The Day Before . . .
"It's Silly Putty," Conner Cross said with an air of finality that defied anyone to disagree with him. "I'm certain of it." "It is not," John McCree replied. He'd been defying Conner since they were kids and had no trouble doing it again. "It's a specially treated ball of monofilaments, packed and compressed for maximum durability and flexibility."
"Monofilaments! Give me a break. It's Silly Putty."
"I'm not. This is a subject on which I have a certain expertise."
"You can't even spell expertise."
"I'm telling you, it's Silly Putty. I was reading a magazine article about this just last week."
"I find that highly unlikely, unless maybe it was mentioned as some playmate's pet peeve."
Conner raised his hands to his mouth and shouted. "Fitz!"
An older man sporting a shoeshine-boy cap and toting a large bag of clubs strolled toward the two men at the first tee. "You called, Master?"
Conner Cross smiled. "Look, Fitz, we need you to settle an argument."
"Caddies don't settle arguments." Fitz, ever the dapper dresser, was attired in a Lacoste golf shirt, a Lyle & Scott cashmere sweater, and Italian gabardine light wool slacks --- quite a contrast to Conner himself, who sported a bright floral Hawaiian shirt, yellow bicycle shorts, and a tattered Panama straw hat. "We counsel. We strategize. We tote. But we don't settle arguments."
"Be a sport."
Fitz folded his arms across his chest. "No," Fitz said emphatically. His full name was Daniel Fitzpatrick, but he'd been caddying forever, and everyone had long ago reduced his name to the single syllable.
"C'mon. For me?"
"What, are you afraid you'll be fined by the caddies' union? Look --- if you'll just settle this dispute, I promise I won't make fun of that silly yellow sweater."
"What a charmer."
"Puh-leeze?" Conner wheedled.
Fitz twisted his craggy, weathered face. "I caddied for Gary Player for six years and he never once asked me to settle an argument."
"Then you're overdue. Here's the thing: what do you think they put inside golf balls --- Silly Putty, or super-compressed monofilaments?"
Fitz rolled his eyes. "I assume you stand in the Silly Putty camp."
"I shouldn't say. It might prejudice your decision."
"For your information, you dimwits, they put rubber inside golf balls. That's all it is. Rubber."
Conner Cross and John McCree looked at each another. "Rubber?"
"That's right," Fitz said emphatically. "Plain ordinary rubber."
Conner and John continued staring.
"He says it's rubber," Conner said.
"I heard that," John replied.
Conner's eyes crinkled. "Nah. Can't be."
"Definitely not," John agreed. "No way."
"Can't be," Conner said, making a clicking noise with his tongue. "Doesn't make sense."
"Agreed," John said. "If golf balls had rubber inside, they'd bounce all the way down the fairway. Or in Conner's case, the rough." The two golfers exchanged a look.
Fitz threw up his hands in despair. "I don't know why I even bother talking to you two reprobates!" He marched past them toward the first tee. "C'mon. If you don't get your practice round started, you'll lose your tee time. And if you don't log enough practice hours, they'll toss you out of the tournament."
It was possible, Conner groused, as he followed his caddie to the tee. Anything was possible at the Masters. This annual event, hosted by the Augusta National Golf Club, was one of the most prestigious, if not the most prestigious, of the tournaments on the tour. But it was also a pain in the butt. The Masters was full of rules, regulations, and hoity-toity guidelines of decorum, all of which drove Conner crazy.
During his three years on the tour, Conner had developed a reputation as the PGA's bad boy. According to the press, he was the "gonzo golfer" who delighted in flouting convention. This had made him the hero of some --- but not the PGA authorities and officials, and definitely not the top dogs at the Augusta National Country Club. Safely ensconced in the deep South, the Club --- which still only accepted male members --- was determined to maintain the high standards of a more genteel era. It made Conner want to barf.
John nudged him in the side. "Smell that?"
Conner inhaled deeply. "Cheeseburgers?"
John looked at him pitiably. "Honeysuckle."
Conner sniffed again. John was right, of course. The sweet scent of honeysuckle permeated the course. Much as the Masters tournament got under his skin, Conner grudgingly had to admit that the Augusta National course was magnificent, particularly when the tournament was held each year in April --- often culminating on Easter Sunday. He gazed out at the flowering crabapples, the graceful dogwoods, and the blazing streaks of azalea, all set against a magnificent green expanse of turf and trees. It was a spectacular view.
"Not much like back home, huh?" John said, grinning.
Conner silently agreed. He and John had grown up together in the wheatfields and tall-grass prairies of western Oklahoma. They were inseparable throughout junior high and high school. They did everything together --- bombed the same classes, got bombed on the same six-packs, and, of course, played golf. Back then, golf had held a special allure for Conner, who'd grown up with his father on a not-very-prosperous farm near the small town of Watonga. Its scruffy nine-hole course was an enchanted oasis in the midst of the red dirt and yellow plains that surrounded it. He and John both fell in love with the sport there.
After high school, John went off to college in California, while Conner stayed near home and went to OU. After college, John made the PGA tour. Conner didn't --- but John did everything imaginable to get him in, including loaning him money and arranging private golf instruction from Harvey Penick and other golf giants. Ultimately, Conner won his PGA card. John lived in Georgia now and was a member of the Augusta National Golf Club --- whereas Conner probably couldn't gain membership with a recommendation from Robert E. Lee. John was in nearly all respects the antithesis of Conner, but Conner liked him anyway. Fact was, even though Conner hated to admit it, he pretty much owed John for everything good in his life.
Today was Monday; Conner had flown into Georgia last night. The actual tournament would not begin until Thursday, with a par three mini-tournament on Wednesday. Between now and then, he needed to get in as much practice as possible.
Conner winked at his caddie. "Shall we get started?"
Fitz stared at him, appalled. "You mean, you want to play golf now?"
"Isn't that what I normally do on golf courses?"
"Matter of opinion, I suppose." His eyebrows knitted. "You can't play golf dressed like that."
"And why not?" Conner asked. "All my private parts are properly covered, aren't they?"
Fitz's lips tightened. "Conner, when are you going to get it through your thick skull that being on the PGA tour is a big deal? You should dress in a dignified manner. Not like some . . . Polynesian hobo."
"I like this outfit," Conner said, touching the brim of his battered Panama hat. "I think it has panache. I think it says, ‘Here's a man who's at peace with himself.' "
"I think it says, ‘Here's a man who's about to be thrown off the tour.' "
"Don't be absurd."
"I'm not! You know the PGA has strict rules on decorum and appearance. They don't even allow pros on the tour to have facial hair, for Pete's sake. And this club has even more rules than the PGA. You can't dress like a bum."
"I'll dress any damn way I want to."
"And you can't swear, either. That's an automatic $250 fine."
"Enough chatter," Conner said, turning away. "I'm ready to hit the ball."
Fitz pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, as if suffering from a severe migraine. "Great. Just great. Try to remember what I told you, okay? Stance. Swing. You're putting too much weight on your left foot. And you're not bringing your backswing high enough."
"Stop being such a mother hen."
"Jack Nicklaus paid me big bucks to be a mother hen!"
"Then go cluck in his coop for a while. You're making me crazy."
"You were born crazy."
Laughing, Conner poked the tee into the ground and removed a club from his bag.
Fitz grabbed his hand. "What do you think you're doing now?"
"I'm getting a golf club. I know that must seem strange, but the ball goes farther than if I just blow on it."
"You took out a wood. You can't use a wood on this hole."
"I can and I will."
"The tee markers haven't been moved back. It's not that far to the hole. That's way too much power."
"I'm warming up, okay?"
"Conner, you can't --- "
"Stop telling me what I can't do!"
"But you --- "
"Fitz!" Conner raised a finger.
Fitz fell silent.
"All right then." Conner squared himself before the ball and drew in his breath, preparing to swing.
"Stance," Fitz murmured audibly. "Swing."
"All right, all right." He buttoned his lip.
Conner brought back his wood and swung. The dimpled white ball soared beautifully into the air, up, up, up . . . and well over the green. The ball dropped onto the cart path, bounced over a retaining wall, and fell into the greenskeeper's storage shed.
"Aaarghh!" Conner shouted at the top of his lungs, thrashing about with his club.
John fell to his knees, convulsed with laughter.
Conner glared at him. "And what may I ask is so damn humorous?"
John rolled on the ground, propping himself up with one arm. "What . . . do . . . you . . . think?" he said, squeezing the words out between guffaws and gasps for air. "You."
"Damn, damn, damn." In a sudden fit of temper, Conner whirled the wood around again and inadvertently pulverized the tee marker --- which was a lovely miniature of the Augusta National clubhouse.
"I tried to tell you," Fitz said quietly. "God knows I tried. But would you listen? Nooooo . . ."
Conner pivoted. "Fitz, I'm warning you --- "
He was interrupted by the rapid advance of a short man with a whistle around his neck. "Excuse me," the man said, puffing intermittently on his whistle. He was a bit overweight and appeared to have worked up a sweat just crossing the tee. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Excuse me," Conner shot back. "Who the hell are you?"
"Derwood Scott. I'm the associate tournament director."
Conner mouthed a silent oh. Fitz looked as if he'd like to disappear into the rough.
"Mr. Cross, you are in violation of four different tournament regulations."
"Only four? Jeez, I wasn't even trying."
John cleared his throat and tried to look serious. "And which four offenses would those be, sir?"
"One, his embarrassing attire. Two, his indecorous language. Three, his shockingly unprofessional conduct. Four, his destruction of club property."
John nodded. "That does add up to four, doesn't it? All right, officer --- take him away."
"This is not a joke!" The more insistent Derwood became, the higher his pitch became. Soon only dogs would hear him. "This is the Augusta National! We will not brook with insubordination!"
"Look," Conner said, "why don't we just forget this happened?"
"I don't think so!" Derwood snapped. "First of all, you will be charged for replacement of the tee marker you destroyed."
"Fine, that's fair . . ."
"Second, you will receive a formal reprimand for your indecorous behavior."
"Okay. Consider my wrist slapped."
"Third, because you moved an immovable obstruction --- the tee marker --- you must take a two-stroke penalty."
Conner's face became fixed and stony. "What's that?"
"You heard me. Two strokes." He snapped his fingers at Fitz. "Write it down."
Conner stared at the associate tournament director with dead eyes. "Let me remind you, Derwood, that I know where you live."
"What's that, some kind of threat?"
Conner took a step closer to him. "Yeah, some kind. The deadly kind."
Excerpted from FINAL ROUND by William Bernhardt Copyright 2002 by William Bernhardt. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.