A good walk with the golf gods

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July 09, 2000|By C. FRASER SMITH

YOU COULD ASK senior golf professional Dana Quigley if you don't think payback is sweet.

A club pro who hit the New England tournament circuit for years, Mr. Quigley's game held up long enough to bring him a bit of celebrity and some handsome paychecks.

A number of pros you probably never heard of have been blessed by the circuit created to give Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and other name players a place to compete and to make money for local charities and local economies.

The good fortune of Mr. Quigley, who is competing this weekend at Hobbit's Glen in Columbia, strikes me as another reason to believe the golfing gods are not always so stern and unforgiving. I do not make that assertion blithely. I have evidence.

I am reasonably certain few players, amateur or professional, have encountered the kinds of obstacles that faced me and my partners several years ago at Mount Pleasant, one of Baltimore's fine city courses.

Mr. Quigley may think it challenging to confront the balky putter, an occasional tendency to let the swing arc flatten or to fly at the ball from the top.

He should get things in perspective. Sometimes you just can't help it.

As, for example, when you find yourself staring into the shiny barrel of a gun.

It happened one rainy day on the 16th green at Mount Pleasant. I had skulled the approach over the green and was just arriving to see what I could do to save a stroke when two men came from behind a tree. One of them held a small handgun and pointed it at me.

The specter was a bit surreal, unbelievable had there not been a similar holdup days before at Forrest Park, another of the city's courses. I thought for an instant that it was kids playing a back-yard game and then I said, "No, you're being mugged."

At his command, I began to search my golf bag for money. I actually thought my wallet was there. When it wasn't, I thought he would conclude I was playing games.

I wanted to say, "You know I'm often this clumsy even when I'm not terrified." Didn't say a word.

I thought I would be shot. Not a thing I could do. I did have about $13 and put it on the grass in front of the gunman. He sneered. "That all the [bleeping] money you got?" he said.

"That's all," I said.

My ever-gallant playing partners, Blair Lee IV (former Annapolis lobbyist for Montgomery County and still a fierce defender of Montgomery against the wily politicians of Baltimore) and Tom Oakley, were a considerable distance away and backing further out of range.

The would-be shooter grabbed the money and ran.

Here instinct took over. Shaking a bit, laughing a bit nervously, we finished the 16th and headed for the 17th tee. No one suggested we go to the clubhouse and report the crime. Too much in shock, I think.

My next shot was the best of the day for me. Having a gun pointed at you, I suppose, focuses the mind almost as much as having a gun fired at you.

My ball was about 10 feet from the pin -- birdie range even for me. I missed.

"You were robbed," said Mr. Lee. We shrieked with hilarity or pent-up, raw fear.

Then we involuntarily became a bit of a golfing joke (more of one than we were).

We played in. We finished the round. Sure, we were robbed, but there were two more holes to play. We could report the robbery in time. The club's solicitous managers refunded us our greens fees and made a police report. Just a routine day in Baltimore.

The story has been told and re-told, of course. Mr. Lee and Mr. Oakley showed up one day with Baltimore golf caps with fake bullet holes in the front. They occasionally tried to offer me consolation: "These guys can't hit the broad side of a barn," Mr. Lee said.

I always thought it was a perfect illustration of the difference between city and county folks. I was thinking I should find a way to make the gunman happy. Mr. Lee was thinking about how to keep the gunman out of his wallet.

Mr. Lee has made occasional jokes over the years about how Baltimore is always stealing from Montgomery, a reference to the city's success at funds from the state and Montgomery, the state's deep tax revenue pocket.

I've been to Mount Pleasant since then often and haven't thought too much about that day. Until last Thursday, when those golfing gods I was talking about seemed to arrive yet again.

My friends Suzanne Wooton and Gady Epstein and I were playing an early-bird round. We got our usual bogeys on the 10th hole. And smartly along to the 11th tee about 6:03 a.m.

I hit a decent 8-iron that landed a few feet short and right of the green. The ball took a nice hop left and ran toward the flag.

Oh, I thought, this might be pretty good.

Turned out to be very good, way good, good as it gets.

As the legendary teacher, Harvey Penick, might have said, it scampered up to the hole and ducked in.

Hole in one. Ace. Golfing lottery. Fifty years into my golfing career, the first. First annual.

Maybe you don't think one in 50 years is much balance. Maybe you think it doesn't offset armed robbery.

You'd be wrong.

C. Fraser Smith writes editorials on Howard County for The Sun.

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