He knew now that they were hustling him. This did a lot for him. It cut him free of his concern for Lou; it allowed him to begin to dislike Steve in a very comfortable and unambivalent way. The fact that they were as good as they were helped also. It would be difficult to beat them, and that warmed him. He felt that he had two very distinct advantages over them now. The first was that it had been they who had abandoned golf as a sport of individual skill. They were going to try to play him as a team. That would hurt them in two ways. It would hurt them, simply, because golf is not a team sport, and he knew that the diffusion of attention that came from such thinking would take an edge off. It would also hurt them because it would introduce more material from their relationship into the game. A lot would be dragged in, and some of it would have to get in their way.
The second advantage he had, had to do with money.
For them, for Steve at least, the money was no more than a kind of whip or a term of humiliation. He was sure Steve did not care about the money, but he was also sure that what the money represented was a very serious thing having to do with self-esteem, which was much harder to lose and much harder to win also. For him, on the other hand, the money was very important. If he won it, he would be pleased to have it. He needed it; it would buy things that he needed. But if he lost it, and he certainly did not want to lose it, it would be no more than the money he was
losing. He could imagine himself going back without it; he would be sad about it, but that was all.
“That was a wonderful shot,” he spoke softly to Lou, who stood a few feet from him. Steve was sitting in the cart, ready to go, while Frankie was getting ready to hit.
“You think so?” Lou said, a new coldness in his voice. Allen ignored the tone and pressed it a little, as a start.
“A really wonderful shot!” He kept his tone warm and open, his eyes clear.
“Right. Thanks,” Lou said. He was uncertain about how to take the statement. He would think about that a little. Allen was not sure yet how he might work on Steve, if it became necessary. He thought he would give it some time.
When he got up to hit, he was feeling very loose and good. He knew that after a while he would lock into the game in the way he liked, and the anticipation was very nice. He also liked very much to play a golf course for the first time. Whenever he played a new course, he was careful not to study the upcoming holes too carefully, check the map out too much. There were things he might have articulated to himself about this, but they were so close to the bone that there were no good words for them. Very practically, in this case especially, ignoring the map and the distances spelled out would help him to concentrate not on pictures and symbols but on the tangibles.
When he drove, he pushed his follow-through a little, enough to make it look as if he had tried to power the ball, and he stepped back a little with his left foot as he finished, a little off balance. He sliced the ball slightly, but he had started it off to the left, and it came back and hit close to Frankie's ball, rolling about twenty feet to the right of it, but too far in that direction to have any clear shot to the green.
“I guess that's a little right,” he said, looking up the fairway.
“I guess it is,” Steve said as he started the cart up. Allen got in the cart with Frankie, and when they reached their balls, Steve and Lou were sitting behind them, waiting. They had
parked well back of his ball, a little to the right, but just close enough so that he might see them out of the corner of his eye as he hit.
Frankie hit a really quite beautiful second shot. He used a fourwood, but he hooded it, took a three-quarter backswing, and punched the ball just enough as he came through it. It was low and straight and long. It pulled up about forty yards from the green, right in front of it. He could see from where he had parked the cart that the pin was cut in toward the back of the green, behind the trap on the right. Frankie would have to fly the edge of the trap, and he thought he would have to stop the ball pretty quickly, but he was not sure about that. He could not read the slope of the green from where he was.
He decided not to go for the green. To do that, to be sure to hit it, he would have to play for the left of it, and since he could not tell what kind of putt that would give himâit might be a very difficult one, and he might not hold the green anyway on that side-he chose to play for the trap. He figured if there was enough space between the trees and the trap, he might come up short of it, in good position for a chip. If he hit the trap, that was okay; he had been in traps three times on the front nine. They had been well raked, the lips had been reasonable, and he had liked the texture of the sand. He used a four-iron, a little more than he needed, but they were close and would see his club selection. He decided not to toy with the fact that they were closer to him than was appropriate. That kind of thing could wait until he might need it. He caught the ball slightly fat, carried the trees, and though he couldn't see it hit, he suspected he had reached the trap.
Steve hit his shot stiff at the pin, but he had a slightly fluffy lie, the ball flew on him, and he did not get enough bite into it. The ball stopped about ten feet above the flagstick, and from where Allen was he thought he would have a very tricky downhill putt. Lou made it known, by considering his shot and then switching clubs, that he was close enough for an eight-iron. He hit the ball
crisply, straight and very high; it sat down about twenty feet away to the left and a little above the pin.
Frankie pitched up with a wedge. He bladed it slightly, and it hit the lip of the trap and stopped there, in the bit of fringe between the trap and the green. He was the closest to the hole, only seven feet away, but the fringe he was in was thick, and the shot he would have was downhill and would run away quickly to the right.
When Allen got to the trap, he saw that he was well back in it, with a good lie, and that from his angle it would be possible to get the ball to sit down on the green. He checked the other three, figuring what they might do. Frankie's shot was close to impossible, he was lying three and would take, at best, a five. Both Lou and Steve had chances for birds, but he doubted that either of them could make their putts. He figured them for pars. He knew that they would not play it that way though. If they tied, nobody would win money on the hole. If he hit up and was away, he would have to putt first, and that would help them make an easier decision. If he got too close the decision would also be too easy for them. He decided to try to play the shot fat, catch the down slope to the left of where Frankie's ball was, hoping to stop it before he got outside of Lou. He dug his feet into the sand and played the shot. He lifted a thick fan of sand onto the green, and the ball hit close to the lip in the fringe and rolled down and to the left, stopping about fifteen feet out. Lou was away.
Lou took some time in lining up the putt. Once he glanced over at Steve. About four feet beyond the cup there was a low down slope. He stroked his ball a little too firmly; it rolled wide, above the cup, reached the down slope, and did not come to rest before it was a good six feet away.
“Shit,” he said, and let his putter slip from his hand to the green. He picked it up with resignation and walked around the others' lines to where his ball had come to rest.
“Who's away?” Allen asked, looking in Frankie's direction.
“Steve is,” Lou answered, a little too quickly.
Steve touched his putt with a delicate stroke, but firm enough to negate some of the undulations that faced him.
It was a sound putt, and it pulled up about fifteen inches beyond the hole, about the best he could have done with his line without sinking it.
“That's a gimmie,” Allen said, smiling at Steve. “Nice putt.”
Steve ignored him and stroked the ball firmly into the hole.
They all looked at him. He thought he knew what they were thinking. He would miss his putt. Lou would miss his intentionally. The hole would not be halved. They would take him for the first twenty bucks. He very much wanted to stick it to them with this putt.
When he got set to hit, he saw that being a little below where Lou had been made the putt easier. It was more uphill than Lou's, and this would take a lot off the break. He could see Frankie's ball in the fringe when he addressed his ball, and he did not like seeing it. He stepped away from his putt.
“Mind hitting first, Frankie?” he said.
“Fine with me,” Frankie said, and Allen reached for the flag stick and put it back in the hole. He stepped back off the green, glancing at Steve and Lou, seeing that they had no objections.
Frankie took a square stance on the fringe, his weight well back on his right foot, the leg stiff. He addressed the ball with a seven iron. When he hit it, it jumped up and landed about eight inches out on the green. It rolled straight at the heart of the hole, struck against the flagstick, and dropped in.
“Well, I'll be damned!” Frankie said, shaking his head.
“That's a hell of a par, Frankie,” Allen said, and grinned at the other two. They both smiled tightly. Frankie and Steve had halved the hole, and nobody could win any money on this one. Frankie had no part in the conspiracy. Allen got up to his ball, lined it briefly, stroked it, and missed the putt by a good four inches on the high side. He grinned at the two again, but they did not smile back. He tapped in for his five. Lou studied his six-footer briefly. He stroked it in for a par.
Allen birdied the next three holes, a par three, a four, and a five. The three he managed with a long straight putt, the other two by hitting his approach shots very close to the pin. He used a little play on the five, duffing his second shot, then coming in stiff with a five-wood. He was a hundred and eighty dollars up at the end of four. Lou was coming apart, struggling to save pars. Steve seemed as brittle as a piece of ice. He was not talking to Lou, and he was not nodding when Lou made a particularly nice recovery, chipping close in from the trap with a six-iron on the par five. Steve had rimmed two particularly difficult putts, and his rage and the need to keep it in check, to remain dignified and powerful, were doing just enough against him. Frankie was playing his own game. He, like the other two, was even at the end of four.
Allen had to be careful about not getting carried away. He had stuck it to them good with the three birdies, but then he backed off some, realizing that if he wanted to get any mileage out of this place, he had to be a little cozy about what he was doing. If he won too big, Steve would get the drift of it, and it was clear that he had sufficient power around the place that he could close him off from further play here. He got a little too cozy, found trouble on the next few holes, and Steve stiffened some, pulling up on him. He got a hole up on the sixteenth, but dropped it on the seventeenth. Coming into the eighteenth, a long par five, he and Steve were even.
While they were driving their carts to the tee, he figured the possibilities in order to clear that business away. He knew it would be him or Steve or even. Lou would be pressured out of it, and Frankie didn't have the ball to play a hole of this distance well. If they halved the hole, he would be up three from Frankie and two from Lou. He'd take a hundred dollars, and that minus the thirty it had cost him for cart and green fees would put his winnings at seventy; not too good, but something. If Steve won, he'd owe him twenty for the hole and a hundred for winners. The hundred from the other two would cover most of it, but he'd be
fifty dollars down. If he won, he'd be in much better shape. He'd get a hundred from each for winners, and a hundred and twenty for the holes. That would give him three hundred and ninety net. That would make this a very good day.
He got a little surprise when the four of them gathered on the tee. Steve had teed up but had gone back to the cart to dig in his bag. When his head was turned, Lou spoke, though a little reluctantly.
“How about a little pepper to finish up, say an extra half-hundred for best ball?” It was obvious that Steve had put him up to this on the way from the seventeenth.
“Why not,” Frankie said. “I could get a little back.” Allen agreed, and so did Steve.
The hole was a sharp dog-leg right, longer but not as difficult as the par-four tenth. It was not possible to reach the turn in the dog leg in one. The green was out of sight from the tee. From the card it was hard to tell what the hole was really like beyond the bend.
“Anything one should know about this one?” he said. Frankie seemed about to speak, but Steve cut him off.
“Just play it,” he said. It was the first really direct and sharp words Steve had spoken to him. There was a moment of embarrassment for the other two, but he covered it by saying, “Right, I guess that's golf, isn't it.” And then he smiled at Steve. Steve did not acknowledge his smile, but turned to address his ball. The other two stepped back and were still.
Steve's drive was a good one. He played it to the right of the fairway. There were trees on that side, running around the dog leg. He found it hard to figure just why Steve had kept it up that side, and he watched to see how the other two played it. Lou skyed it slightly, but his power was enough so that he got out almost as far as Steve, a little to the left of him but still to the right of the middle of the fairway. Frankie hit a good drive, right down the middle, coming up about thirty yards short of the other two.
Before he hit, he took the card out and looked the hole
over again. On the map there was an odd circle of quotation marks past the dog leg in the middle of the fairway, about halfway between the green and the knee, if anything a little closer to the green. It could be a tree, he thought, and he looked along the right of the fairway and over, the tops of the trees beyond the curve. If it was a tree, it was not a big one, he thought; he could not see any distant branches. He wondered if it was water. If it was, it did not look too significant. Still curious about Steve's drive, he stepped up and addressed his ball. For a moment he thought about going up the right side with Steve and the other two. It would seem reasonable to follow the lead. But he liked the terms that came with playing the course blind, and he did not much like following Steve in anything. It just did not seem proper, from what he saw, to play the hole down the right. Whatever that thing was around the bend, if the card was in anyway accurate, it could not be too important as a hazard. So far the card had been fair, as had the course, with the possible exception of the difficulty of the tenth hole. He decided to play his drive to the left of the middle of the fairway and to really get into it. He took a full back swing, his left arm stiff, and when he came down through the ball, the hard muscle in his forearm snapped his wrist through it. The ball clicked off the screws, the tee jumping up behind it. It rose gradually, and when it looked to be at the top of its arc it kept rising. Then it peaked and began to drop. When it landed and finished its long roll, it was a good two hundred and seventy yards out, between the center and the left rough, no more than thirty yards from the bend, with a possible sight line down the turn toward the green.