"I guess we should head over," Teddy said finally, spearing his putter into the bag.
Dan had watched the last pairing launch towering drives down the fairway.
"What kind of steroids are these characters on?" he said.
After his son had failed to make the golf team as a sophomore, Dan started entering him in junior tournaments as soon as school let out. They were all played on private courses and the entry fees were exorbitant. But the summer circuit was the only way for the boy to gain any competitive experience before tryouts again in the fall.
On the first tee, an official sat fanning himself beneath the canopy of the starter's tent.
"Got us a scorcher," Dan said, sliding the cumbersome bag from his shoulder.
But they both turned as an electric cart accelerated down the path towards them. A woman wearing a visor and sunglasses steered with one hand while holding a cell phone with the other. From her getup, Dan guessed a doctor's wife who'd probably come straight from her course-side McMansion. She parked in the shade of a sprawling live oak while a kid Teddy's age jumped from the cart and commenced a regimen of stretching exercises.
"Friendly," Dan muttered.
Shortly afterward, the third boy in their pairing clattered down the concrete path in his spikes. He possessed what Dan recognized as the perfect physique for golf: Popeye forearms and the stumpy legs of an antique piano. His father nodded perfunctorily.
"Even friendlier." Dan said under his breath.
Teddy went to greet his playing partners. And true to form, Dan noticed, his son was the only one to remove his glove to shake hands.
"Why are you subjecting yourself to this?" his wife had said to him once after he'd described how almost comically condescending the country club set could be. "Better question: Why are you subjecting Teddy to it?"
"The boy lives a sheltered life, Sarah."
"He's not completely oblivious, Dan. He doesn't have to play golf with Donald Trump to know there are unpleasant people in the world."
However, it was something else he'd said that had particularly rankled her. And that was about the irony of the sons of the affluent receiving golf scholarships to the Ivy League. He attributed her reaction to Teddy being a junior this fall and never volunteering the subject of college anymore. At the very least, they'd taken for granted his applying to the state university. Now, however, it appeared they'd assumed too much.
When the threesome in front of them finished their approach shots to the green, the tournament official leaned forward in his folding chair.
"You may play away, gentlemen."
Dan hurried back from the water cooler.
"Stay hydrated," he said, holding the paper cup out to his son.
But Teddy was pressing his finger to his lips, and Dan turned to see the mesomorph staring petulantly back at him. He'd had to come out of his stance.
Only the mortified look on his son's face prevented Dan from saying something. He'd come across more spoiled brats out here than he could shake one of their four hundred dollar drivers at.
Not surprisingly, the kid's drive split the fairway and seemed to roll forever. He then flipped his glove to his father who dutifully inflated the damp fingers with his warm breath.
As Teddy stepped up between the tee markers, Dan experienced the familiar constriction in his chest. He was always a nervous wreck as caddy.
Although skying his first drive of the day, his son managed to stay out of the rough.
"You didn't try to kill it," Dan said, already half out of breath just catching up with him in the fairway. "That's why you're right down the middle."
Still, he could appreciate the slump of his son's shoulders as his playing partners continued another hundred paces ahead of him.
"My guess is the old man's a VP at Halliburton," Dan said. "And the gal probably thinks Cheney gets a bad rap."
Teddy looked over at him. "You're a strange caddy, Dad."
"Got to keep my man loose."
When they got to the ball, Dan wiped his face with the towel. It had to be ninety-five and it wasn't even noon.
"Think it's enough?" Teddy said, taking the four iron his father held out to him.
The other two boys stood on opposite sides of the fairway, gazing complacently back at them.
"Enough to take out the twit on the right," Dan said, flicking the sweat from his chin. "Unless you want to go for--"
"Okay, Dad. I'm absolutely loose."
Dan drew the bag back several paces, the way all the professional caddies did on TV. Then he crossed his fingers behind his back, which wasn't, of course, anything he'd ever seen a caddy do on TV.
Teddy shanked the ball into a lateral water hazard before three putting for a triple bogey. On the grim trek over to the par five, Dan thought out loud about how all the great players never dwelled on the bad shots. His son said nothing.
"What did I tell you about Schrodinger's Cat?" Dan said.
It was his way of reminding the boy that golf was mostly a mental game. But he'd never had much luck getting his son interested in science.
On the fourth tee, while they waited for the group ahead to make their pitch shots, Dan decided to break the ice and introduce himself to the others.
"Your son's off to a great start," he said to the stocky kid's father.
The man nodded, having just taken a sizeable bite of a banana.
"He's hitting his irons like a demon," Dan added.
The guy's cheeks were puffed like a chipmunk's.
"I mean, that last one ... what was it ... a seven iron? It must have spun back ten yards. The college recruiters will be salivating."
He was embarrassing himself now. Had he really just said "salivating?"
The boy's father snapped a handkerchief from his pocket.
"You don't ask what club someone used," he said, patting his mouth. "You should know that as a caddy."
For a moment, the remark didn't register with Dan. He was feeling a little light-headed. Despite his wife's harping, he'd stubbornly kept his cap in the bag.
"If I knew it was an infraction," he said, his scalp prickling, "I wouldn't have ..."
But the boy's father had already sidled over to the ball washer.
Dan looked about as if for someone who'd overheard the exchange and would take his side. There was only the woman sitting in the cart, bobbing her crossed leg. He ventured around the back of the tee box towards her.
"Teddy's dad," he said, smiling crookedly.
"My god, how can you not wear a cap in this sun?" she said but abruptly held her hand up like a traffic cop. Her cell phone was vibrating.
"I need to take this."
Dan stepped back from the cart as if a crevasse had opened at his feet. What was it with these people, he thought. Either they wouldn't talk to you or they couldn't talk to you.
It wasn't until he'd trudged up the long dog-leg seventh hole to the green that he succeeded in settling his nerves. Removing the flag stick, he stepped over to the fringe and conceded to himself that he was probably being a little touchy. So what if the woman wasn't Miss Manners. All she did was answer the damn phone. And the guy more than likely just suffered from low potassium. Sarah was right. What he needed was a teaching Fulbright to France for a year. Maybe being around the people who invented rudeness would thicken his skin a little.
"You okay, Dad?"
The others had retreated from the green and Dan replaced the flag stick. He realized he'd been holding on to it longer than necessary.
"Let me carry the clubs for a while," his son said. "Take a blow."
"'A blow'," Dan said, grinning.
But then, trying to draw the bag up by its padded strap, he lost his balance.
He'd clamped his foot down like a drunk.
"Relax, Teddy. Everything's copacetic."
Only he didn't feel copacetic. He felt his age. He was unquestionably the oldest caddy out here. Sarah would accuse him of overcompensating. Of trying to behave like someone ten years younger because all of the parents of his son's friends were ten years younger.
On the eighth tee, Teddy's topped drive dribbled into the rough, and once again the others waited impatiently in the fairway. Dan knelt beside the bag, pretending to look for something in one of the zippered compartments. He'd have to start pacing himself. The humidity was brutal.
In the meantime, his exasperated son had selected a hybrid. Even before he'd brought the club halfway down in his rotation, Dan could see a slice in the works. But it wasn't until he caught sight of the woman camouflaged by the shadows of the trees that his heart sank. She was standing beside the cart with the cell phone affixed to her ear.
The warning hadn't come from Teddy who stood spellbound with the club frozen in a trophy-like stance. It had come from the woman's son who was suddenly tearing down the fairway towards them.
"You fuck heads!" he shouted, waving his club. "You could have killed her."
Dan staggered to his feet and moved protectively in front of Teddy.
"All right," he said. "Calm down. Your mother's fine. Nobody's hurt."
"You calm down! You're supposed to yell 'Fore.'"
Dan peered over his shoulder at Teddy whose eyes had welled with tears.
"We didn't see her. We were looking right into the sun."
The boy turned and cupped his hand at his forehead.
"How come I can see her then?"
"Look," Dan said. "'We're sorry. Now go back and hit your ball."
The boy was glaring at Teddy. "I didn't hear him say he was sorry."
Teddy cleared his throat. "I'm sorry," he said pathetically, "I should have yelled 'Fore.'"
The boy appeared unexpectedly taken aback. The sheer abjectness of the apology had stunned him.
"Next time shout it," he said, but the rancor had seeped from his voice.
Dan took the club from his son's hands.
"It's all right," he said quietly to him. "It was an accident."
Teddy continued to watch the boy march indignantly back up the fairway.
"Look at the bright side," Dan said and wiped the clod of dirt off the club face. "She probably got disconnected."
But his son was trembling.
"It's not funny, Dad. It could have been really serious."
Dan could see the woman up ahead moving her palms down the sides of her short skirt, preparing to receive her apology.
"Then let's make amends with Miss Palm Springs," he said and rammed the club back into the bag.
They waited in the fairway until the woman's son had hit a high perfect fade that rolled across the green's Bermuda grass to stop within ten feet of the cup.
If they'd been standing closer, Dan didn't doubt that Teddy would have complimented the boy's "awesome" shot. And he would have been utterly sincere which would have reminded Dan anew of the difference between himself and his good-hearted son. The entire time the ball was in the air, he'd tried to psychically will it into the bunker.
Teddy retraced where his own errant shot had ricocheted off the tree. He found the scuffed ball just beyond where the woman was still waiting with her arms crossed defiantly.
Dan took his time deciding on a spot to set the bag down before looking over at her.
"We wanted to apologize," he said finally. "We were a little late with the warning."
"My ears are still ringing," she said peevishly.
Teddy cleared his throat. "It must have been scary," he said.
"That's one way of putting it, young man."
Dan stiffened. It was typical of the moneyed crowd. Try to be polite and they walk all over you.
"You need to move," he said curtly.
The woman looked at him as he imagined she might a gatecrasher at one of her Republican fundraisers.
"The cart," he said. "It's blocking his line of sight."
Curiously she turned to Teddy as if expecting him to come to her defense. But the boy was too embarrassed to risk looking up.
"You'll want to keep it low with those limbs," Dan said, ignoring the woman now. "So kind of play it forward in your stance."
He held the club out which Teddy seized as if it were a lifeline.
"We'll just give her a second here," Dan said as the woman reached under the dash to set the gear in reverse.
When she pressed down on the pedal the cart didn't budge. The right rear tire merely spun against the exposed root of the tree. There was only the scent of burnt rubber and she raised her foot. The next time she pumped the pedal the cart lurched like a bumper car, pitching her against the steering wheel. After a moment she leaned back in the seat and exhaled heavily.
As soon as Dan saw that she wasn't hurt, he winked at Teddy, mouthing the words, "Woman driver."
Afterwards, they watched her cautiously navigate the cart back out to the safety of the concrete path.
Without seeming to consider either his footing or the distance to the flag, Teddy hacked at his ball which miraculously stayed low enough not to catch a limb.
"Shot of the day," Dan said.
Back out in the sunlight he saw that the others hadn't waited for them. They were up on the green putting out. Dan bit his tongue. His son had been mortified enough for one hole. He didn't have to hear his father lecturing his playing partners on the rules of etiquette.
Instead, he called Sarah on his cell.
"You sound out of breath," she said.
"We're headed up the sixteenth."
"Let me guess," she said. "You're both miserable."
"We got stuck with a couple of Bushies and their charming offspring."
He could hear the radio being turned down.
"Dan, why do you persist in submitting the boy to this?"
Teddy came up beside him and quietly eased his wedge from the bag.
"They'll hear you, Dad," he whispered.
"I'm still here, Dan. But you're not making it any easier."
"I just want him to have the chance to compete," he said. "That's all."
There was the hiss of his wife's breath as she composed herself. He knew what was coming.
"I'm not going to have this conversation again, Dan. You and I both know who this is all about and it's not Teddy."
"You're not wearing anything on your head, are you?"
"I'm hanging the phone up, Dan. I'm just talking to myself anyway."
There was only the smug voice of the NPR commentator before the line went dead.
Dan set the clubs down and took the cap out. But it felt too small and he stuffed it back into the bag. He knew that she was right about Teddy, of course. His son possessed no more talent for golf than he had interest in science. And yet Dan continued to fantasize about the boy some day beating the privileged sons of the rich at their own game.
On the seventeenth hole, a par four dogleg right, he stood back and listened to the other father advise his son to fade a three wood.
"Just put it up there by the turn," he said, cramming his yardage book into his back pocket. "Nothing fancy. A couple pars should wrap it up."
Dan took this to mean that the boy was leading the tournament. The past several holes the man had waved down some of the other parents whose sons he knew to be the likely contenders for medalist.
But the boy hit a sharp hook that caromed off the concrete path into the trees.
"Jesus H. Christ," his father said.
"Shit!" the boy said and hurled his driver down the fairway.
His playing partner, who'd dropped out of the competition after several bogies, watched impassively.
"Is that OB over there?" the boy's father said to him. "Should he hit a provisional?"
"I guess it'd be smart," the kid said, teeing up his own ball.
"Right," the man said bitterly. "Like he knows anything about playing it smart."
"Screw you, Dad," his son said.
Dan looked over at Teddy who had the astonished expression of a child watching a Punch and Judy show.
After the other boy's drive, Teddy quickly followed with a low fade that perfectly traced the bend of the dogleg.
Kicking one of the metal markers, the man trotted down from the elevated tee box after his morose son.
"Lucky he breaks a hundred," he said at the boy's back. "But at least he's smart enough to keep his goddamn ball inbounds."
Dan glanced over at Teddy.
"It's all right, Dad," his son said. "It doesn't matter. Really. Let's just finish. Okay?"
Dan looked back down the fairway. The man was walking backwards in front of his son, shouting in his face like a drill sergeant.
"Jesus," Dan said.
But when he bent to pick up the bag, he practically toppled over from its dead weight. Steadying himself, he stood as if awaiting the next wave that would wash him out to sea.
Teddy was holding his own cap out to him.
"You need to put this on," he said. "Your face is really red."
Dan smiled weakly. "If the heat doesn't get me your mother will."
His son hoisted the bag as if it were empty.
"You can have it back on the eighteenth," he said.
Dan didn't protest. He felt that queasy.
"I guess we should help them find it," Teddy said. "He didn't hit a provisional."
"It's called chutzpah."
His son nodded as if it were just another of his father's physics terms.
Ironically, Dan was the first to spot the ball but decided against being the bearer of bad tidings. It was out of bounds. Out by the slightest of margins but out enough for loutish father and son to lose their tournament.
He was reminded of having to look up recently the definition of schadenfreude. He'd come across the word in a tell-all biography of a Nobel Laureate. Apparently, the Prize in physics wasn't enough. And although Teddy had never been a threat for medalist honors, neither, it now appeared, was his playing partner who had just found his ball. But Dan also knew that his son, unlike his vengeful father, would be the last person in the world to gloat over anyone else's misfortune, even that of an arrogant, pampered little prick.
"It's close," Dan heard the boy's father say. "But it looks in."
The man waved Teddy over.
"That look in to you?" he said.
Teddy glanced perfunctorily towards the white stake in the distance.
"Sure," he said.
"Good," the man said.
"Come on, Dad," Teddy whispered anxiously.
But Dan happened to know the rule that applied here. Only a fellow player could assess whether a ball was in bounds.
"My lips are sealed," Dan said. "Because any 'interposition' by the caddy's an automatic two stroke penalty."
Back out in the fairway Teddy waited beside his bag. Dan came up and put his hand on his shoulder. Partly out of affection but mostly to steady himself.
"The rich are different from you and me," he said, smiling at the boy's blameless face. "Well, different from you anyway."
But Teddy turned as his playing partner's ball bounded out of the woods and came to rest in the first cut.
"For one thing," Dan said, "they make their own rules."
His son gazed at him for a moment with a curious intensity. It was a look far more focused than the one he'd given the out of bounds stake. Then he reached down and picked up his ball.
"We're heading in," he called over to the others.
Dan's heart did a little stutter step when he felt Teddy's hand at his elbow.
"Come on, Dad."
From across the fairway the other boy's father shouted something.
"What did he say?" Dan said but his son kept a steady, guiding pressure at the small of his back.
"It doesn't matter, Dad."
They followed the treeline until Teddy steered him over to a bench just off the cart path. He then emptied the water bottle over the towel and draped it around his father's sunburnt neck.
"I'll tell Mom we'll be home early," he said, flipping open the cell phone. "And that you've got your hat on."
Up ahead, the others had reached the green. The man was holding the flag stick as if staking a territorial claim. The woman sat imperiously in the cart, indifferent to the game ever since her son had fallen from contention. It seemed miraculous to Dan (a term he'd banned from his classroom) that his own son shared half his genes and yet was without an envious or vindictive bone in his body. That he should have a connection to such goodness struck him as spookier than the subatomic rules which he taught yet in all honesty knew he would never fully comprehend. He also knew that the best time for him to make a personal resolution was when he was feeling spaced out, and so he promised himself that for the rest of the summer he would heed his wife's advice for a change and stay out of the sun.
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|Author:||Bennett, James Gordon (American educator)|
|Publication:||The Carolina Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2011|
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