Patrick looked out his window as he felt steam rising up his nostrils from his freshly-poured cup of coffee. He saw his neighbor Stanley depositing a couple of garbage sacks on the curb. Then he saw something he couldn’t believe.
Stanley was a brawny, old guy with thick, white hair worn long on top and short around the sides. He often was seen flopping his bangs back onto the top of his head, where he then smoothed them down to make them stay put. To say Stanley was built like a brick shithouse wasn’t quite right, but wasn’t quite wrong. He was large and strong, with thick, stout legs. He looked like he could have played in the NFL.
Patrick, who was 31, couldn’t remember how old Stanley was. He knew Stanley was older than 50 and that he must have lost all his senses, because he was carrying a perfectly good set of golf clubs out to the trash heap. He tossed the clubs, which were in a weathered walker’s bag, carelessly to the curb. The shiny heads of the irons most certainly took some damage on the concrete.
Patrick couldn’t bear what he was watching, so he stepped out his back door and called out to his neighbor.
“Hey, Stan, good morning,” he said has he walked down a narrow pathway that led to Stanley’s property.
“Hey, Pat,” said Stanley, who wasn’t an outgoing sort, but was always friendly enough.
“What’s with throwing out those golf clubs?”
“Don’t need them.”
Patrick was an avid golfer who played to a 12 handicap. He was always buying the latest gadgets and clubs to try to improve his game and he was always looking for deals on used clubs, if he felt it might make his handicap drop to single digits.
“Mind if I have a look?” Patrick said.
“Didn’t know you played golf.”
“Don’t,” Stanley said.
“Giving up on the game, huh? Too tough?”
“Golf is anything but boring for me. How long did you give it a go?”
“I played for 30 years, off and on, since I was a kid. Gave the game up 15 years ago, or so.”
“Those clubs don’t look 15 years old,” Patrick said as he started walking toward them.
“They’re not. They were a gift from my son a few years ago. I guess he thought I would get back into the game. I took them to the range once and that was enough.”
“Couldn’t hit them, eh?” said Patrick. “Some clubs just aren’t right for some people.”
“At first I hit everything a little to the left, but I adjusted my stance and every shot after that was perfect. These new clubs they make these days make it too easy to hit the ball straight. Boring.”
Patrick laughed, because he thought Stanley was joking, but the laughter wasn’t returned, so Patrick’s face turned serious as he said, “Come on, nobody hits it perfect every time.”
Stanley just shrugged and started walking toward Patrick, who was holding the bag of clubs by this time. Stanley reached into one of the pockets on the golf bag and pulled out a golf ball, then he grabbed a 3-iron and walked out into the middle of the street.
He set the ball on the pavement. The ball sat perched on miniscule grains of gravel and it was clear Stanley was about to launch a golf shot down the street. It was a typical neighborhood street, with houses on either side, cars in driveways. It was about the width of an average fairway on a golf course. Patrick wanted to stop him from hitting, thinking this could only result in disaster, but something deep inside kept him quiet, a need to see what Stanley could do.
Stanley’s powerful legs looked light and agile as he stepped in behind the golf ball. His hands took a grip on the club so softly, like it was a musical instrument. The muscles in his forearms rearranged themselves for action, twitching and rolling under the light brown, sun-spotted skin. He took the club back quickly, but smoothly, gave a slight pause at the top of the swing and let it all go in one fluid motion.
The golf ball sat there, ready for the strike and the club crashed into it like a whip. The ball screamed off the face of the metal club with a hiss that Patrick had never heard before. Patrick’s eyes followed the flight of the ball, which was straight down the middle of the street. The ball arched higher and higher, piercing the damp, morning air before running out of steam and falling to the earth. It landed in the middle of the road and bounced hard a couple times before rolling out of sight.
Stanley handed the club back to Patrick and walked back into his house without saying a word. Patrick was speechless. He hadn’t ever seen anyone hit a golf ball like that and saying “nice shot” seemed inappropriate.
The coming week was tough on Patrick. He lay in bed each night thinking about what he witnessed. He thought Stanley must possess the secrets of the game he loved so much, that he could teach him. Then again, Patrick doubted he would ever be able to learn to hit a golf ball on that level.
He couldn’t get his mind off golf on most days, but now his mind was in golf hyper drive. He tried talking to his wife about it, but her eyes just glazed over and she nodded repeatedly the way she would whenever football or baseball was a topic.
Patrick knew Stanley didn’t want to be bothered, but not to try inviting him out to the golf course for a round would be a sin. Firstly, he was curious whether Stanley was really capable of hitting shots like the one he hit in the street every time. Secondly, he wanted to show Stanley off to his friends, to unveil the eighth wonder of the world, who was living right next door all this time, a secret golf pro of sorts.
Every time Patrick went by to talk to his neighbor, Stanley wouldn’t budge on his stance about the boring game of golf that wasn’t worth his time. Nothing Patrick could say came close to convincing Stanley to join him for a round of golf.
“I just don’t understand how you wouldn’t want to play every minute of every day,” Patrick would say. “I can only dream of hitting a golf ball like that.”
“If you hit it like that every time, it would bore you,” Stanley would reply.
“No, no, it absolutely would not bore me the slightest.”
Patrick offered him money, to no avail. He begged to the point of embarrassment for weeks and finally, after Stanley snapped at him in anger one evening, Patrick decided enough was enough and gave up. The summer dragged on and Patrick kept shooting 85’s with his friends on the weekend. The clubs he pulled from Stanley’s curb hadn’t helped a bit, nor did the new driver he bought online.
Patrick couldn’t sleep much on the eve of a tournament, so he was sitting in the dark on a fall Friday evening, planning his attack on the club championship when a knock hit his door.
It was Stanley standing out on the stoop, head bowed.
“I’m sorry I got so angry with you, Patrick. I know you have your club championship tomorrow and I know how much it means to you, so if you feel like it, we can head over to the course and I’ll show you a couple things.”
“I have to tee off at eight,” Patrick said.
“That gives us six hours,” Stanley said.
“You mean right now, in the dark?”
“We’ll have to go to Meadow Park, because you don’t want to get caught practicing on the tournament course.”
Patrick was stunned, but he got dressed and met Stanley in the driveway. Stanley got in Patrick’s car and they drove 30 minutes to Meadow Park. On the way, Stanley made Patrick promise not to tell anyone about playing with him or about what he was going to tell him. He told Patrick to listen well, because this was the only lesson he was ever going to get from Stanley.
As they exited the car, Stanley warned Patrick that he wouldn’t believe him, that the secret to golf was so simple, nobody ever believed him. He warned him that knowledge of the secret may make Patrick want to give up the game, but Patrick said he wasn’t worried.
There was just enough moonlight to allow them to see where they were going and see the general direction of the fairway on the first hole.
“It’s not easy to play golf in the dark, but it can be done,” Stanley said. “I’m going to watch you play a couple of holes and then I’ll tell you what I think.”
“Aren’t you gonna play?” Patrick asked.
“No point,” Stanley said.
“Yeah, yeah, boring, I know.”
Patrick lined up his tee shot. He played Meadow Park all the time, so he knew where to aim. He hit the ball and Stanley immediately chirped, “Down the right side.”
They walked down the fairway and found the ball in the right rough. To Patrick’s amazement, Stanley correctly predicted his next shot missed the green short and left and his next tee shot falling short and right.
“Do you have the eyes of an owl or something,” Patrick asked. “How do you see that ball?”
“I don’t see it, I hear it. I hear the sound on the club face and I can tell where it went.”
Patrick finished his second hole with another bogey, which he felt pretty good about, being that he was playing in the dark.
“You should have birdied the first and easily pared the second,” Stanley said, as if he were reading Patrick’s mind.
Patrick was getting a little annoyed, but Stanley continued talking as they went to the third tee. He gave Patrick a couple of physical things to adjust with his stance and mumbled on about some mental tips.
“So that’s it, that’s the secret,” Stanley said. “You probably don’t believe me.”
“What is the secret?” Patrick asked. “Which part?”
“What I just told you. It’s all in your head.”
“So I’ve been told, but you didn’t tell me anything new,” Patrick complained. “I’ve heard all that before.”
“Everyone has heard it all before and that’s why they never believe me.”
Patrick was befuddled as he stepped onto the third tee. He could barely make out the edge of the big bunker that guarded the par-3 green. He adjusted his stance the way Stanley told him and tried the mental approach suggested. He hit his shot.
“Pin high, nice shot,” Stanley said just before Patrick could hear the ball thud softly on the green, 140 or so yards away.
What happened next, Patrick couldn’t believe. He reached his ball on the green and found it was within 20 feet of the hole. He sort of knew how the putt would break, having played there so many times, but he couldn’t see the hole. The moonlight was good for about 10 or 15 feet and then the hole was somewhere in the abyss. Patrick lined up the putt, applying Stanley’s wisdom while making the stroke and a few seconds after impact, he heard the ball rattle into the cup.
“There you go,” Stanley proclaimed. “You’re ready. Let’s go home and let you get some rest.”
They drove home in silence and Patrick felt a calm come over his body and mind. He no longer felt stressed about the tournament coming up in a few hours. He crawled into bed next to his wife and went right to sleep.
Three hours later, his wife was tugging on his shoulder to wake him up, warning him about being late. Patrick just smiled and strolled into the shower. He put on his lucky hat and matching sweater-vest. He ate some peanut-butter toast and went to the course.
Hawk National was not an especially tough course, but it was a fun course that was always nicely maintained. The club championship was a two-day event, with 18 holes being played each day. Patrick stood on the first tee and felt more confident than ever. For the first time, Hawk National actually looked like an easy course.
When Patrick made the turn, Stanley was standing behind the ninth green.
“You have the gait of a man who just shot even par on the front,” Stanley said.
“Actually, I was one under par,” Patrick said.
“My work is done,” Stanley replied. “Don’t get too bored out there.”
Stanley turned and walked away. Patrick went on to not only win that club championship, but to win six of the next seven. After that, a young, college golfer came into the picture and won five straight. Patrick played with the college golfer in the final group each of those five years and he couldn’t keep up with the incredible power of the youngster, but he could see the youngster knew the secret.
As for that secret, Patrick never would tell anyone what it was. He kept his promise to Stanley. He would tell those who asked that they already knew the secret and wouldn’t believe him if he told them.
As for Stanley, Patrick never could get him to join him for a round of golf. No matter how much fun he promised they would have, Stanley would always just joke that Patrick could write down a 68 or so on the scorecard under Stanley’s name and call it good.
Patrick would visit Stanley regularly, however, and they would laugh and talk about Patrick’s many tournament wins. Patrick said he never got bored winning all those tournaments, but Stanley would always smile and say he knew better.
Thanks for reading.