handling a bag of white powder, which no amount of naivety would lead you to think it was sugar. Another of the men was setting up a video camera on a tripod, for a production that Darla looked set to have a main starring role in.
‘Darla, honey what are you doing?’ I couldn’t help sounding like a disappointed parent.
‘Don’t worry buddy, you can join in,’ one of the severely drunk men said.
‘You can shut the hell up, I’m only here to talk to Darla.’
‘Come on Jack , it’ll be fantastic. I’ll put my tennis outfit on for you.’
‘Very classy. Please Darla don’t do this, don’t become that person. That person who had a great life then destroyed themselves.’
‘Destroy myself? It’s called having fun, you should try it some time.’
The rest of the people in the room had had so much of one mind altering substance or another that they weren’t interested in my interaction with Darla. I grabbed her and pulled her out of the room, into the corridor.
‘I know you’re hurting and I know I can’t begin to imagine just how much you’re hurting, but please don’t become somebody I dislike. You are so much better than all this crap. No matter how bad the incidences in your life, what makes you the person you are is how you react. I know you are strong enough to deal with this eventually, and if you keep behaving like this you are going to hate yourself for it one day. I want to help, I really do, but if this is the sort of life you’re going to lead from now on then I’m going to leave you alone and you won’t hear from me again because you and me are not going to get along anymore. Now you can either go back in there and abuse yourself, let yourself be abused and taken advantage of, or we can get these people out of your house and work on getting your life to a place where you want it to be,’ although my words may not have been of great eloquence or wisdom I had great hope and belief that Darla would admit that this was just some self destruction drive that she’d embarked on and that it would come to an end that night.
‘Thanks for coming round, good to know you care. Now don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out,’ my heart dropped and my spirit shattered as Darla turned her back on me and pushed the door open and went back into her room.
‘Who is this guy?’ One of the ladies asked about me as Darla opened the door. ‘Is he coming in or not?’
‘I’m just somebody who used to live here,’ Darla looked at me with a mixture of surprise and disinterest. ‘I’m sorry Darla I just can’t be around you if you’re going to be like this.’
‘I was going to throw you out in the morning anyway. You and that cutie caddy of yours,’ Darla slammed the door in my face.
I would never profess to know anybody, not in the absolute sense of the word. That to me is the height of arrogance, to assume you know somebody. I don’t even claim to completely know myself. As for those jokers who say “I know you better than you know yourself”, that is a frightening combination of arrogance and ignorance. Yet, to be honest, Darla’s reaction to her soul destroying news did surprise me. I fully expected a greatly emotional response, and had she not got depressed that would have been a complete surprise. What I didn’t expect was how Darla threw herself into a life of self abusing hedonism, and the way she became so distant from Sunny and I as well as her old character. Throughout my life there have been people who have played a reasonably prominent role, some over longer periods than others. Most have drifted away at one time or another, some stayed around longer than others, but very few remained friends. Friendly, virtually all of them remained friendly to me, but that’s not the same thing. Chances are even fewer will become lifetime friends. Within a few weeks of meeting her I had thought that Darla would be one of those genuine friends and probably one of those that last a lifetime. We got on great so there was no problem there, but it was that shared passion for one all consuming goal that I thought would keep us together. Now it seemed that goal had been taken away from Darla, only time would tell whether that would render our friendship obsolete.
The next morning Sunny and I collected all of our belongings that were in Darla’s house, in amongst the debris of the effects of the party. It looked like virtually none of the people had left, but none of them were conscious, both our beds had more than one person in them, but most people had just passed out on the floor. We didn’t look in Darla’s room, we didn’t want to be faced with the image that would probably go some way to graphically illustrating what had happened there during the night.
Over the next couple of weeks there was a party at Darla’s house most nights. She had become a Great Gatsby like figure, becoming known for hosting excellent parties, yet most of the people at the parties hadn’t met her prior to entering her house. By way of stark contrast, the reason for these parties was that Darla’s green light had been put out. Sunny’s and my imagination ran wild with exactly what went on at those parties, especially what happened in Darla’s room. It may have been just as well that I wasn’t fit to play golf at that time, because I think I would’ve found focussing my mind completely on my game nearly impossible. Pounding the streets and beaches of Los Angeles served as a good release from the stresses of my worries about Darla. Sunny and I spent the rest of our time just trying to relax and enjoy ourselves without spending too much money. We sat on the beach a lot, paddled in the sea, played chess or cards back in the motor home, we both had the ability to enjoy looking round shops even though we rarely bought anything and we both enjoyed reading, so we got through a few books each in the time I had that plaster cast on. After about a couple of weeks of leaving Darla’s house, I got a phone call in the early hours of the morning that I’d never forget. Number recognition on my phone meant I knew it was Darla. When I answered it, before she said anything I could tell she was crying.
‘Hey Jack its Darla,’ she managed to get out amongst the tears. ‘Please, don’t hang up.’
‘There’s no way that’s going to happen, talk to me honey.’
‘I’m so sorry, I just really need your help right now,’ the sniffles were accompanied by a shortness of breath that was making Darla about as coherent as a poorly tuned radio.
‘We can worry about our apologies later; how can I help you?’
‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t know who else to call, nobody around here cares about me.’
‘I’m delighted you’ve called. Stop apologising and tell me where you are so I can find you and get you sorted out.’
‘I feel so alone here, I didn’t know what else to do.’
From the dull beat in the background I guessed what sort of place Darla might be in. ‘Are you in a nightclub?’
‘Yeah, oh God I’m sorry I should be telling you where I am. It’s that club we went to the first night you and Sunny came out with me, the one we went to last that night.’
‘Are you safe?’
‘Yeah for now, I’m sitting on a toilet with the door locked, really wishing I wasn’t here. There are a few people I want to avoid, but I’ll be all right, they probably won’t even know I’m gone,’ she was still crying but getting more coherent.
‘Okay just stay there we’re on our way round, we’ll be there in ten minutes.’
Sunny walked out of the toilets with her arm around Darla, who was staring down at the floor, shivering intermittently and blood was slowly coming out of her nose and maybe her mouth, it was hard to tell. A young lady looked happy to see Darla, although the state that lady was in, she maybe just looked happy.
‘Hey Darla where did you get to baby? What have you got planned for tonight? I’ll be happy for more of what we did last night,’ she put her hand on Darla’s shoulder and Darla gently pushed it away.
‘I’m sorry, sorry I don’t belong here,’ Darla spoke with a combination of great despondency and shame whilst not looking up at all.
The girl had a look of rejection but was quickly scouring the room for others to spend the night with.
Just before we could get out of the club a gregarious looking man grabbed Darla and kissed her on the neck.
‘Hey baby where’ve you been? Who’s your new friend? She would make a great addition to our group.’
Once again Darla physically brushed away the attention.
‘She’s been busy avoiding people like you, so please leave her alone before somebody gets very badly hurt,’ I said as I got close to them.
‘Two new friends in one night.’
‘No we’re old friends, Darla’s only friends in this place,’ Sunny spoke with a steely resolve which impressed me because I knew how much she disliked dealing with these sorts of guys.
We managed to get out of the club without anymore attention.
‘We’re just parked down the road, let’s get you home.’
‘I’d rather not go home right now. Just for one night I think I really need to be away from that place. I know it’s irrational but I just don’t want to go there tonight,’ the tears had gone away by the time we’d got to the club but as Darla spoke they returned.
‘Hey, don’t worry about being irrational. We’re just going to do whatever you want to do,’ trying to assure Darla that we were completely happy to help was difficult, especially as I didn’t know exactly what kind of state she was in and therefore how much of what we were saying she was taking in.
‘I’m so sorry, I just need to sit down in a quiet place.’
It clearly wasn’t worth telling Darla again to stop apologising. Sunny kept her arm around her until we helped her into the back of the motor home and let her lie down on my bed. Once we were sure Darla’s physical condition wasn’t too dangerous, Sunny drove us out of the noisy, glitzy area we were in, ten minutes or so away to a car park that overlooked the ocean.
‘Are you ready to tell us about what happened tonight?’ I checked with Darla as she sat up in my bed, whilst Sunny climbed into the back to sit with me on her bed.
‘Are your nose and mouth all right?’ Sunny asked.
‘Yeah they’re not too bad. Believe it or not I can remember everything, in actual fact I’m not that drunk tonight. Maybe I need some sort of confessional to make myself feel better.’
‘Confess away, we’ve got all the time in the world.’
‘It started off as just another night of instant, superficial pleasure seeking. I met up with this crowd that over the last week or so I latched on to, or maybe they latched onto me. Anyway after half an hour or so this other guy showed up who I hadn’t seen before, but the rest of the gang obviously knew him. They made quite a fuss of him and he obviously fancied himself as some sort of big shot. After a while we were all following him into the alley outside the club. Once out there he produced this bag of cocaine that was large enough for there to be plenty to go around and lots to spare. I promise you that even throughout these last few weeks I have never taken drugs, apart from alcohol. The other guys in the group kept telling me to try it but they didn’t push me too hard, and still seemed to accept me as part of the group. I guess my alcohol indulgence, offering my house for parties and my performance and willingness to experiment with the sex stuff more than made up for my lack of snorting,’ Darla allowed herself a slight chuckle, I’m sure mostly at her own expense in a way that people do when they’re reliving moments of shame during a time of mental breakdown. ‘But this new guy was obviously very into his drugs and took any refusal of them personally. Before long all the others had some, then after collecting his money he offered it to me. I told him I didn’t want any. To which he came back with some ridiculously corny line about not worrying about the money because he was sure I could pay him in some other way. After I reinforced my desire to not have any he became incensed. He held some out under my nose so I backed away and held up a hand, accidentally the hand knocked the stuff onto the floor. This made him snap completely, he punched me right on the nose and knocked me back and over. As I sat on the cold concrete I quickly realised that none of them gave a shit about me. He said something about me paying for those drugs and walked aggressively towards me, as if he was going to continue the assault in one way or another. Just before he got to me one of the other guys warned him off by reminding him of his parole. His parole! Not at all worried about what might happen to me, this guy only intervened to keep his buddy out of prison. The rest of them went back into the club, leaving me on the ground. As I got myself to my feet my head started to clear, I got flashbacks from the previous couple of weeks or so that weren’t good. I went back into the club and looked around, thoughts of “what am I doing here” went through my head. As I walked towards the bath room a girl came up to me and said, ‘I know you don’t I?’ I didn’t recognise her but assumed she had been in my house at some point, she went on to say, ‘Didn’t you used to be Darla Van Der Wolfe?’. It was one of those surreal moments when it felt like everybody else in the room froze, time stood still around me but the room was revolving. Then I had this loud voice in my head screaming “stop!” I got myself to the bathroom as quick as I could, locked myself in a cubicle and started to cry. For half an hour I didn’t know what to do, then I thought of phoning you guys, it took me another half an hour to pluck up the courage to actually do that,’ Darla spoke as if reciting her activities to herself, by way of checking what had actually happened. She had control of the tears but still sounded ashamed of her exploits. ‘I just really need your help, for a little while at least.’
‘Hey don’t worry about that, we’ll give you all the help you need,’ Sunny had a very good comforting tone of voice when she needed it.
‘Plus we need to get the police onto that guy who hit you,’ I added.
‘No, please don’t do that. I don’t want anything made of that, somehow my recent exploits will get out and I really don’t want the press getting hold of that juicy story. Besides he hit like a girl anyway.’
‘Yeah you’re right. The law should catch up with that guy sooner or later anyway.’
‘Oh my naïve English friend, you do put a little too much faith in the American legal system,’ Sunny said.
‘Optimism, my greatest weakness. Just like I knew Darla would snap out of her life of debauchery before too long.’
‘Did you, I wasn’t too sure myself. That slope felt more slippery than a sloping ice rink to me.’
‘Maybe I was more hoping than expecting you’d snap out of it.’
‘I’m really tired now, I just need to sleep. But I warn you there’ll probably be a serious amount of overbearing apologising tomorrow and for a while to come, plus there’s a definite chance they’ll be some vomiting.’
‘As long as the apologies are directed at us and the vomit not, we can handle that,’ I assured Darla, whilst placing a bucket next to my bed where Darla slept that night, whilst I slept in the passenger seat at the front. Fortunately I’m one of those people you could sleep on the proverbial clothesline.
Darla managed to sleep for almost twelve hours. When she woke up there was some vomiting but nothing extreme and the bucket did its job. Once the nausea went away Darla did feel up to going back to her house.
‘Oh wow I had no idea how much of a mess this place was in,’ Darla did looked genuinely shocked by the state of her house.
Bottle tops, empty bottles, broken bottles, clothes, cushions, upturned chairs, bowls of crunchy snacks – some still in place some knocked over and a few pairs of shoes all presented a cluttered, post chaotic impression upon entering the house.
Darla was still seriously depressed by the latest news on her injury, but at least now she was prepared to cope with it by using the mental toughness she had shown throughout her playing career. I can never truly imagine just how bad she felt, even if it ever happened to me then it would be different because we are all different and those differences tend to show up in extreme circumstances. Another good thing was that Darla was now openly appreciating Sunny and my efforts to cheer her up. With me still in the plaster cast for another week, the three of us decided to have a week where the one and only goal was to have fun. No thoughts about future plans or what we should be doing with our lives, just trying to have one of those weeks that you had when you were a kid off school and you spent every second of everyday doing whatever you wanted. We started with a day trip to Disneyland, where the kid in all of us was released without any holding back, and we finished with a day at a water park with immense water slides. In-between time our activities included, Frisbee on the beach, shopping, cinema trips, ten pin bowling, swimming in the sea, a zoo visit, a couple of DVD film marathon sessions, blowing some loose change on arcade games and one night Anya came round and we played some cards, some trivial pursuits and had our own small karaoke session. For the purpose it was meant to serve the week couldn’t have gone better. Each of us had for one reason or another felt tense and stressed out, and that week was fantastic stress relieving fun. Laughter and smiles abounded and none of us had been doing that for a while. Of course one week wouldn’t make all our lives perfect, but every now and again some short term hedonism was required to fight off and bad vibes life was giving you. Darla had just gone about it the wrong way at first. It was one thing being embarrassed in the morning about your rendition of “Waterloo” by ABBA the previous evening, but quite another to regret the crowd Darla had gotten caught up in and the exploits she took part in.
At the end of that week we got a visit from Jenny and Adam. Jenny’s dedication to her game had been rewarded by establishing herself on the Ladies PGA Tour, nothing spectacular yet but she had made plenty of money and gotten a couple of top ten finishes in two big events. Adam meanwhile had done enough to be out on the main tour for another year without having to go back to tour school. However he still gave off the impression to the rest of us that he was coasting along and not getting near to maximising his potential. When he met Darla he seemed excited, in an embarrassed school boy sort of way.
‘Oh my God.’
‘You can call me Darla.’
‘Yeah Darla Van Der Wolfe, I’ve heard of you, seen you play on TV a few times. I really loved those tight white tops and loose skirts, especially when you combined it with black underwear.’
‘I prefer to focus on the fact I’ve got to a French Open final and been ranked as high as four in the world. However I believe there are plenty of websites dedicated to me that will interest you. I have been known to go a bit wild at times, so there’s a chance that some of the images are genuine.’
Darla was superb at dismissing his attention and we got the rare treat of Adam looking flustered.
Darla’s patio area that backed onto the beach was the perfect place for a quiet chat, just after our week of fun Darla and I had one such chat.
‘The thing I think you should remember is that it wasn’t how good a tennis player you were that made you the person you are, but the striving towards your goals that drove you everyday to try to make yourself better. At least in my eyes, that is what you should be most proud of, not so much the on court achievements but the work you put in. That’s what makes you stand out from the crowd. Even when something happens to you that you can’t control, that doesn’t change the quality of character you showed to achieve your goals one by one.’
‘I know you’re right, my mind just got a little blurred in a fog of vodka, bourbon, beer and wine.’
‘Of course, how could I forget? It’s just so frustrating being so close to achieving everything you’ve ever wanted and not get there, not because you weren’t good enough, but because your knee twisted the wrong way at the wrong time.’
‘Another thing I’d add is that it was a fitting way to go down.’
‘It’s a good job I’m not still in a permanent bad mood, otherwise I’d be jumping down your throat right now.’
‘I had a feeling that would require and explanation. The fact was it was a point that you didn’t really need to win, it wasn’t crucial, but you still ran that ball down, chasing with every last effort, fighting for every point, every shot, every inch, every moment of the battle. If there’s one thing people with think of when they think of you, it is that you never gave up on anything, making you one hell of a tough little bitch on court.’
‘Good explanation. I hope my breakdown episode hasn’t ruined our friendship. There are so few people I like and get on with, I’d hate to lose one of them. Plus I get the feeling I might need your cheering up capabilities several times of the next few years.’
‘Don’t worry about that at all, I’m similarly thin on the ground in terms of friends and I’m not going to get near holding one mistake against you. There is something else I kept meaning to say.’
‘Consider me intrigued.’
‘From what you told me, we can forget all the philosophical garbage and focus on one word that the doctor said, a word that should be setting off images of flashing neon lights in your head. That’s “virtually”, he said ‘virtually no chance of playing top level again’.’
A wonderful smile came across Darla’s face.
‘You’re right he did say that, which to people like you and me should translate into a guarantee that I will play again.’
‘Now you’re back baby.’
‘I don’t think I ever really went away.’
‘Neither do I. Anyway until you get back playing have you thought of what you might do? What about your modelling work? You could still do the photo shoots.’
‘I have thought about it but I don’t think I’ll be doing much of that. I like it as an extra to my playing, but I wouldn’t want to be only doing that. Although I’m not naïve enough to think that they want me in those shoots just because of my tennis ability, the only reason I was in the public eye in the first place was because of my tennis. I wouldn’t want to be somebody who makes a living modelling because I used to play tennis. Besides I’m sure there are plenty of girls out there whose dream it is to be a model, I wouldn’t want to take work off them. Actually I was wondering whether Anya would like any help with the tennis coaching at her centre.’
‘I’m sure she’d love you to help, she’s probably thought of asking but wasn’t too sure if you’d be interested.’
‘It’s not like I’d need paying so I could work on a voluntary basis a few days a week.’
‘She’ll definitely love you now.’
I’m sure at some point almost everybody if not everybody has thoughts on life in general of “what’s the point and why do I bother?” Whilst in these moments or just after them we might refer to them as some sort of breakdown and suggest we lost a grip for a while and had some temporary insanity. I wonder if those moments are actually temporary clear sanity, and the rest of the time we’re just on the edge of insanity. Perhaps the point is that there is no point, so we may as well find one for ourselves.
Anya was indeed ecstatic to have Darla helping out with the coaching and the kids responded really well to having a world class tennis player teaching them. The other good aspect was that Darla found herself enjoying it more than she could have hoped. She worked there three or four days a week and the other days were put aside for her to work on her rehabilitation programme. Not giving up on a Lazarus like comeback, Darla wanted to give herself every chance of playing professionally again.
Meanwhile I’d had my plaster cast taken off and the bones had healed as well as could be expected. The Doctor told me I may have some pain from time to time but that I was free to play golf again, as long as I eased my way back into it. Knowing how much I was chomping at the bit to start playing, Sunny took on the role of moderating the amount and type of practice I did.
‘Dreams can be broken with despairing ease; but they can also be rebuilt with hope filled ease.’
For the first week after the cast came off my practice was purely on the short game. Those touch and finesse shots that always suffer the most when I have a break from the game. Never hit the ball more than thirty yards, the most daring thing I attempted, in terms of testing out the wrist, was to play sand shots. Sand offered more resistance than the regular grass lies but the wrist stood up well. On the day I decided to hit some full shots for the first time, I had a strange nervous feeling. I’d felt nervous standing over a golf shot plenty of times before then and since, but this was a different kind of nerves. My anxiety was two-fold. Firstly I wasn’t sure how the long lay-off would have affected the timing and rhythm of my swing, whilst secondly I couldn’t be sure just how well the wrist would withstand that extra snap and power in the full swing, compared to those touch shots. Knowing there was nothing else to do but bite the bullet and swing the club, I did so under the ever watchful eye of Sunny. I could tell she was feeling anxious as well and that did nothing to calm my nerves. Focussed on the ball, smooth motion, hit through it and struck it as sweetly as I could ever ask, and what’s more it was pain free.
‘Like you’ve never been away.’
‘Like I’ve always said, when you’ve got a Rolls Royce of an engine, it doesn’t need much tuning up.’
Relief, happiness and renewed determination and enthusiasm. Long practice sessions followed, with Sunny still making sure I wasn’t pounding the wrist too much.
Being able to help Darla out had been fantastic, but to be as good as I wanted to be at golf I had to be selfish to some extent. I could never lose sight of the one main goal in my life. It had worked out well that Darla’s depression and my enforced lay-off had coincided, though obviously it would have been a lot better had neither occurred. Focussing on Darla had prevented me from getting too twitchy at not being able to play golf. Now though I had some catching up to do, to get my level of play back up to where it was at the tour school and above that.
I wanted to spend the month of March purely practicing before playing any form of competition, so I decided to stay in California. It meant Sunny and I didn’t have to drive anywhere and we may as well stay near to Darla and Anya. That month of practice was even more intense than that first month I had in America. Once again I found a club to base myself at that had a superb course and practice facilities to match, whilst still being quiet. Wrist ached a bit every now and again but nothing I couldn’t put up with for the rest of my life. Overall I was delighted with how quickly my whole game returned. No doubt all the hours of practice over the years had made it easier to comeback from the eleven week lay off.
The prize money at the top level of golf is, I admit, dizzying and mind boggling. Whether any player deserves that sort of money is one of those philosophical arguments that is difficult to resolve, who deserves money and who doesn’t? One thing I will say is that it is a simple case of supply and demand, that money is being generated and essentially it is the players who generate it. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the amount of prize money available I do get genuinely annoyed when people say something along the lines of ‘£600,000, not bad for four days work’, in reference to somebody winning a tournament. As if this guy has just come in off the street, bought some clubs then taken on the best players in the world, and low and behold beaten them having never played the game before. The hours and hours of practice are made to sound insignificant. All those sacrifices, all those times you really don’t feel like practicing, or going for that run and all the mental strength required to fight off those nagging self doubts. I for one believe golfers earn their money. Especially in a world when any Muppet can become a millionaire by answering a few questions correctly. Even more extreme is the lottery, pure luck dictates who becomes a millionaire. Next time you hear somebody or even yourself complaining about how much sports stars earn, just ask yourself why the complainer isn’t doing it themselves. Whilst an electrician might counter that by saying the sports star couldn’t do their job, I venture to say that many more people are capable of doing the electrician’s job than there are capable of matching those sports performances. Having said all that I do wish all sports stars would acknowledge just how lucky they are, and act accordingly.
After the month of solid practice I was ready to play competitively. We headed back to Florida so I would be playing in the most familiar surroundings. Instead of going straight into mini tours, Sunny thought that we could make some quick money by doing some hustling. From her college days she knew the scene at the local clubs and the sort of places where people were ripe for picking. The suggestion surprised me coming from Sunny, who was normally more methodical in her approach to life. However I soon got to like the idea, especially with the local knowledge that Sunny could provide. Of course there was a risk to it but I knew neither Sunny nor I would get into any serious financial trouble by gambling with money we couldn’t afford to lose. Besides it should be fun.
Now that Darla had settled down and was thoroughly enjoying her time with Anya, I had no worries about leaving California and driving across country. Another reason that Sunny was happy that the cast had come off was that we could once again share driving duties.
During my lay off with injury my determination to succeed at my golf had been clarified even more in my own mind. I’d had a chance to assess my performance since turning professional, and I was happy with how I’d done. Happy but not near satisfied. When I turned professional I didn’t even know if I’d have been good enough to make a dime. My scores as an amateur had rarely been good enough to have made money as a professional. However I’d played a hunch that with excessive and consistent practice on good courses, then my skills would be technically sound enough to improve to the level I required. Most of all I’d never have forgiven myself had I never attempted to play as a professional. There have been setbacks along the way, in the long term though these have served to increase my desire to achieve. So whilst in a sense I’d say “so far so good”, I definitely want to improve. During some of my myriad thought time to myself whilst injured, I had images of myself years from now, sat in a bar, no longer making a living as a professional and telling everybody about the time I shot 69 at the Honda and all about my hole in one. The thought of becoming that guy repulsed me. I desperately wanted to be able to tell stories of the time I had won a major championship, I wouldn’t mind if my stories bored people, I would find my stories impressive and deserving of pride. So as I went to continue my golfing recuperation in Florida, I wanted to make every effort to make sure I became more than just a journeyman professional who made a decent living out of the game.
Our hustling started when Sunny saw a guy go into the professional’s shop at this one course, she knew the guy and that he thought of himself as a good player and liked to play for money. Sunny followed him in, then asked the professional who was the English guy on the practice range. Recognising Sunny from her visits to this club during her College years, the professional took on a familiar as well as friendly tone with Sunny.
‘Hey Sunny good to see you again. How are you doing?’
‘I’m fine thanks.’
‘One English sounding guy came in here to buy a bucket of range balls but that’s the first I’ve seen of him.’
‘He’s obviously got more money than I have, he’s just offered to play me for $500 and from watching him hit a few he’s not much of a player at all.’
‘Did you take him up?’
‘No I couldn’t bring myself to take his money.’
‘Heck I’ll play him,’ the guy Sunny had followed in chirped up as if we had written the script.
‘Don’t let me put you off, he’s still on the range. Watch him hit a few and see what you think.’
The guy went over to the range to try to subtly check out my golf game. For the next part of the plan I had to hit bad shots on purpose, this is not as easy as it sounds. I couldn’t make them completely awful because I had to make it look like I’d be prepared to play for five hundred dollars, whilst poor enough to want the guy to play me. My combination of a fast, un-rhythmical swing, a few pull hook shots, the odd low thinned shot and a couple of duffs did the trick.
‘Hi there my names Chad, I’m a member here. I believe you’re looking for a game.’
‘That would be great. Do you mind playing for money? I enjoy it so much more then. Even if I lose, although I have to warn you I don’t lose very often.’
‘Sure why not, I don’t normally play for money but what the heck. What did you have in mind.’
‘I usually just play for five hundred dollars.’
‘Oh, okay, erm go on then I think I can cover that,’ he faked nerves as he checked his wallet. ‘Yeah what the heck, the wife will never know.’
Hustling was even more fun when you knew that the other person thought they were hustling you.
‘So do you want to play straight match play?’ I checked, trying not to come across as over eager to close the deal.
‘The purest form of golf, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll see you on the tee in fifteen minutes,’ we shook on the deal and I did well to not let a huge smile come across my face.
As he walked to his car there was a priceless moment when he walked past Sunny, winked at her and gave the thumbs up. Sunny managed to produce a slight smile, nod her head and avoid the burst of laughter she felt welling up inside her.
The look on his face after my opening tee shot when I produced my usual smooth swing and sent the ball down the fairway almost three hundred yards out, was wonderful to see. I could tell he was normally one of these talkative guys on the course who liked to annoy people with his upbeat nature, but after three holes of this match he’d realised there was a definite chance he was outclassed and he became church mouse like quiet. I was seven holes ahead after we’d played twelve so I won the match seven up and six to play.
‘You hit the ball on the course a lot better than you did on the range,’ he said as he handed over the five hundred dollars in cash.
‘Oh I didn’t realise you we watching me,’ I couldn’t believe he still wasn’t clued up to the hustle. ‘I was just experimenting, trying to get different ball flights. I’ve paid for a full round so I’m going to carry on, do you want to join me?’
‘No thanks, I think I’ll go to the range and try and work on my swing.’
‘Whatever, no worries. Thanks for the game, very hospitable of you.’
‘Don’t mention it,’ he said through gritted teeth, if he had a cat at home it might well have got kicked that night.
Sunny had split her time between sitting quietly in the bar, practicing on the putting green and reading in the motor home. As we were getting into the motor home we saw lone figure on the driving range.
‘Hey Chad, I here you got overmatched today,’ Sunny called out to him and he looked up to see us both.
Took him a few seconds to quite work out what had happened to him, the look of anger on his face as he realised he had become a hustler who just got hustled was hilarious.
‘You bitch,’ he said in a despairing way.
‘Always the angelic looking ones you need to keep and eye out for,’ Sunny produced a smile and wonderfully cheeky wink and thumbs up.
Our second sting operation was a little more complicated. Again the groundwork was done on the practice ground. We saw a couple of guys practicing together. They were obviously good players, but no more than excellent club amateurs. Sunny and I felt confident we could beat them in a pairs match but we still wanted to make them think it was their idea, so Sunny waited in the car park whilst I went over to them.
‘Hey guys, are you two just about to go out?’
‘Yeah we were thinking about it.’
‘I’ve come over from England and want to get tuned up before I play in some mini tour events.’
‘So you’re a professional from England.’
‘Yeah that’s right.’
‘Have you played on the European Tour?’
‘No I just came over to America to turn professional, going for broke you might say. I was thinking we could have some kind of money match, maybe if I could find a partner we could play a pairs match.’
‘That would depend on how good a partner you found.’
‘It doesn’t matter how good my partner was, I would still fancy my chances against you two.’
‘Even if we played alternate shot.’
‘Yeah, I’d go as far as saying that I’d be prepared to have the next person who walked onto the range as my partner.’
At this point Sunny, who had been waiting at the other end of the range just peeking out from behind a hedge, responded to my signal of taking my sunglasses off and walked onto the range.
‘I’m not so sure,’ one of them wasn’t too keen.
‘Actually I think we’ll take that bet,’ the other said as he saw Sunny then pointed her out to his buddy.
‘Oh yeah I do believe we will,’ the initially unsure one was suddenly confident after seeing Sunny and looked at me with a smug grin.
This was the point where I made sure they thought they were getting what they wanted. I threw my hands onto my head.
‘Oh no, I meant the next guy. You’ve got to let me have a guy,’ I pleaded.
My acting skills weren’t exactly worthy of De Niro but those two were so wrapped up in the moment it didn’t matter.
‘You clearly said person. We’re prepared to take the bet, are you? Or will you go back on it?’
‘Okay, the little lady will do just fine.’
Just a little more acting was required to complete the façade. I walked over to Sunny.
‘Excuse me. Were you about to go out and play?’
‘That was the plan.’
‘The thing is that these two guys are looking for a pairs match and I was wondering whether you’d like to play with me?’
‘Oh, erm okay I guess.’
‘We’re going to play for $400, but don’t worry I’ll cover any losses and we’ll split the winnings.’
‘I’m not going to say no to that. I’m Sunny.’
‘Hi Sunny, I’m Jack, good to meet you. Don’t worry about the match, let’s make sure we have some fun today.’
‘Oh I’m sure we will.’
Another sting operation was set up successfully and although it turned out to be a reasonably close match, Sunny and I never looked like losing and after seventeen holes we were two holes ahead and the $400 was secured. Sunny was never an excessive practiser but her pure love for the game meant that she always kept her hand in, therefore her skills were always sharp.
Whilst the hustling was fun it was also a bit of an effort in terms of the thought process, the role playing involved and finding people who were subconsciously all too willing to allow their pride to empty their wallets. So after our second successful hustle Sunny went about setting up some straight forward money matches for me. From her college days Sunny knew of two players at separate clubs that were known for their confidence that they could beat anybody around their home course. I was very happy with how I was playing so was definitely prepared to put their theory to the test. The first guy was contacted by Sunny through the club professional and a match was set up. He never played for more than $300 and wasn’t going to make an exception for me. Whilst he was a good player and obviously knew the course well, as it happened I played somewhere near my best and won the match comfortably with three holes to spare. Gracious in defeat, he acknowledged that he had lost a few money matches over the years but the mine had been the best performance he had witnessed first hand. No matter how tough, single minded and un-reliant on the opinion of others you are, it’s always a good thing to receive genuine and deserved praise.
At the second club Sunny knew that the guy in question was always hanging around on a Saturday morning, waiting for someone to take him on in a money match. He was a lot more brash and extrovertly confident than the other guy and was more than willing to play for $1000. I could afford to pay the losing bet but it would have been a major setback and virtually cancel out the winnings from the week so far. No matter how high the prize money in a regular professional event, there is definitely a unique feeling of nerves and tension when playing a money match. A $1000 match is effectively for $2000, as that is the difference between winning and losing. No matter how badly you do in a regular professional event you don’t actually lose money to the players that beat you. It becomes especially nerve wracking when it’s still close with a few holes to go, as it was in this match. Standing on the seventeenth tee we were all square. On a tough par three he holed a good eight foot putt for his par, leaving me a four footer to keep the match level. It wasn’t my best stroke and I have to admit there were plenty of negative thoughts and images of it missing, before and during the putt. However it caught the edge of the hole and dropped in, managed to keep my calm exterior, as if the match wasn’t causing me any nerves. No matter how much research is done on feeling nervous or anxious, there isn’t anybody who has a complete understanding of it. Sometimes when a lot is at stake I am serenely calm, without any great effort. Yet there are times when I’m only doing something as trivial as a friendly game of putting on the practice green with Sunny, and all of a sudden I can become racked with nerves. In this particular match my opponent was doing a similarly good job of masking any anxiety he was feeling. Despite that calm appearance, he hit a poor tee shot on the par five eighteenth hole and his reaction made it clear he was indeed feeling the strain. Despite his poor tee shot his ball was in such a position that I still felt I needed to play positively and probably required a birdie to win the match. Just before I went to hit the shot one of those wonderful moments of composed confidence took over me. In these moments everything seems easy and straight forward, as if a good shot is a certainty and it was just a matter of hitting it. When one of these moments occurs then the vast majority of the time it is followed by a good shot and this was one such moment. A smooth, efficient swing meant the ball split the fairway around three hundred yards out. From an area heavily populated by trees he managed to get his ball onto the fairway about thirty yards or so ahead of mine. It was not a long hole for a par five so I could reach the green with a five iron shot. Still in one of those wonderful moments of clarity and confidence I sent a towering shot straight at the flag, landed and spun back a little, finishing around ten feet from the hole. For the first time in the match he looked a little ruffled and snatched at his iron shot a fraction and pulled it into a bunker to the left of the green. Even from this one match I had deduced that this guy is a terrier of a competitor, you would always have to work hard to beat him and he wasn’t going to get near to giving up. So there was no premature celebration in my mind. He definitely appeared to regain his composure before the bunker shot and played it delightfully. As soon as the ball left his club I just had a feeling it was destined for the hole, it landed softly and rolled with an air of inevitability into the hole. Flashback to that play-off for a place in The Open Championship. This time I still had a putt to win. Sunny helped me out as ever with the line of the putt and she was reassuringly confident. Although the wonderful “piece of cake” feeling had gone, it was replaced by a pragmatic confidence in both the required line and speed of the putt and my putting stroke. When I looked up after hitting the putt, the ball still had about a foot to travel and it was one of those sights all golfers look forward to when, on a putt you are certain is straight, you can see some of the hole on both sides of the ball. Never looked anywhere else, an eagle three to win a $1000 match on the eighteenth hole was great fun. He told me that it was the first money match he’d lost on his own course for a couple of years, but that he’d enjoyed the competition and would look out for my name in the future.
In the space of six days I had won $2200 without paying any entry fees. As well as the much needed quick cash, the time had also served to sharpen my competitive instinct, playing for your own money definitely focuses the mind. However I didn’t want to spend my life as a golfing hustler; that was never part of the dream. All of my focus for the first half of the year was on the US Open. I was going to the qualifying stages again and desperately wanted to make more of an impact this time. Everything I did prior to that was geared towards bringing my game to a peak for that Championship. The next stage of the plan was to have a week practicing, before playing in a couple of mini tour events to get myself back into playing professional events again. Coming towards the end of April, the heat in Florida was still bearable, so I played a couple of mini tour events there. It felt a little strange after a few months away, but after the initial few holes I started to feel comfortable and back in the old routine. The first event was a one day event when I showed one or two signs of rustiness, but still played pretty well and finished fourth. Later that week I played in a three day event, scored 65 in the first round to lead by three and followed that up with two rounds of 69 to win by seven. A great feeling to be winning again, in any sport unless you retire immediately after a win, you never know when you’ve had your last win. I’m sure there are several old golfers out there who would tell you they wish they knew at the time that there last win would indeed by their last, then they could’ve enjoyed it a lot more. What’s more in this case it was the perfect finale to my preparations for the US Open. You don’t need to win to be confident, but it always helps.
The US Open venue was to be in North Carolina at a fantastic course called Pinehurst No.2. Most US Open venues are in the North eastern quarter of the country, but this venue was convenient for me as it wasn’t much of a drive, relatively speaking, from Florida. Plus Sunny knew the area and had played the course a couple of times. Due to my qualifying for the final stages of the event last year, I was exempt from the first round of qualifying and went straight into the final qualifying stage. There was a qualifying venue in North Carolina which was where I entered.
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