NOTE: This is a repeat of a blog post I ran about two years ago. I have been asked to run it again. I hope you new readers enjoy it.
You can learn a lot about a person when you play golf with them.
I played the most golf of my life when I was a senior at Auburn University. It was the summer of 1978 and Johnny Caldwell and I played almost every day at Indian Pines, which was an old country club turned public course. You could play cheaply at Indian Pines and that was a good thing because neither of us had much money. The course was located right in the middle of the twin cities of Auburn and Opelika, both towns of about 20,000 in east-central Alabama. We were both in summer school and we usually played four days a week. Golf was a whole lot more fun than studying, and besides, we needed our fresh air.
Caldwell and I had known each other for several years. We were both from Sylacauga – another town like Auburn and Opelika in size, about 70 miles up the road toward Birmingham – and became good friends when we car pooled our freshman and sophomore years to Alex City Junior College. When you ride 35 miles one way to school and back with someone five days a week, nine months a year, you get to know them pretty well.
At Auburn, we would usually ride to the course together when we played golf. Cogs – that was Johnny Caldwell’s nickname – and I liked to gamble when we played. He would always give me strokes because he was a better player than I was. I never realized just how good a golfer Cogs was (we called him Cogs because of the similarity between his name and the name of Mr. Spacely’s arch nemesis in the Jetsons cartoon, Cogswell Cogs) until we started playing with two other Auburn students that summer.
One hot afternoon in June, Cogs and I were trying to find a couple of guys we could play with at the course and we happened to see Pat O’Connor on the driving range. O’Connor was an acquaintance of mine and we both worked at the school newspaper – The Auburn Plainsman – and I had taken a couple of journalism classes with him. O’Connor was somewhat of a hotshot; a tall, blonde, good looking smug son-of-a-bitch from a rich family in South Georgia. He was a fast talker and he was a pretty good golfer himself. I had played with him many times at Indian Pines. He always talked about how he was going to make tons of money when he became a big-shot lawyer. Later in life O’Connor did become a lawyer, and then a judge and I bet he made the tons of money he dreamed about making while he was in college. But if he would have owned the World Bank that summer in Auburn, Cogs and I would have taken every penny of it from him.
O’Connor was with a friend of his, a guy named Jim Pietkewicz that fateful day, and Jim P’s claim to fame was his brother Stan, an All-Southeastern Conference basketball player for the Auburn University basketball team. Cogs and I didn’t know Jim P., but because of his brother, we both figured he had to be fairly athletic and probably a good player. O’Connor and Jim P. wanted to play us for money and they seemed cock sure that they could beat us. I had played with O’Connor several times and he could beat me. I couldn’t beat him straight-up. I didn’t really want to play them because I didn’t have much money, but Cogs assured me it would be O.K.
Since we didn’t know anything about Jim P’s game and because they didn’t know anything about Cogs’ game, we decided to play an exhibition match the first three holes to see how to set up the handicapping for the betting.
Cogs and I both liked to drink beer, so the bet was a case of beer to the winning team of the front nine and another case to the winners of the back nine. If we lost both bets, it would cost me about $10 for a case. I could afford one case, but Cogs didn’t even have as much money as I did. He was married and working at the textile mill in Opelika and his wife enjoyed spending most of his hard-earned cash. He was married to a cute little blonde from Sylacauga, whose name escapes me. She was younger than him and the marriage failed shortly after Cog’s and my golfing summer, but that is another story.
I was thinking I would end up buying both cases of beer when we lost, but Cogs assured me that everything would be just fine.
We played the first hole, a medium length straight par 4, and Cogs pushed his ball way right with his driver into the No. 6 fairway which ran parallel to the first hole. He skulled a low shot through some small pine trees to get back close to the green with his second shot. He chipped over the green on his third shot and finally got on the putting surface in four. He was about 15 feet from the hole and he two putted for a double-bogey six. I made a bogey five. Our gambling buddies both made routine pars and they were thinking they had an easy mark in us. I didn’t know what O’Connor and Jim P. thought of me, but they thought they had hooked up with the original country bumpkin in Caldwell. He looked every bit the part.
Cogs was about six feet tall with a slim build with extremely fair skin. He usually wore blue jeans, even when we played in the summer, to protect his skin, and a white golf shirt. I can’t ever remember him in any color but white. A baseball cap always sat on top of his head, way back with the bill of the cap pointing up at about a 45-degree angle. The way he wore the cap sitting way back on his head made it appear the cap was too small to fit down low over his forehead. The cap didn’t provide any shade over his face and eyes and it didn’t look like the normal golfing attire. But the beauty of Cogs was that he didn’t give a rat’s ass about making a fashion statement. I don’t think he actually wore the cap to look stupid, it just happened to turn out that way. I just think he liked the way it sat on his head.
Cogs also had a rather large nose. It looked like the nose of a boxer. I don’t know if he had broken it earlier, but it was one of his distinguishing features. On the bridge of his nose sat a pair of thick-lensed glasses, the kind that changed from clear to dark when exposed to sunlight. His lenses never got too dark and you could always see his eyes no matter how bright it was.
Cogs always smoked Marlboros while he played and sometimes he would even take a swing with his cigarette in his mouth. That was something you didn’t see much. Most right-handed players could not take their backswing without burning their left arm with a cigarette. A smoker would generally flip their cigarette to the ground before they swung at the ball and then pick it back up after the swing. Cogs would just lift his head, jut out his jaw a la Franklin D. Roosevelt, cigarette in mouth, and swing away.
Cogs and I both had that unmistakable southern twang in our speech. When people first met Cogs and me, they generally got the impression that we had just gotten off the turnip truck, straight from the backwoods. Cogs and I both shared that persona, something I have used to my advantage for many years now in business and I as\m sure Cogs has benefited from the dialect too. We definitely looked like easy marks to the plantation-bred O’Connor and the Yankee boy Jim P.
On the second hole Cogs and I both made routine bogey fours on a short par 3. I think O’Connor and Jim P. made a par and a bogey. The third hole was a double dog-leg par 5 that curled to the left around a bunch of trees. If you could hit a long, high drive you could cut the corner over the tops of the trees and land the ball about 20 to 50 yards short of the green. I played the hole the classic way going down the fairway with a three-wood, staying way right of the trees. Cogs got to the tee box and tried his best Arnold Palmer imitation, hitching his pants and cocking his head before he lashed out with a driver at a ball he had teed way up high. He hit a big drive and it looked like his ball was going to make it over the trees until it caught a limb on the last pine tree it needed to clear. The ball dropped down into the tree-filled gulley. I just looked at Cogs and laughed. I knew there was no way we could beat O’Connor and Jim P. When I laughed, Cogs just looked at me, winked and smiled.
“How ’bout automatic press two holes down?” Cogs asked our challengers as we walked off the tee box. “Y’all give us each a stoke on all the par fours.”
O’Connor laughed at the idea. O’Connor had a sheepish grin he would flash when he thought he was getting the better of you and I saw that grin as he and Jim P. jumped all over the bet.
After the par five, the bet started. Cogs went birdie, birdie, par on the next three holes and we jumped to a two-hole lead. O’Connor and Jim P. were forced to press after No. 6. A press means that the team behind adds another bet of equal value to the game. Cogs and I were ahead by two holes with three holes to play on the first bet and now we had a second bet just for the last three holes on the front nine.
Cogs made a birdie on the seventh hole to close out the first bet and get us a one-hole lead on the second bet. We tied the last two holes on the front nine and Cogs and I won two cases of beer. O’Connor and Jim P. couldn’t believe what had just happened to them. Cogs, who they thought was a sucker, had made suckers out of O’Connor and Jim P. The funny thing about the whole game was that O’Connor and Jim P. still challenged us on the back nine – same bet, no changes. They knew they could take the two country boys. After 18 holes, Cogs and I were richer by four cases, and O’Conner and Jim P. were still looking for the freight train that hit them. They asked us if we could play again later in the week so they could get a chance to win back their beer. We agreed and played them again several times that summer.
Cogs and I stayed drunk a lot that summer. O’Connor and Jim P. never figured out that Cogs was a golf hustler. I played with Cogs almost every day and I didn’t realize it until that first match – when someone put money on the line, Cogs automatically got 5 strokes better.
. . .
Cogs and I played a lot of golf that year. Another day at Indian Pines Cogs, our friend Dee Burger, a guy who I can’t remember and I were playing on the same No. 6 mentioned earlier. We had all hit into the green which sat down and to the right from the No. 1 tee box. Four older men, who looked like truck drivers or professional wrestlers, had just teed off on the first hole. One of the guys hit a bad shot that went down the hill and into our fairway, between us and the No. 6 green. We saw the shot but no one in our foursome really paid much attention to where the ball stopped in the thick rough Bermuda grass.
The guy who hit the ball had a round beer belly and his button-down-the-front plaid shirt with cut-off sleeves was not tucked into his pants. You didn’t see many button-down-the-front plaid shirts on the country club courses, but on a public course in a college town you might see anything. This guy was obviously not much of a golfer. He was about 30 years old and after the shot he came walking down into our fairway as we walked up to the green. He asked us if we had seen his ball. We told him we saw about where it went, but we didn’t know exactly where it had stopped. We continued to walk to our balls while the truck driver looked all around the green for his ball.
As we were putting out, the guy walked up onto our green and asked us again if we had seen his ball. We politely told him no and he turned and started to walk off the green. He went about 20 feet and then turned and walked back toward us.
“I think one of you picked up my damn ball,” he said angrily, a golf club in hand and slung over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I think one of you f__kers stole my damn golf ball.”
I thought we were in trouble then. The guy had probably been drinking. He was holding a club in his hand like a cave man and he looked angry. Cogs was lining up his putt, squatting down to see the break of the green. He stopped looking, addressed hit ball and started to putt, then he stopped cold. He raised up out of his putting crouch and took a couple of steps toward the man.
“What kind of ball are you playing, sir?” Cogs politely asked him in between drags on his cigarette.
“It’s a Spalding Dot,” the man replied.
Cogs walked back over to his ball and took another look at the line of his putt, took a long deep drag from his cigarette and addressed his ball. Then he stepped away from his ball again and addressed the man.
“I wouldn’t play a God-damned Spalding Dot,” Cogs shot back at him and calmly went back and sank his birdie putt.
The truck driver, dumbfounded, turned and walked away.
Causes John Haslam Supports
I support the Constitution of the United States of America.
I support St. Jude's Hospital.
I believe in GOD.