The Foursome in Front of Us

By Bryan Gruley

Fifty years ago this month, I played golf with three buddies at the Rouge Park course in Detroit. Gene Damico, Dan Shaw, Gordie Roberts and I had all just graduated from elementary school. I don’t recall much about our golf games, except that we were awful. But I will never forget the foursome in front of us.

They were older guys, probably in their 30s, which seemed ancient to us. We first encountered them when we were putting on No. 6. To express my displeasure with a certain putt, I buried the black blade of my Spalding putter in the green. One of the four waiting on the next tee — a guy the size of a meat locker who had removed his shirt in the summer heat — yelled, “Hey, kid, wrap it around a tree but don’t stick it in the green.” He was right, of course, but that mattered little to an asshole 13-year-old like me. “Put a damn shirt on, old man,” I yelled back. In retrospect, I’m probably lucky the guy didn’t come over and beat the shit out of me.

Two holes later, we found a wooden shaft putter lying on the tee at No. 8. We shouted at the foursome in front of us, but they were already well down the fairway of the 500-yard hole and may not have been able to hear us. Annoyed, they waved us off. Dan stuck the putter in the ground. We hit our drives and started walking.

Halfway up the fairway, we looked up to see the shirtless meat locker guy running toward us, man boobs bouncing, slick with sweat, gasping like every step might be his last. He slowed long enough to ask if we’d found a putter. Uh, yeah, we said, it’s back at the tee. “Goddamn kids,” he said, and started running again.

We had finished on the eighth green and were sitting on a bench behind the ninth tee when the big, sweaty, shirtless guy putted out at eight and approached with his driver. One of his playing partners, a short man in a straw fedora, told us to shut up. We shut up.

I’ve lost track of Dan. Gene and I, still pals, are semi-retired in Tennessee and Florida, respectively. Gordie, also a friend, got his name etched on the Stanley Cup twice in a long National Hockey League career. I have no idea what happened to the shirtless guy. He might be dead by now. Hell, I can’t believe he survived that 1,000-yard sprint up and down №8.

While we watched from a few feet away, he rushed up to No. 9 and placed his ball on a tee. His backswing was approximately the speed of an Indy car crossing the finish line. The result was a hump-backed worm-burner into some high weeds about forty yards from the tee. The shirtless guy wasn’t particularly pleased with that stroke, if that’s the word for it. He strode boldly to one of the tee markers, a red wooden cube a little smaller than the guy’s head, and gave it a vicious whack. The tee marker didn’t budge, but the head of the driver cracked off and flopped up into the air like a shot duck. The guy then snapped the shaft of his club over a knee and flung the pieces into a garbage can, declaring, “That’s for yesterday.” We sat there dumbfounded. As he and his partners stomped off the tee, the one in the straw hat turned around and admonished us: “See what happens when you talk on the tee?”

That guy was a genius.

We never saw them again. The Rouge Park course is still there. I think I have to play it once more. Gino? Gordie?

Bryan Gruley is a journalist, novelist and hockey player with deceptive speed: even slower than he looks.