© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001
Jim Melvin's story about "bad luck" on the links, which was published two weeks ago on the Golf Page, contained incomparable tales of woe. Or so we thought.
But when we asked for submissions from you, we learned what bad luck really is!
What follows is not meant for the eyes of the meek. Dark creatures lurk behind every tree. Lakes become watery graves. Golf clubs fly magically through the air.
Did J.R.R. Tolkien invent the game?
"Fly! This is a foe beyond any of you!" cries the wizard Gandalf in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. "Fly, you fools!"
If only we golfers could take the same advice.
* * *
Being an avid golfer with a tendency to search for lost balls in the woods, rough and water hazards, I have had more than my share of close encounters with snakes, fire ants, snapping turtles, squirrels and alligators. I have been knocked out by an errant shot, and I once had an alligator grab my ball retriever. However, my most memorable story involves an unfortunate run-in with a more unusual aquatic creature.
It was a hot, muggy Sunday afternoon, and I was with my regular foursome at Lost Oaks in Tarpon Springs. I had just hooked my second shot into or near a creek on the third hole, a long par 5, when a major thunderstorm rolled in. We took refuge in hopes of waiting out the storm.
My curiosity about whether my ball was still in play was getting the best of me, so as soon as there was a slight break in the weather, I headed toward the creek with my ball retriever in hand. My hopes were soon diminished when I saw my ball in the shallow water, just beyond the reach of my fully extended retriever. Not wanting to leave the ball behind, I decided that if I took off just one shoe, I could step far enough into the creek to retrieve the ball.
I removed my shoe and sock from my left foot and stepped gingerly into the creek. Suddenly, a burning pain shot through my foot and up my leg. I screamed and fell to the ground. As I grabbed my foot, I saw that I had stepped on a 5-inch catfish, which had impaled itself deeply into my toe. The fish was so slippery, I could not get a good grip on it, so I was rolling around in the wet grass frantically trying to remove the fish. By this time, my foursome had heard my painful screams, saw me rolling in the grass and came running to my rescue, thinking that perhaps I had been electrocuted.
When they saw the catfish stuck to my foot, they began to laugh. Eventually, I was able to get a better grip on the slimy fish and pull it from my toe. To this day, when we approach the creek on that third hole, my golfing buddies refer to me as "Catfish."
-- Seth Dennis, Clearwater
I was about 10 years old and went to a country club to caddie. As was expected, new chaps were last to be called to get a bag. Finally, one Saturday in the early afternoon, our caddie master, Ernie, hollered for me to go to the first tee. About 10 minutes later, he came screaming into the shack, saying, "What the heck are you doing! I told you to go to the first tee." I was probably crying by now, and I said, "I was there, and a big sign said, "No mulligans allowed.' " He gave me a boot and said, "Get out there."
You see, my name is Ernie Mulligan.
-- Ernie Mulligan, Largo
I am a member of Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, as is Bill Shull from Drums, Pa. We were playing the second hole of the signature course, Copperhead, when we looked to the right where there was a pond. Believe it or not, on the bank lay an 8-foot alligator with a golf ball balanced on its back!
Luckily, Bill had his camera with him, and he took the enclosed picture. How that golf ball ever got up there on his back, we will never know, and the alligator isn't talking!
-- Hooper White, Tarpon Springs
In 1964, I was a 13-year-old sharing quality time with my dad -- a career army officer and excellent sportsman -- on a nine-hole golf course that doubled as a parade ground on a military installation on Governors Island, then home to Fort Jay in New York Harbor. It was on the par 3 10th hole, which doubled as the first hole, that the miraculous shot occurred.
Until that time, I had never had a par. Bogeys were more than acceptable. Double bogeys were okay, too.
The hole was on an uphill grade from tee to green, and I found myself 50 yards from the pin as I prepared for my third shot. With a 9 iron, I attempted the "textbook" shot. Instead, I hit a straightaway "frozen rope" that would have made Joe DiMaggio proud. The ball never attained an altitude of more than 41/2 feet. It struck the pin dead-center and somehow slithered up to be caught in the flag. As the pin reverberated violently, the flag gradually, slowly gave up the ball and deposited it, like a mother robin feeding her chick, snuggly into the cup.
My first par!
My dad let out a "my gawd!" the like of which I had never heard before and, I'm sure, will never hear again.
-- Bob Durbin, St. Petersburg
I am a 44-year-old who loves the game of golf. Let me tell you about one crazy day on the course. I was playing Countryway, a small course in Tampa. It was very crowded. It started out pretty normal: a few pars, a couple of bogeys and even a birdie. Then, the golf gods took over. On hole nine, a 320-yard par 4, I really tried to smash it, and I swung so hard, the club flew out of my hands and onto a woman's roof.
I was so embarrassed. I had to knock on her door and ask if she had a ladder so that I could get my driver off her roof. Everybody found it very funny, except for me.
Then, on No. 13, a short par 4 that plays about 220 yards, I decided to lay up with an iron, but I hit it so well, it just kept going and going and rolled up on the green between a foursome. One of the foursome decided he was going to kick my ball into the water and give me the middle finger. I was so mad, I drove up and started screaming at him for about five minutes while the rest of my group laughed again.
The next few holes went well, but on No. 17 I hit back-to-back drives out of bounds. I grabbed my driver and slammed it into my bag. The head snapped off and the graphite shaft stuck into my wrist, which I tried to pretend didn't hurt. On top of that, I lipped out a 2-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
-- Cliff Horne, Bayonet Point
I was playing in a tournament at Lansbrook Golf Club in Palm Harbor. The par 3 17th hole was a designated "closest to the pin" hole. I hit a 4 iron within 3 inches of the hole.
While teeing off on No. 18, a roar was heard from the area of No. 17. A hole-in-one had just occurred.
--Bill Ebel, Tampa
A few years ago, while playing at Eastlake Woodlands in Palm Harbor, I had the opportunity to use my brand new King Cobra gap wedge. After a lengthy wait due to a heavy downpour during which my clubs got soaked, I lined up for the perfect shot over a lake to the green. To my horror, as I swung at the ball I watched as my club flew out of my hands into the center of the lake, well beyond any hope of retrieval.
The only consolation to the loss of the new club was that the ball landed about 2 feet from the pin, allowing me to putt it in for a birdie. A very expensive birdie at that!
-- Frederick G.S. Deal, Dunedin
I had been playing golf for a short time. A friend of mine, Craig Tomlinson, got me interested. On the 18th hole at Mainlands Golf Club in Pinellas Park, I hit my best drive of the day -- 270 yards down the middle. I was sitting within 100 yards of the green. I set up to the ball with my sand wedge, and I took a hefty swing, hitting about 6 inches behind the ball. The club and ball never met, but the ball went straight up in the air. This does not mean I hit the ball; it was the sudden impact of my club hitting the ground in close proximity of the ball that caused it to go straight up.
Craig had always preached a good follow-through. I did not let him down on this shot. As the ball reached its apex, just above my head, my follow-through was closing in on the ball like a missile. The ball went 50 yards behind me. And Craig fell out of the cart, laughing.
-- Charles Prichard, Pinellas Park
Having the privilege of playing golf with Jim Melvin on many occasions, I can attest that all the trials and tribulations he wrote about on the golf course are true, except he gave us the G-rated version.
-- Denny Boger, St. Petersburg
My father, Rick Ricketts, was playing at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel last year. He was on the 13th hole when he hit a shot that came to rest at the edge of a lake. He drove up to the ball and found a large alligator sitting just a few yards from his ball. He attempted to scare or shew the gator away by waving his club in front of the gator. After a few minutes, the gator became tired of my father swinging his club in his direction, got up on all fours, walked a few steps to the ball, picked it up in his mouth and went straight into the water with it.
Give us a ruling on that one!!!
-- Chad Ricketts, Clearwater
While playing golf a few years ago with my husband and another couple, we came to a par 3 hole. My husband said, "Use your 6 iron." I never listen to him, and I chose a 7 iron, instead. When we got to the green, the ball had rolled within an inch of the cup. He said, "See? If you had used your 6 iron, it would have gone into the hole."
-- Wilma Lewis, Clearwater
Recently, I was playing golf with three of my brothers on the old course at Indigo Run, Hilton Head Island, S.C. While playing one of the par 4 holes, I hit an errant tee shot that left me with a blind shot to the green from heavy rough.
As I prepared to set up the shot, I heard a loud commotion coming from the direction of the green. Looking left of the fairway, I saw several large black birds, fluttering straight up and then shooting straight down. Their wild cacophony of sounds only added to the mystery.
During my back swing, I reminded myself: "You don't want to hit the ball left of the green, because that's where the water is as well as the big, noisy birds." Coming through the ball with what I considered to be one of my better swings, I watched as my ball sailed upward -- and to the left.
I ran as fast as I could to get a view of the trouble my ball was about to receive. I was not prepared for what I saw: five turkey buzzards fighting over and feasting on the carcasses of several white fish just by the water's edge.
My ball was taking its second bounce, still dry, but heading toward the feasting area. It finally came to rest in a damp but playable lie about 3 feet from the water -- and the buzzards' picnic.
I watched in absolute amazement as one of the buzzards, as if angry, lunged for my ball, grabbed it in his beak and, after appearing to try to eat it, threw it toward his pals. One caught the ball before it hit the ground and also attempted to devour it, but quickly threw the ball up and into the water about 10 feet from shore.
My brothers were having their own problems and didn't see what happened. In an almost apologetic manner, I told them my story. George, my younger brother, quickly ruled that, under the unusual circumstances, I should be allowed a no-penalty drop. Coy and Hayes were not in a position to par the hole, so they did not object.
I took my drop, chipped up near the pin and two-putted for a bogey. As we walked from the green with three double bogeys and one bogey, I felt better about the big bird attack. My brothers and I look back to the day I won the game by one stroke and refer to it as "The Turkey Buzzard Episode."
-- Winston Fletcher, Largo
About 10 years ago, my friend Geri Labre and I were on the Gladstone (Mich.) Golf Course when a raven kept swooping down trying to pick up our golf balls. We had heard that the men's league had lost golf balls in the middle of the fairway the day before. We would hit a golf ball and drive like mad to get to it before the raven did. Later that year, while looking for a lost ball in the woods, we came upon a nest with at least seven or eight golf balls partially covered with pine needles.
-- Lorraine L. Lough, Palm Harbor
It's the dreaded third hole, where on an exceptional day I only propel two balls into the water. I take a deep breath, exhale, tighten my grip, concentrate (there is no water, there is no water) and swing. The ball sails in a near-perfect arc toward the distant 85-yard goal, but it strikes a seagull, dropping the unsuspecting bird like a sitting duck.
My ball miraculously lands in the middle of the fairway between the fallen gull and the third hole. I contritely assess the condition of the unfortunate gull. It is lifeless. I sit on the fairway and rue the day I first picked up a golf club. Wait. The gull struggles to its feet, stumbles, but then flaps its wings and is into the air, soaring in circles, smaller and smaller, until it seems a mere speck, before disappearing behind the distant condos.
I am not a killer after all.
-- Susan Masztak, St. Pete Beach
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