I have a friend. I should say, I had a friend. His name is Phil. Phil introduced me to the game of golf when he and I were both 13 years old. His father had taken him golfing a few times before, so it was determined that he was the expert on the subject.

I didn’t know anything about golf. I knew that my mother had a set of clubs in the basement. In her golf bag was a bunch of plastic sleeves that the clubs went into. Those sleeves were great for “sword” fighting with my younger brother. That’s all I knew. Years later, I apologized to her for destroying nearly everything in her house, including the club sleeves. We’re all good now.

Phil invited me one day to go golfing with him. I asked my mother for $3.00 — $2.50 for the green fee and 50 cents for a Coke. She was kind enough to hand me the cash and said I could use her clubs. Cool! I guess she didn’t know yet what my brother and I had done to her bag.

With 3 bucks in my pocket, I grabbed a few clubs, laid them across my bicycle handlebars, and rode to Phil’s house.

Phil and I rode our bikes the 5 miles or so to our local par-3 course. I had 4 clubs with me. A putter, a couple of metal ones, and a wooden one with a number 4 on it. Phil said the wooden one was the one to use first, so I did that. He was an expert.

The birdie that launched a habit

I don’t remember much about the first 3 holes, or the last 5 holes. Hole number 4 though, is the hole that addicted me to the game for life.

Hole number 4 at this course is a 157-yard par 3 with an elevated green and no real hazards. If you really mess up, as I had done many times since this day, you can put it in the water, way over there, which is supposed to be a hazard for hole number 6.

No water today though. I used my wooden club with a number 4 on it and swung it with everything I had. I could not believe what was about to happen. The ball landed on the green and rolled toward the hole stopping a mere 6 inches from the cup. I was hooked! My first birdie!

Little did I know at the time how elusive the birdie would continue to be for the rest of my life.

For the next 3 summers, Phil and I, and various other friends, would take a few clubs and ride our bikes to the par 3. Eventually, we ran our parents out of golf balls. We knew where to find them though. We developed a habit of sneaking into the water at hole 6 before every round. We’d swim around until we had found enough balls to play that day. We usually ended up putting some of them back into the same pond they had just come out of.

Now, I liked Phil. I was competitive though. No matter how hard I tried, or how much I cheated, I could not beat his score. It became my quest to beat Phil at a game of golf. It never happened. He wouldn’t win by much, but it was enough to drive me crazy!

A decades-old, one-sided rivalry

That all happened back in 1984. Phil and I had gone our separate ways after my family moved out of the neighborhood sometime later. I would never beat him in a game of golf. In 2005, I returned to that course to introduce my son to the game. I’ll be damned if I didn’t hit the water on hole 6!

Fast forward to just a few seasons ago. I ran into Phil at an uninspiring social event in our hometown. After some small talk, the conversation turned to golf. Duh. We laughed until we almost cried when we remembered pulling the leeches off our legs after ball hunting in the pond all those years ago.

We decided we would play a round together the following weekend. Relive a little of our youth.

Phil thought we were going to play golf together. What he didn’t know was that this was going to be the single most humiliating loss he has ever suffered. I’m not a good golfer. I will find a way to win though, dammit! I’ve wanted this moment to happen since I was a child. The biggest golf event of my life was about to take place and I would be victorious! I would finally beat Phil at golf.

Revenge will be mine 

Phil’s late. Our tee time is at 7am. I start to think he’d chickened out. What an ass!

He shows up at 5 minutes to 7. He is forgiven.

I had already rented a cart. I drove and would keep score. We brought our own clubs this time as well. We even had golf balls that we had purchased legally. My first drive was as straight as always, which is not at all. I was right of the fairway. Phil went left of the fairway. We would tie the first par 4 with sixes for each of us. He’s going down!

Teeing up for hole number 9, I was four strokes ahead! Yes, I was counting. I had 45 to his 49.

I’ve mentioned that I’m not a great golfer. A four-stroke lead at the 9th probably sounds pretty secure to most of you. Good for you. I’m the kind of golfer who can blow a four-stroke lead on a par 3 hole without even thinking about it. Phil parred hole 9, a par 3. I did not. At the turn, we were tied at 52. Shit.

The lead changed hands several times on the back nine. Going into 18, I was leading by two strokes.

Hole 18 is a 490-yard, dogleg right, par 5, with a six-foot-wide stream that passes 5 yards short of a postage stamp-sized green. I had the honors. I’ll put it in the trees first. Phil didn’t do much better. By my fourth shot, I was still 150 yards from the pin. 150 yards is not a good distance for me. My 6 iron is too long, and my 7 would land me in the stream guarding the green. I need a six and a half iron someday.

I decide to lay up with my 8 iron. A chip and few putts will give me an eight for the hole. Phil would need par to win. I consider pulling out my phone and ordering myself a green jacket from an online store. I’m going to beat Phil — at golf! This is my green jacket day!

As I line up my short chip to the green, I can barely think. In my head, the entire gallery is on its feet, cheering and yelling. “Congratulations, Deane!” “You’re the best, Deane!” “We believe in you, Deane!” “You’re way better than Phil, Deane!” They were relentless!

I can’t believe what is happening. This is a dream come true, 30-some years in the making. Phil missed the green. No way for him to win now. 

I put out in two for a 7. Phil got a 7 as well. I won. I won! I won!!

I have to sit down. I need to stay cool. Phil still doesn’t know this was the game that would define him in my memory forever. Just relax.

“Let me buy you a beer and we’ll count up the scores,” I say calmly.

The scorecard doesn’t lie

We head to the clubhouse, order a beverage, and I act like I’m counting. I already know exactly what the score is. The card shows me winning 105 to 107. I slide it over to him.

“Well, it looks like I just barely beat you.”

“Oh, that’s cool. What’s the score?” he says.

“It’s right there on the card, Phil,” with just a hint of a smirk on my face.

“I can’t read it. What does it say?” says Phil, my now, ex-friend.

“I got up too late this morning. I didn’t have time to put in my contacts.”