Sunday, March 17, 2013

“Sometimes God is on your side”

During the summer of 1970, I spent a lot of time playing golf. I had just graduated from Boston College, and was awaiting either a) going on active duty in the US Navy, or b) getting accepted to Officer Candidate School in the US Coast Guard and going there. My mother thought I should get a job at Friendly’s or something but I didn’t want to just start working somewhere only to leave immediately afterward.

So, I used to play a lot of golf. But there were no golf courses near where we lived, in Ridgefield, CT. (There is a nice municipal course there now.) My Dad and I looked all around for a course, and the easiest one for us to deal with was at James Baird State Park, in Pleasant Valley, NY, almost to Poughkeepsie. It was a Robert Trent Jones design, not too difficult, but reasonably well maintained and it was cheap.  I would drive my Dad to the train station in Katonah, NY, and then drive up the Taconic State Parkway to the golf course, usually arriving just as it opened at 7 AM.  This would be ideal; I started right away, and no one was ahead of me, so I never had to wait.  The only bad part was that the heavy overnight dew would make the greens play really slowly.  (I have seen some incredibly negative reviews of this course recently, which, I assume, are attributable to New York's budgetary problems. It was well maintained when I played it.)

So I would do this a few days a week, and while my game improved, it didn’t improve much. I had what amounted to half a set of clubs, and sometimes I just didn’t have the club that was called for. But I didn’t mind, it was still fun.

One morning I got there just as the course opened.  I teed off on the first hole, a short par 4 (345 yards) and hit a decent shot for once. Never warming up was a bad habit. I hit my second close to the flagstick, and managed to sink the putt for a birdie. I had never before even parred the hole. So now, for the second time in my life, I was under par for a round, if it was only for one hole.  The second hole was a modest par 5, 475 yards or so, and I strung together three good shots and made a second birdie.  The third hole was a very short par 3, only a 9-iron, and with the confidence I had from the first two holes I tried to hole it.  I didn’t succeed, but the ball was on the lip.  A tap in birdie and I was three under after three holes.  I had finally figured this damn game out.

The fourth hole was a longer, but still not long, par 5, which I had always played well before, probably because by now I would be warmed up.  I hit my tee shot well, and as I walked to my ball the first sprinkles came down.  By the time I got to the ball, it was a storm of biblical proportions.  I had no rain gear.  I was drenched to the skin in no time. It was freezing.  I stood under a tree for a while, and finally gave up.  I slogged back to the clubhouse, could not get a rain check, and got back to the car.

It was about an hour’s drive to home. I was not a happy golfer – getting rained out of the first (and only) time I was actually playing well.  I had never broken 90 at James Baird, but I was probably going to that day.

I got home and got out of the wet clothes, put on dry ones.  Then the cramps started.

I had abdominal cramps that were quite severe, followed by vomiting, followed by stuff coming out of every orifice simultaneously.  I had an intestinal bug, and I was incredibly, horribly sick.  After a while I started shivering uncontrollably, and all I could to was go back to bed, in between trips to the bathroom.  I continued this way most of the day.

My mother was working part time at a bank over the state line in New York.  She came home to find me in this state, and was obviously very concerned because being sick was something that never happened to me.  I told her the story, and then it occurred to me that if I hadn’t been rained out, I would have been out on the golf course, by myself, when this happened.  I don’t know how I would have worked it out, but it would have been a hell of a mess.  I might have ended up in an ER in Poughkeepsie.

My mother put her hand on my forehead, checking my temperature, which was up, and said, “Sometimes God is on your side”.

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