7:30 a.m., Sunday, July 19
Rubbing too little sleep from my eyes, I flipped the fax's cover sheet and stared.
Stop the killing!
You have until July 28 or you will regret it.
Golf can be dangerous!
The terse message was a shock but I have to admit, after seven years as a member of the Ladies Professional Golf Tour and almost eighteen months as a teaching pro, I had no quarrel with the last line. Some of these rich yahoos may sport the latest boron graphite shafts with high kick points and modified hosels, but look out for the ubiquitous banana slice!
The cover sheet read:
Look into this, will you? It's the third I've received in the past few months. Probably some nut, but with the Classic in 10 days...? See you at the ferry.
I shook my head. So typical of Peter 'Pitts' Wyndamere, the man who is my best friend, my brother-in-law and, most recently, my boss. The guy waits months to tell me he's got trouble, then faxes his problem to me only hours before he arrives.
I flipped back to the fax. Centred, near the top of the plain white paper was a small globe with an outline of North America visible. BioAction was printed in a semi-circle above and a thick, fat arrow curved along the Canadian-US border. The words below were obviously cut and pasted from various newspapers. Though the letter size and fonts were different, the collage message was clear.
Somebody was threatening Pitts.
Though early morning, the cinder track buzzed with golfers. Tee-off time for the First Annual Sea Blush Charity Pro Am was in 20 minutes. Not enough time to deal with the fax, but enough to check the Witch. Lately, the ol’ gal had been yelping when struck. I yanked the club out of my bag and peered at her stainless steel noggin. Poor thing, she had a lot of nasty nicks.
At the McDonald's Championship, Jennifer Wyatt, my best friend on Tour, had dubbed my club a sorceress. The McDonald's was the first time I used a Callaway Big Bertha driver and the first time I won a Ladies Professional Golf Association event. Jenny's nickname was right on.
I found my Callaway witchy because she had tons of power, but gave it capriciously. The former I learned early in the first round, upping my driving average by five yards to 250. The latter late in the second. The Witch had a mind of her own and, on the eleventh and fourteenth holes, my ball hooked violently, airmailing into stunned galleries.
I blinked back to reality. My touring days were over. All I had left were memories and a teaching job I never wanted. Thank heavens for my new part-time gig. Moonlighting as a coroner with the province of British Columbia restores life to my days. Rubbing a thumb along the club’s ribbed face, I gently placed the Witch, scuffed head up, against the Pro Shop wall.
If British Columbia is a golf bag, and sometimes I think it is, then the new Sea Blush Golf Club in Nanoose, a tiny hamlet on Vancouver Island, is its most important club: the putter. Now some of you mainlanders may argue that the venerable Vancouver Golf Club or even the upstart Arnold Palmer designed course at the Chateau Whistler Resort deserve this accolade.
Interesting thought, but...naah. Maybe the sand wedge, perhaps even the driver, but Sea Blush is the ol' flatstick. It's a 6,208 yard course which works with local topography, slicing through 150 acres of lush hard and softwood forest, and snaking around 8 natural ponds. Of course, being the Head Pro, I may be accused of prejudice.
The pièce de resistance is my Pro Shop. The Hut, as I call it, is a single story miniature version of the 12,000 square foot, two level, window-choked clubhouse which sprawls 200 yards to the west. The Hut's mine. Well, not literally, but who else's moniker is burned into a rough hewn chunk of dogwood nailed above the entrance?
I used to think it odd to see my name, in lights so to speak, on a building. It was embarrassing enough on a golf bag, but now Riley Quinn, Canadian Professional Golf Association Member, is part of the Nanoose landscape. The life's not what I had planned, but I guess it's better than a kick in the head.
The sky was a pale, cloudless blue and though the temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was cool for mid July, all but a couple of wimps were dressed in shorts. Not a breath of wind, A-1 conditions for golf. Groups of twos and fours gathered outside the side door, impatiently waiting for their clubs. Two of my guys were lugging bag after bag through the double doors. The whir and squeak of golf carts punctuated their excited bits of conversation. Most teams wore matching sweaters or shirts. Thank goodness, my group had more sense.
Today, we were playing a shotgun Pro Am: thus, a teaching pro and three amateurs wait at each hole. When the gun sounds at 8:00 a.m., each group plays 18 holes, finishing one hole behind the one on which they started.
My group, the Frequent Flyers, was to tee off from Number 6. I stuffed the fax into the junk drawer pocket of my bag.
Stifling a yawn, I turned.
Thomas Kent, Pitts's son-in-law and minority owner in Sea Blush—thus by definition another boss—was striding towards me. A tightly knit white golf sweater and crisp black shorts draped his thin body.
"We've got, like…fifteen minutes," the young estate lawyer said, running long fingers through his sleek black hair.
Though not attractive, Thomas's angular features, strong jaw and lean body are fascinating. Like the golden sea lions slithering through the Pacific surf, Thomas is quick and fluid.
"Don't know. Juet coming to see us off?"
Thomas stiffened. The ever-present Ray Bans shielded his dark eyes.
"No, uhh...too busy."
I fiddled with my clubs.
Our Assistant Club Manager, Juet Wyndamere, always managed to nip out of the clubhouse when Thomas was playing. Something amiss in newlywed heaven?
"Fine! Just fine."
When I glanced up, I had to grin. Thomas bristled then followed my eyes. Struggling up the path was our new Course Superintendent, David Deugo. Though a course super for years, Dai as he's called, was a neophyte golfer. Why he wanted to play in our foursome was beyond me. Both Thomas and Joel are 4 handicappers.
Dai was battling with one of my old leather bags, filled with rental clubs. I had offered to lend him a smaller one for free, but he refused. Fortunately for him, we were using power carts.
Thomas glanced at me with uplifted eyebrows, made a steering motion with his hands then moved on around to the back of the Hut. Dai stepped beside me and carefully lowered the bag. He rubbed his right shoulder, then yanked off a ball cap and ruffled his black hair. At 5'10", Dai is a whisker taller than I am. But with my busby-like curls, I'll bet we look the same height. Of course, at a slightly soft 195, he's got 50 pounds on me.
I don't know about you, but I look at hair and eyes first. Then, if they make the grade, my eyes will travel further down. I've glanced at Dai a couple of times and made it past his head.
"Man, weighs a ton! Don't know how you carried it." He caught my quick look. His blue eyes widened. "Sorry, didn't mean to insult you. It'd be heavy for anybody."
Looking into his round, weathered face is like looking into the face of my high school counsellor, open, attentive, eyes soft with concern. The guy's awfully nice, but he always says the wrong thing.
"It's heavy, all right. Sure I can't give you a lighter one?"
"No," Dai said, suddenly flashing a wide grin. Much better looking than my counsellor. "Can't play worth crap, but at least I'll look the part."
"Don't know about that," said a deep voice. We turned to find Joel Sanderson, the last of our foursome, strolling toward us.
Joel epitomizes two ridiculous male symbols, the Ken doll and the hyper fit TV aerobic evangelist. The twit is what the gals on the Tour call a 'nice piece'. Deeply tanned, he sported a tight turquoise Cardin shirt. Chosen, I'm sure to match his eyes. He was one of the few players wearing pants. In fact, I've never seen the new owner of the Island's largest car dealership in shorts—some rumour about weak calves.
Never understood it. I'm a shorts person, not skirt and not frigging likely a dress. I live and die in shorts. Can't breathe properly otherwise.
Joel put his hairy arm around my shoulder and squeezed. Almost too hard but not quite. His hair and eyes are so unreal, I've never bothered to looked much lower.
"You're going to have to do a lot more than carry a big bag to impress this lady. Ol' Riley's the best, you know." Joel spoke quickly, sharply hissing the s's and h's.
The creep bugged me. Had I known him better, I would have ripped his arm off. Pitts's partner for many years, Joel had just returned from 20 or so months sojourning in eastern Canada. For Pitts's sake, I was going slowly but one of these days, Mr. Business was going to push his handsome mug and 35 percent ownership in Sea Blush too far.
Patches of red bled through the tan on Dai's cheeks. I deliberately picked Joel's arm off my shoulder.
"Nobody needs to impress me."
Thomas whizzed around the corner in an open golf cart.
He jerked to a stop, leapt out, grabbed my bag, all the while shouting, "Get a move on! We've less than five minutes. Dai, get the other cart…Number 17."
The group waiting at the first tee hooted as we raced by. Thomas slammed the pedal to the floorboards and thrust his thin body forward, urging on the little electric motor. His anxiety made me think of my first time at Qualifying School. Now, there's a place where officials are sticklers for time.
What a misnomer! There's no actual schooling at Q School. Instead, you're in Palm Springs, California, playing golf in the rain against some of the best women in the world. All 200 plus wannabes with the same goal: to play on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour.
It didn't help that I had been a 'dew sweeper', first off with no time to practice. Never got the feel for the putter. The wet weather had dampened my nerve as well as my spirit and I was three-over-par on the front nine. Got back some concentration and gained two strokes on the next four holes. Sitting pretty, I think, at only one over. Then my playing partner jumped in the cart and scooted over to the porta john.
So I'm standing there, on the next tee, waiting. The official beside me starts looking at his watch. We've got 14 minutes to play each hole, but his pained expression threw me into a panic.
I sprinted the 50 yards to the cart to snatch my three wood, just as my partner comes out of the john. A little breathless, still tucking in her golf shirt, she sees my club and says, "I was coming, Riley." I tried to slow my breathing as we raced up to the tee and concentrated hard on that little white sucker, but cold-topped the ball anyway. Missed the cut by two. Another year down the drain.
Of course, today was just a Pro Am, with 54 of the Island's business best doing the fairway shuffle with the local pros. So I was the only female pro…what else was new? There are only a handful in all of Canada. Recently, I read a study which claimed that a million females play golf in Canada and are about half of the new player population. So where are they? Toronto?
We heard a distant crack. The scramble was on!
Roughly, a scramble format works like this: all four players shoot and then the team chooses the best shot and marks its location. The players then take their next shot from that location. The game continues in the same fashion, hole after hole. Each player attempts to putt out and the team continues to putt until a ball drops into the hole.
As the worst player, Dai was up first. I felt for him. We've been practising, but he hadn't even played a full 18 holes. Carefully, he set his stance, then waggled his driver as I had taught him. He took the club head back well but, like most rookies, broke his left wrist early and chopped down. The ball squirted off the tee and trickled about 150 yards to plunk into the little lake on the right. We three remained silent, but a capped-tooth smile split Joel's face.
"Pig!" Dai marched off the tee, studiously avoiding my eyes.
"Don't worry about it, man," said Thomas. "Next time."
Thomas and Joel flipped a loonie to see who teed off second. Joel lost and grudgingly stepped into position. A strong, compact man, he does everything the same way, punching with grace, power and a lot of flourish. No one on the Tour waggles the club quite like Mr. Business.
Joel slammed his drive dead straight and stood posing for an extra second, pretending to watch. I knew he was eyeing our reaction. For Joel, an audience is essential. Dai responded in kind. He loped over and clapped the proud Papa on the back, just what Mr. Business craved.
Thomas stepped into position. No time wasted, no lengthy pre-shot routine. He's wire thin but wire strong, using a high-kick point on his graphite shaft and every ounce of his 165 pounds to control it. His drive rolled a few feet short and to the left of Joel's.
Dai shook his head and whistled softly.
I took a deep breath, but got caught in a yawn. Shaking my shoulders lightly, I looked down toward the hidden flag. Pitts's fax dashed into my thoughts. I have been in a ton of tournaments, seen some right disasters, most commonly due to bad weather. Tournament organizers bust their butts for an entire year for seven days of golf. Everything's organized just so…but no one controls Ma Nature. I had fretted a lot about the next couple of weeks, but had never imagined a glitch like a threat to Pitts.
Who or what was BioAction?
"Hey, Riley! " said Joel. "Going to play or pose?"
I flushed, and quickly nudged the little mystery into a mental holding slot. Using my ball, I shoved an extra-long tee into the firm grass. I rotated my left wrist, a little stiff but no pain. Then, I went through my pre-shot routine and let her rip.
The Witch's extra-large sweet spot is hard to miss. Especially with the classic swing my Dad taught me. On tour, I was quickly dubbed the 'lefty Patty Sheehan'. To be compared with one of the best had been awesome. I was thrilled, my father less so.
"You're Riley Quinn," he had said. "Not Patty's clone."
My Titleist flew past Thomas's ball and bounded yards beyond.
Man, golf's a gas!
To put it simply, golf's a game of par. The goal is to hole the ball with as few strokes as possible. We combined some great shots for a mid-game score of three under. Of course, shooting par's a snap when you can choose between the best of four shots.
Unfortunately, we blew a chance to gain two strokes when we all fell victim to a nasty patch of winter kill. Joel swore.
"What's this, Dai?" he said, slamming the head of his putter into the dead grass. Another expletive. "This green's a joke! You water it with gasoline?"
Thomas and I exchanged glances. Dai pulled himself up to his full height, four inches shy of Joel's, and calmly regarded his antagonist. A small pulse beat in his left temple, but his voice was soft and controlled.
"You know full well the winter was bad. I've worked 14 hours a day since I got here in April, but there's only so much you can do."
I punched Joel in the shoulder and laughed.
"Don't blame Dai or the grass for that putt. The green's the same for everybody. Face it, you blew it, just like the rest of us."
Joel jerked back as though struck, eyes blazing. Thomas and Dai moved beside me. We stood there, with the sun warming our backs. Joel squinted at us, perspiring heavily.
Finally, Thomas tapped the ball in and nodded toward the carts.
By mid-morning, it was getting hot. Thomas and I pulled off our sweaters. As Joel and I headed for the next hole, we were stopped by the Balls Up foursome, led by Doug Carlisle, a local stockbroker.
"Well, if it ain't the effing Flyers," Carlisle said.
Joel's body tensed. Carlisle's partner, a short dude, piped in hurriedly, "He's just joking, guys. How ya all doin'?"
"Ten under!" Joel said, the 't' hissing loudly.
I kicked his shin.
"No kiddin'!” the little guy squeaked. "We're only seven."
Carlisle was speechless. No small feat for the man, nicknamed 'the Mouth'. His jaw worked for a few seconds.
"Ten under. Bull!"
The veins on Joel's forehead bulged.
"That SOB will lie about anything." Carlisle's watery eyes washed across my face. "Go ahead, Riley. Ask him about the soft costs.”
Joel grunted and flew out of the cart.
Startled, I lurched after him.
In seconds, Joel's hands gripped the stockbroker's fleshy throat. Carlisle's partner frantically pushed Joel back while Carlisle clawed for freedom. Suddenly, Thomas was beside me as I yanked on Joel's shoulders. Together, we wrenched the two men apart and then Thomas used his shoulder to butt Joel toward our golf cart. Dai dashed in to help.
Joel shook Thomas free and grinned at Carlisle.
"Don't blame me, sucker. Fool's born every minute."
Carlisle howled. Thomas shoved Joel into the seat, jumped alongside and punched the gas. I leapt into the other cart. Dai dove in and we shot forward. A couple of hundred yards later, both carts jerked to a halt.
"What was that all about?!" Dai and I said in unison.
"Forget it," said Thomas, anxiously looking behind.
Joel grinned, but his veins still pulsed.
"You kidding?" I said. "This idiot attacked one of my mem—"
I stared at Joel.
"Out of the blue, you jump a guy—"
"None of your damn business."
He turned to Thomas.
Their cart leapt forward.
Dai rolled his eyes and I hit the accelerator. Sticking to business, we quietly and efficiently drove and putted through the next few holes and actually reached 10 under. While we waited to play the third hole, I considered what the fisticuffs might have been about. Knowing what slimebuckets Carlisle and Joel were, it had to be juicy. Someone shouted at us that the top score was 10 under. With only a few holes to go, we were tied for first!
The sloping green on Number 3 tricked us for another par and then Thomas blasted a perfect iron shot on the next hole to set up a birdie. Joel let out a whoop. Dai grabbed me for a quick jig. Eleven under.
Number 5, our last hole, was a par five dotted with bunkers and a heavily-treed tee area. We chose Joel's drive and my lay-up on the sloping green. All three men putted. All three balls missed the hole.
I grinned at my teammates. "Now, gentlemen, stand back and weep."
This is the stuff I love, and mourn: being in contention, under the gun, making putts worth $30,000. I stood over the ball and brought myself to focus on its very white dimples. This set-up is what separates golf from other sports: the ball is stationary, taunting and waiting, while the player is completely proactive.
I glanced at the hole and pulled my eyes back. Saw only the ball, now huge and glowing, and stroked. The Titleist flew up the hill, hit the back of the cup and dropped in. Eagle! Thirteen under!
"All right!" Thomas said. "Slam dunk!"
Much hugging and slapping of backs followed.
I didn't want to leave. For an appealing instant I had found my playing zone again, that quiet, intimate space where nothing intrudes…where the ball, the swing and time are one. It's like you're watching, not stressing. You're just doing it and it's no big deal.
Tears stung my eyes. Since the accident, which had forced me to abandon the Tour a couple of seasons ago, I thought I'd never find that zone again. Dai mistook my reaction and gently asked me about my wrist.
His voice shattered the moment. I laughed a little too harshly and wiped my eyes.
"Nothing a little ice won't cure."