She was the girl of his dreams: lovely as an 8 iron with a wee fade that lands soft as eider down on the green, nestling 6 inches from the pin; strong as a downhill drive that rides a stiff wind to the Promised Land; sweet as a curling 40 foot birdie putt that dies beautifully in the bottom of the hole; rugged as a 4 iron out of the deep rough that ploughs through the gorse, hops over the fringe and rolls courageously straight at the flag, steady as she goes; brazen as a knockdown 5 iron smacked through a gale that checks up just below the hole; rare and exquisite as a 1 iron that flies straight and true, finding the green of a par 5 in 2; spectacular as an eagle chip that donuts round and round the rim, before sliding in and plopping in the cup with a pop.
James Aluicious Thoroughgood was the most fevered devotee of the cruelest game. Despite this, he was not a bad fellow. In fact, to call him not a bad fellow is rather understating the case, for James was universally admired liked his industrious spirit, the dry sly sweet sense of humor, and the steadfastness of his unwavering friendship. If a person was in any sort of pickle or jam, James Thoroughgood could be counted upon to aid and abet in the resolving of said jammy pickle quickly, and always with the utmost discretion. No one was quite sure where he got his money, but he always seemed to have quite a bit of it, and never seemed to work for any of it, and never under any circumstances mentioned it. Some said it was an inheritance, although he never mentioned any family, and when pressed would only say that his family was indisposed and that he could not comment on it any further for legal reasons. Some said he made his money on the market and that he had invested in every one of the top 10 internet companies on their respective ground floors, gotten out at exactly the right moment, and was in fact the fourth wealthiest man in the country. Still others speculated that he was an international jewel thief, because from time to time James Aluicious Thoroughgood would just disappear for a week, and then pop back up as if nothing were amiss. Regardless, he was and continues to be one of the finest of fellows with whom to traipse around the countryside as one moans and curses the cruel gods of golf.
No one could accuse James Thoroughgood of being handsome. He was just too plain and ordinary looking to be handsome. But James didn’t seem to need to be handsome. In fact his very averageness was one of his greatest weapons. He was the sort of person who sneaks up on you. You don’t ever quite realize how fond you are of the fellow until you don’t see him for awhile. His gentle, stinging humor, the spring in his eye and the sparkle in his step, his jaunty yet sensitive demeanor, all were sorely missed at the Club when James Aluicious Thoroughgood was not around. And since he played every day, rain or shine over the years, he eventually played with every Member. You knew when James Aluicious Thoroughgood joined you for a round, it would be more fun than if he had not.
But by far the thing most impressive about James Thoroughgood was that with absolutely no discernible athletic ability, he had made himself into a breathtaking golfer. And he did this by playing every day for 5 years, from sunup to sundown, three, sometimes four rounds a day, with anyone who would trudge, grind, or hack it around with him.
When he first appeared he was hopeless. Beyond hopeless. The hopeless were brilliant next to him. His worst round took him 180 strokes to do the 18, a personal record he tied many times. But even this score is rather deceptive, because he only allowed himself 10 shots a hole, after which he would courteously pick his ball up, then tend pin for everyone else’s, giving kudos or condolences, as appropriate. He never tossed a club. Never flailed in dismay. Never uttered a curse. He would simply shake his head and smile, chuckle, then wistfully proclaim, “My goodness, what a bad golfer I am.” He was originally assessed a 45 handicap, and remained there for four and a half years.
He had the ugliest swing ever seen. I’ve witnessed grown men avert their eyes, and women reel back in horror when first subjected to the theater of the grotesque that was the Thoroughgood swing. He started from a severely crouched position which looked more suited to beginning a seizure than to striking a golf ball. He would twitch the club 13 times, always 13 times, like a man preparing to have a stroke. Then he would bring the club back slowly, slowly, painfully slowly, until it was all the way back behind his head. After pausing like a broken metronome at the top of his swing, he would twist his torso forward with a violent spasm which looked like it would dislodge his spinal column, and dislocate a vertebrae or two. His head would whiplash forward like a test track dummy without a seat belt hitting a brick wall at 30 miles an hour. The head of the club looked like it had a will of its own, and wanted desperately to fly away, James trying to hang on for dear life, as he struggled to stay on his feet, often not succeeding. His chip shots he attacked like a manic depressive woodchopper trying to fill a rush order, with a severe downward motion which somehow he eventually learned to convert into a high lofted pillow of a shot that touched down ever so gently in or near the hole. Watching him putt was an exercise in restraint, as one had to summon up all one’s powers of will to stop the riptide of laughter that was struggling to burst out. He scrunched all the way over the ball, as far down as he could get, like an aged hunchback with advanced osteoparosis. He would stare at the ball, then at the hole, then at the ball, then at the hole, back and forth like he was watching a tennis match between two fierce rivals going at it hammer and tong, before finally jabbing at the ball as if it were a bull and he was a matador piercing it with his picador putter. Early in his golfing career, he would often get on the green then putt his way right back off again. I personally witnessed him 8-putt many a hole.
People were always giving him swing tips. Keep the head still. Turn the hands over. Lead with the left. Keep the right side strong. Loosen the grip, tighten the stance, bend the knees and keep the left arm straight. Pretend you’re sitting on a stool. Be the ball, be the club, be the hole. He would always nod his head thoughtfully and gratefully, as if he had been given a key to understanding the great secret of the universe. Then he would go ahead and hit it exactly like he always hit it. And eventually he got so good, everyone stopped giving him advice, and more than a few of the adventurous and desperate Members actually started copying his unorthodox technique.
Early in his career James Aluicious Thoroughgood was most renowned for his unerring ability to hit trees. If there was a tree on a hole (and at the Club that was every hole but the short yet dastardly par 3 10th, with the pond on the left), he would hit it. Sometimes a branch, sometimes a leaf, but more often than not a huge clean hollow knock of a titanium covered spheroid hitting square into the woody meat of a tree. And you never knew which way they would carom or ricochet, so you had to be on your toes anywhere within a hundred yard radius of James Aluicious Thoroughgood hitting a golf ball. In fact he once hit a cracking drive that flew off at a 90 degree angle from the tee box, hit a large oak, and caromed straight back at him, striking him sharply between the eyes, and plopping him down at his feet next to the tee, leaving a dimpled welt of a Titleist imprinted on his forehead. From that point forward, he took to yelling “Fore” before striking the ball rather than waiting for the inevitable frantic shriek afterwards.
By the way, lest you think he made out any better on the short but horrid par 3 10th, it should be noted that James Aluicious Thoroughgood substituted water for wood on this hole, and for 4 1/2 years never made it past this hole without drowning at least 1 ball in the pond, and most times many more than that. His record was 10, which he had achieved more times than he cared to count, because of course he never allowed himself more than 10 strokes on a hole. It was really quite a spectacle, watching a man calmly pull out 10 balls in a row and smash them, one after another, into their watery grave. It was almost inhuman how calm the man was. And yet, he did it with such pleasure that you couldn’t help but love the lug.
James Aluicious Thoroughgood was, before he became an expert golfer, that most dangerous of duffers, for he hit the ball very hard, and hadn’t the vaguest clue where his ball was going. The fact that the big plate glass window of the clubhouse through which one can watch the poor souls slogging home on the vast and insidious par 5 18th is now unbreakable plexiglass is directly attributable to James Aluicious Thoroughood. Even though the clubhouse window is set a good 20 yards behind and 20 yards above the green, and had stood like an unpenetrated virgin for over 75 years, James Aluicious Thoroughgood breached her five times in 6 weeks, each time replete with a spectacular crash, glass shattering like an action movie, innocent bystanders scattering for cover. Of course he always apologized with a fervor beyond profuse, arranged and paid for a new window to be installed immediately. But after the fifth shattering, he begged the Committee to allow him to supervise and pay for the plexiglass window, which was apparently strong enough to withstand a shot from a high powered rifle. While no one has ever tested whether this is an accurate claim, I will attest to the fact that a very well struck golf ball will bounce off it, and sometimes drain back down towards the hole, often leaving a very makable putt indeed. In fact it was often joked that James Thoroughgood, when he became an expert, would intentionally bounce a ball off the window when he had a good stiff wind behind him.
So it was that James Aluicious Thoroughgood destiny found him. Or he found his destiny. One fateful day, with a brisk spring wind behind him on the 18th, he caromed his 2nd shot off the plexiglass window. It trickled slowly, slowly, ever slowly towards the hole, inching closer and closer, as the startled on-lookers in the Club watched with amazement, many Members smiling knowingly to themselves. Agonizingly, miraculously, the little white ball curved lazily down the green, and straight into the hole, for the only double eagle in Club history, and the course record of 65. Of course he had no idea the ball was in the hole. After looking quizzically for his ball on the green, he was surprised when he was accorded a standing ovation by the Members. Only then did it dawned on him where his ball must be. He smiled sweetly, walked slowly to the flag, savoring the moment. He bent down, picked his ball out the hole, turned to the Members, and tipped his head ever so slightly in acknowledgement.
He didn’t know it at the time, but for James Aluicious Thoroughgood, this was the beginning of the rest of his life. This, the greatest moment of his golfing life, would be the cause of the most fortuitous good fortune I have ever seen in all my odd years of studying the cruelest game.
For unbenkownst to James Aluicious Thoroughgood, among the diners who rose and applauded him that day was a visitor by the name of Virginia Merriweather Tucker. She was the guest of Bradley Peavey, a lugubrious loathsome toad full of bad intent, and a Member only because his father and father’s father and father’s father’s father had been. He was in fact the latest in a long line of lugubrious loathsome toady Peaveys, and Ms. Tucker was only there with him because he had intimated in no uncertain terms that he was interested in buying one of her paintings. She suspected the intimation was the hottest of air, and that the only thing theToady Peavy wanted to do with her paintings was perhaps have relations of a non-platonic nature with her on one of them.
She was, of course, right.
Virgnia Merriweather Tucker was a wonderful painter. I’m sure you have seen her most famous painting: “The Bogey of Pagliacci.” The tragic clown stands over a missed putt, hands raised to the heaven, sorrow pouring from his soul, tears streaming down his greasepaint stained face. At this point she had not yet created her heart wrenching masterpiece. If you can guess who was the inspiration for this haunting work, then pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on being smarter than the average bear.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. At this moment, when James Aluicious Thoroughgood, having just executed the only double eagle in the history of the Club, just having broken the 75 year old club record, culminating his 5 years quest to slay the dragon, nodded his head ever so slightly to the adoring crowd with more charm and grace then she had ever seen exhibited by a man, Virginia Merriweather Tucker fell hopelssly, madly, passionately, wildly, head over heels in love with James Aluicious Throughgood.
A moment should be taken here to remind you, gentle reader, that Virginia Merriweather Tucker is everything a person could seek in a mate. Vivacious, tasteful, funny, big-brained, firm-bodied, and a face that has been known on more than 1 occasion to suck the breath right out of man and steal from him the power to speak in coherent sentences.
On this crazy, fateful, life-will-never-be-the-same-again day, her hair was curling softly past her shoulders. She was wearing not a trace of make-up. Never did. Her big round eyes were full of fire. Always were. She was wearing a soft, kelly green cashmere sweater. A string of tiny pearls delicately caressed her neck, which is just what Bradley Peavy was imagining doing. Such was her starstruck infatuation with the new love of her life, this dashingly ordinary golfing god, this James Aluicious Thoroughgood, that she didn’t even feel Peavy’s lascivious stare.
Peavy was just beginning to toadily tell her what a stunner she was and suggest they go back to her place and see at her etchings, if you know what I mean, when she turned abruptly and said, “Who is that man?” like she was Anne Margaret in “Viva Las Vegas”. Bradley Peavy knew in that instant that he was howling at the wrong moon here, and immediately lost all interest in Virginia Merriweather Tucker. “Thoroughgood”, he muttered, moments before making a series of fumbling half-hearted excuses, and leaving the scene like a man with no conscience and a lot to lose fleeing a hit and run. She did not notice, floated on gossimer wings which waved her towards the 18th green. She arrived there just as he was leaving, having tended the pin for his fellow sufferers, all the while being heaped with adoration as befits a mighty knight who has just slain the Jabberwock, and come back to town with its bloody head in tow to show everyone. Little did he know it, but his damsel was only moments away.
There was quite a little crowd gathered already, listening to Andrew Kennedy-Carnagie, (who likes nothing more than to display his astonishing memory, extraordinary vocabulary, and verbal dexterity) catalogue the string of massive faded drives bent around dog legs, perfectly driven 3 irons stopping inches short of pins, and a triple breaking snaking 60 footer trembling on lip before plunging into hole.
James Aluicious Thoroughgood, the man himself, the hero of the day, smiled nicely and shook his head, as if not able to believe his own luck. Just then the afternoon sun, all peaches and roses, shone through a hole in a cloud, bathing him in a golden holy halo. This was the moment her eyes first locked with his.
And that, as they say, was that.
She walked straight towards him, the crowd parting, Red Sea to her Moses. Those present (and the list of people grows every year, as with every significant historical event) swear they heard a chorus of birds singing like angels, or angels singing like birds, depending upon who’s doing the telling. Be that as it may, meet their eyes did, locking like the jaw of a bulldog on a leg of bull.
“Hello,” said James Aluicious Thoroughgood. “Hello” said Virginia Merriweather Tucker right back. “Would you like to join me?” he asked. “I would love to,” she answered. And join they did, as arm in arm they walked from the Club, smiling the same smile. He put his clubs into her trunk, got into her car, and together they drove away. Much was made of the fact that he left in his golf spikes.
As tongues wagged (as tongues will), James Aluicious Thoroughgood was unseen for a week. A week quickly became 10 days, and 10 days all too soon become 3 weeks. And still no sign of James Thoroughgood. In 5 years, he had never missed more than a week. Men often criticize women for being shameless vehicles of idle gossip, but in my years and years of talking and listening to men, I can state unequivocally that men put women to shame in the fine art of sticking their big noses in other people’s business. Theories flew off the walls of the Club: Art Vanderlay heard James had been arrested for insider trading, given a new identity by the FBI and relocated in the Federal Protection Program; Clifton Cornelius Chinois heard Virginia had lured him off to an island in the Caribbean, taken all his money, then drowned him and made it look like a scuba accident; Charlton Evergreen Gascoine heard she was actually a man and they had gone to Denmark so she could get an operation, he had joined the European Tour and had finished third in the Rotterdam Invitational.
Unfortunately, the facts were not nearly as interesting as the fiction. 3 weeks to the day after James Aluicious Thoroughgood and Virginia Merriweather Tucker walked off into the sunset, they re-appeared in the Clubhouse. No one saw them walk in. They just appeared, at 7:00 AM, sitting at a table, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes as if they had both just realized what a wonderful, goofy, crazy, madcap, carefree, place the world is. And they weren’t like those horrid lovers who grind it right up your nose: how happy they are, how in love they are, how great the world could be for you too, if only you could find someone to love you, which of course you probably never will. No, when Eloise, our crusty but ill-tempered waitress, came to take their orders, they only wanted to know about Bootsy, Eloise’s massively obese tabby. The tabby was much better, she informed them, turns out it wasn’t monstrously fat, but in fact had a tumor the size of a softball inside her, which in a cat is, needless to say, quite large, but it had been surgically removed and Bootsy looked like he’s had canine liposuction.
As Members filtered in, and introductions made, the story came out. They had driven to Wackamannamahackima Falls, checked into the room 13 of the Wackamannamahackima Falls Inn, and stayed there for exactly 2 weeks and 6 days. Then they had gotten married. And now they were here. The exact nature of what occurred in Room 13 of the Wackamannamahackima Falls Inn remained undivulged, no matter how insistent or fervent Members interrogation became. When they had finished their breakfast, they excused themselves politely, and made their way to the first tee. She had a beautiful, brand new set of golf clubs. Never been used. In fact, she had never in her life picked up a golf club. Wasn’t even entirely sure what golf was when James Aluicious Thoroughgood drove his ball down the fairway of her heart. Turns out that during that 2 weeks and 6 days in the Wackamannamahackima Falls Inn, they mostly talked golf. He waxed burned and shined on his theories of breath, center, the earth, the grass, the wind, and the water, and how a state of euphoric ecstacy experienced by certain Zen Masters in the Tibetan mountains during intense meditation, and Carmelized Nuns in the Outer Upanishad Islands, could be replicated by the humble golfer whacking a tiny white ball with a stick. I suspect they had also done the things men and women do that make all the other things they do meaningless, although I was never able to substantiate this suspicion. But again I am getting ahead of myself.
On this fine spring morning, James Aluicious Tucker-Thoroughgood, and Virginia Merriweather Throughgood-Tucker (for this is how they changed their names when they wed) strode lovingly onto the 1st tee on the links of love. He offered her the honor of striking first. She gave the honor right back to him, and he took it. He teed up, gave his loving wife a sweet peck on the lips, stepped to the ball and with that horror of a swing, ripped a hellacious drive which screamed 297 yards straight down the fairway, drawing ever so slightly with topspin so it benifited from a maximum roll. Those Members watching nodded their head knowingly, and waited expectantly as the new Mrs. Thoroughgood-Tucker teed hers up, gave her loving husband a sweet peck on the lips, and with the exact same travesty of a swing, dribbled the ball 6 inches. She turned to him, said, “My goodness, what a bad golfer I am.” Then she burst out laughing. Then he burst out laughing. Then they stood there laughed with each other. And then she stepped up and using the grotesque Thoroughgood swing, hit the ball 12 inches. She did this 8 more times, and after the triumph of her 10th shot travelling 24 yards, she merrily picked up her ball, and walked with him up the 1st fairway to his ball, which he swatted with utter alacrity 4 feet from the hole.
The Members sat back to finish their breakfasts, marveling at the miracle of love, speculating on the chances of these 2 perfectly matched people finding each other in a world full of 100s of million people on this golf-infested planet. 3 hours and 56 minutes later a ball bounced on the edge of the green, sweetly caressed the fringe, then rolled to within 22 inches of the hole. Of course, because of the design of the almost inhumanly long 18th, the Members could not see who struck the shot, but they nodded their heads knowingly. This was clearly the work of the King of the Hackers, James Aluicious Thoroughgood, who once described his own swing as resembling a rusted lunch box being opened by a hyper-active twelve year old with St. Vitus dance. When one watched him play golf, one always felt hope, because if this man could master the game, anyone could.
A murmur rose when another ball appeared, rolling delicately yet firmly. Because of the infamously brutish character of the 18th green, and the cruel, almost absurdist pin placement at the very tip of the back corner, the ball had to crawl its way all the way up up up the hellish funnel of Bermuda grass, gravity working against it mightily. It looked like there was only 1 place it wanted to be, and that was snuggled in the bottom of that hole. As it approached, all eyes were drawn to it, curving gracefully with the contours of the green monster. It now dawned on the Members that there was a very good chance this ball was going to hit the first ball which was sitting 22 inches from the hole. It looked like the still ball was the sun and the second a meteor hurtling towards it. But as the inevitable collision was at hand, the shooting star slowed, slower, and finally stopped, kissing the sun, spooning with it 22 inches from the hole. The Members stopped for a moment, unsure what to make of all these celestial shenanagans. Then they collectively remembered whose balls they were watching, nodded and looked at each other knowingly.
Sure enough, James Aluicious Thoroughgood-Tucker and Virginia Merriweather Tucker-Thoroughgood appeared, gliding up the hill, striding into view, riding the green wave of the 18th fairway and surfing up onto the green. They paused a moment when they saw the balls snuggling. They smiled at each other. Removed their putters. Tapped in, he for the eagle, she for the bird. It would have seemed extraordinary, except for the fact that it seemed so normal. They just picked up their balls, put them in their bags, and walked off the 18th green into the rest of their life.
James Aluicious Tucker-Thoroughgood and Virginia Merriweather Thoroughgood-Tucker managed to find time to have twins. 1 boy and 1 girl. Of course they need no introduction. They are the Tucker Twins, Tammy and Tommy, the most famous golfers in the history of America.
James Tucker Thoroughgood also managed to found the Stop World Hunger Through Golf Foundation, which has provided warm nutritious food and quality golf instructions to millions of needy kids all over the world. Virginia Merriweather Thoroughgood-Tucker also became the world’s pre-eminent golf painter, her work displayed everywhere from the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art to Motel 6. He turned 107 this year, and to celebrate he shot a 67, 40 strokes less than his age. She just turned 100, I’m sure you remember all the hoopla. To celebrate she shot a 65, Club record for women, and tying the club record for men. Set, as you now know, on the day they met. Watching them walk up the 18th again, for approximately the billionth time, one sensed that there was after all, something terribly right about the world. As she snaked in her impossible 65 footer for her eagle, she walked straight up to him, and planted a bigger smacker on his lips. He was the man of her dreams, make no mistake about that.