Friday, May 3, 2019

The Hazard by Ronald Schulte

Billy's golfing ability mysteriously improves overnight, but at what cost? By Ronald Schulte.

At six over through twelve holes, Billy had a great round going by his standards. With a little luck he just might break eighty. However, as he watched the sun dip toward the horizon from the thirteenth tee, he wasn't sure he'd finish before dark. A damn shame that would be, walking away from a round like this. Time to stop dawdling. He grabbed his five-iron and walked up onto the tee box.

Number thirteen wasn't a tough hole. It played about one-ninety to the front edge, with a nice wide green and just one small bunker in the back right. There was a little water on the right, but it was well short of the green and not really in play. The contours felt good to Billy's eye, and his normal right-to-left draw would be perfect for feeding the ball toward the back-left pin location.

Billy teed up his ball and started his pre-shot routine. He visualized the shot he wanted to play, took a deep breath, and approached the ball. Two practice swings, as always. Another deep breath. Then the swing.

He knew right away that he'd mis-hit it. He'd made contact, just barely, but far from the center of the clubface. It was the dreaded shank, a hosel-rocket, and in Billy's case, a serious momentum killer. The ball shot out diagonally to the right, straight into the (not really in play) water hazard.

"Shit!"

Billy slammed his five-iron into his bag and stalked off toward the pond, wondering if he could find a way to salvage a bogey. It was a lateral hazard, so at least he'd be able to take a drop a little closer to the green. He walked along the edge of the pond, glancing casually into the water, looking for his ball, knowing he wouldn't fish it out even if he found it.

The superstition was nearly as old as the course itself. No one was sure exactly how it had started, but Billy suspected the hole number - thirteen - was at least partially to blame. His father had worked the course as a kid, caddying and fishing golf balls out of the various water hazards scattered around the course. All of the hazards, that is, except that pond to the right of thirteen. Even back then, no one would go in there.

It was bad luck.

There was no shortage of rumors describing the strange accidents that had befallen those golfers brazen enough to fetch their golf balls from that stagnant water. Norm Tucker, dead from a stroke three weeks after retrieving his wayward shot. The old club pro Freddy Funkhauser, gone missing just a few days after plucking a ball from the drink. Morty Barnhardt, heart attack. Gerry Walters, golf ball to the head. All rubbish, of course. But since there were also tales of golfers whose games had forever gone to shit after recovering a ball from that hazard... well, now. Better safe than sorry.

Billy didn't see his ball, so made his best guess at the proper spot to take a drop. He was still over a hundred yards from the green. He shook his head; he'd be hard-pressed to make double bogey from here. He fished around in his golf bag for a new ball... and couldn't find one.

Huh? He was certain he'd been carrying at least a half dozen balls the last time he'd checked. He cycled through all of the bag's pockets twice, reaching into nooks and crannies, hoping against hope, but he was out of luck. The bag was empty.

"Shit!" he shouted again. This was always the way of it. Whenever he had a good round going, something would happen to derail him. He glanced toward the water, then at his scorecard, then at the water again.

"Oh what the hell," he muttered.

He walked to the edge of the pond, searching more seriously this time. He walked about thirty yards back toward the tee, then back to his bag, and then thirty yards further on toward the green. The pond was mostly in shadow now, and he couldn't see the bottom. He didn't see any golf balls.

"Well, that's that." The round was officially over. With a sigh, he walked back to fetch his golf bag.

As he pulled the strap over his shoulder, a disturbance in the water drew his attention. Something suddenly broke the surface, protruding maybe a foot into the air. A log?

No. An arm.

As Billy scrambled away in horror, the balled up fist at the end of the arm slowly opened. A gleaming white eyeball appeared in the palm of a moss-covered hand. Then the motion stopped, and everything was still.

Billy stopped scrambling away. He took a deep breath, then another. Closed his eyes, reopened them.

He no longer saw an arm. It really was a log, just as he'd first thought. And the eyeball wasn't an eyeball at all. It was a golf ball.

Billy got to his feet and walked a little closer. He could see the little red Mickey Mouse he drew on all of his golf balls to help identify them. Not just any ball, then; his ball.

Where had that log come from? Had it been there the whole time? Maybe he'd simply missed it in the shadows. Maybe the motion he thought he'd witnessed had been something else: a frog leaping, perhaps, or a bird taking flight. Or maybe it had been one of those giant snapping turtles. Surely it hadn't been the log itself, emerging from the water, bearing his golf ball.

That made no sense.

He glanced once more at his scorecard, then snatched the ball from atop the rotted log before he could change his mind.



Billy ended up making a great bogey on thirteen. After retrieving his ball from the pond, he'd hit a beautiful wedge to the center of the green, then drained a twenty-five footer to save bogey. He'd let out a chuckle and a small sigh of relief; his game seemed to have avoided the curse. Still, it had left him at seven over with five holes to go, and after wasting all that time on thirteen, it was too late to finish before dark. He'd called it a night after sinking his bogey putt.

When Billy returned a few days later to play in the Monday night league, he had a dozen brand new golf balls in his bag. He wasn't about to repeat his mistake of running out mid-round. Yet when he stepped up to the first tee, he was holding the same ball he'd recovered from the pond on thirteen. He hadn't intended to use it again, but when he'd seen it amongst the other balls, he'd felt something. He couldn't explain it; it had just seemed like the right choice. So he'd grabbed it.

Billy teed it up and ripped a three hundred yard drive down the right-center of the fairway.

"Nice bomb, partner!" shouted Steve Finkle, Billy's playing partner. Their opponents - the Scott brothers, Jason and George - raised their eyebrows; Billy wasn't exactly known for his distance.

For his second shot, Billy hit a sand wedge from ninety yards. It landed five feet past the hole, took one bounce, then spun back, settling about three feet from the pin. Billy rolled in the putt for birdie and won the hole.

On the second hole, a par three, Billy hit a seven iron to ten feet and drained the putt for birdie.

By the time they'd finished nine holes, Billy's scorecard totaled thirty strokes. Six strokes under par, seven strokes better than his personal best on the front nine, thirteen strokes less than his nine-hole handicap.

"Seven handicap my ass," grumbled Jason. George just walked away shaking his head.

"What the hell did you eat for breakfast?" asked Steve.

"I don't know," answered Billy. He felt like he'd just stepped out of a trance. During the round, he'd known he was playing well, but he hadn't realized just how well until Steve had tallied up the final score.

"Well, that was amazing, partner! I hope it doesn't lower your handicap too much! Let's grab a beer in the clubhouse!" Steve slapped Billy on the back and drove off to take his clubs to his car.

Billy pulled the golf ball from his pocket and turned it absently in his hands. He'd played almost eighteen holes with it now, but it still looked to be in pretty good shape; no cuts, no major scuff marks.

"I'll be playing you again," said Billy to his golf ball.



It was the start of an incredible run. For the next month, Billy was unstoppable. He followed up his thirty a week later with a thirty-three on the back nine, causing one of his opponents to snap his putter over his leg in disgust. He shot thirty-five the following week - his worst score of the run - but still good enough to win his match; his opponent, Jim Hughes, was the best golfer in the league, and while Jim bested Billy's score by a stroke, Jim had to give Billy four strokes due to their respective handicaps. Another thirty-three followed, and then the best round of all: a twenty-nine on the front that included two eagles, beating his thirty from a month earlier, only one stroke off the course record this time.

As the weekend of the course championship approached, Billy's handicap was down to a four for eighteen holes. He'd started the season as a fourteen. Whispers were flying around the clubhouse. Jim Hughes had won the last three championships, and five of the last six. But now some of the members were putting their money on Billy to dethrone the king. The attention made Billy nervous.

He went out for a final practice round late Friday afternoon before the weekend tournament. The weather wasn't great; it had been drizzling all day. He had the place to himself. He made good time through the front nine, scoring a casual thirty-four with no bogies (he'd only made two of those since the start of his incredible run). He birdied ten, parred eleven, birdied twelve. As he walked toward the thirteenth tee, however, he realized he wasn't alone on the course after all.

The man seated on the bench behind the thirteenth tee box was wearing an oversized rain jacket with the hood cinched tightly. He was stretched out, legs crossed, arms spread across the back of the bench. He didn't appear to be in any hurry. As Billy dropped his golf bag near the bench, the man didn't move an inch. Billy wondered if the man was asleep. Billy hesitated a few moments, then cleared his throat and spoke.

"Hello, sir? Excuse me? Do you mind if I play through?"

Apparently the man wasn't asleep. The hood turned toward Billy, the head nodded, and an arm extended toward the tee box as if to say, "Be my guest." The hood was cinched so tightly that Billy couldn't see any of the man's face within.

"Thank you." Billy grabbed his six iron - he used to hit five on this hole, but he'd been hitting his irons a little further lately - and stepped up onto the tee box.

"Quite a run you're on lately," came a slightly muffled voice from the within the hood.

Billy glanced over, slightly startled. For some reason he hadn't expected the man to speak.

"Er... thank you. Who is that? Do I know you?"

"Not likely. I don't come out much anymore. Starting to feel my age, know what I mean? I still pay attention to things around here, though. I keep tabs on most of the regulars. I knew your father. He was a good man," said the stranger.

"Yes, he was," said Billy. An awkward silence ensued. Finally Billy cleared his throat and stepped over to tee up his ball.

"Still playing that ball, huh? I didn't think it would last more than a round or two."

"Yeah, it's proven quite durable... wait. Who are you?"

"I'm the one who fetched that ball out of yonder pond for you. Remember? You damn near crapped your pants!" The man slapped his leg and laughed until a coughing fit caused him to stop abruptly.

"The ball was on a log," said Billy. The color was slowly draining from his face.

"Hah! What are the odds?" The man chuckled, then propped himself up a little higher on the bench. Billy could have sworn that he heard something pop as the man moved.

"Mister, I was alone that night," Billy insisted.

"Keep telling yourself that if it helps you sleep better at night." Billy couldn't see it, but he was positive that the man was grinning at him from within the hood. The two stared at each other for a few moments. Billy finally broke the silence.

"You fetched that ball? For real?"

"For real, kid. Fetched and then some. 'Enhanced' is probably a better word for it. You're welcome, by the way."

"Er... thanks?"

"My pleasure, Billy! My pleasure indeed! And since I can tell that you're a nice guy like me, it stands to reason that you'd want to repay my favor. Am I right?"

"I guess that makes sense. If what you say is true," said Billy cautiously. Cold sweat dripped down the small of his back. His mouth had gone very dry. He needed a drink.

"Of course! But we're gentlemen - this is a golf course, after all - and gentlemen wouldn't lie to each other. So... care to shake on it, friend? A favor for a favor? What do you say?"

Billy looked at the man's outstretched sleeve-covered arm uncertainly. Light rain pattered gently against the rubbery material.

"What... favor... are you expecting in return?" asked Billy.

"Not sure just yet. But when I'm ready, I'll pull you in. Deal?"

Billy reached forward and shook the man's hand. What other choice did he have?

"Deal," Billy said reluctantly.

"Excellent! Now go ahead and knock it in the hole, Billy! Mind the water hazard, though!" said the man with a cackle.

As Billy walked up to the ball, he realized his right hand had a little mud on it. He casually wiped it off on his pants, then started his pre-shot routine. The gentleman on the bench leaned back in satisfaction to watch the shot.

Billy caught the ball flush this time, and the ball sailed true, just as he'd visualized it. It hit the rain-softened green with a little sidespin, checked up, and rolled lazily into the cup. His first ever ace. He jumped excitedly into the air and turned toward the strange gentleman.

"Woo-hoo! Hole in one! Did you see that, mister! Did you see..."

But the man was no longer there. The bench was empty.



The club championship was a thirty-six-hole stroke-play gross score affair, no handicaps involved, played over the course of two days. The pairings for the first day were random; the pairings for the second day would be based on score. For the first eighteen, Billy found himself paired with Jason Scott. Jason eyed Billy warily as he tied his clubs onto the back of the cart.

"I'm going to be watching you, Billy. I don't know what you're doing lately, but something smells wrong. I'll be watching," he repeated as he circled around and took his place in the passenger's seat. Billy gave him a tight smile but said nothing. Jason had the largest biceps Billy had ever seen on a golfer. Billy wasn't about to get into an argument with the guy. Jason snorted as Billy climbed in and drove to the first tee.

The results were much the same as they'd been for the last month. Jason finished the first eighteen holes in eighty strokes, eight strokes over par. Billy finished with a sixty-seven, three under par. As they shook hands on the eighteenth green, Jason shook his head. "I don't get it, Billy. I don't get how someone can get so good so fast. I really don't. But you seem to be the real deal. Best of luck tomorrow."

"Thanks," Billy muttered. Jason detached his clubs from the cart and walked - not quite stalked - away.

After all the players had completed their first round, Billy walked into the clubhouse to check the leaderboard. Not surprisingly, Jim Hughes had posted the best score, a five-under-par sixty-five. Billy's sixty-seven was good enough for second, only two strokes back.

"Looks like we're in the final group tomorrow, Billy," called Jim from the bar. He had a big grin on his face.

"I see that," answered Billy weakly.

"Looking forward to it. Let's give them a good show tomorrow!"

"Sure thing, Jim. A good show," stammered Billy, searching for words. But Jim, ever arrogant, had already turned his attention back to his cronies at the bar. Billy wandered to the other end of the bar and ordered a club soda. He had a pretty bad headache. He popped a few ibuprofen tablets and sat in silence. A few people wandered over to compliment him on his round, but soon no one was paying him any attention.

As he sipped his club soda in silence, he pulled his golf ball from his pocket and examined it. It was really starting to show some age now. There was a serious scuff mark near the logo, a small gouge on the bottom, and his original Mickey Mouse decoration was now only faintly visible. The ball was barely playable. Billy wondered if it was even legal anymore under the rules of golf. He quickly pocketed the ball and shoved that thought from his mind.

He'd play the ball until it tore in half.

This line of thinking, of course, inevitably led to the gentleman he'd shaken hands with on the thirteenth tee. He'd certainly given Billy goose bumps. The way he'd spoken, the mud on his hand, the way he'd disappeared so quickly. The hole-in-one. Billy could almost believe he'd imagined the whole thing. Maybe his euphoria at hitting his first ace had mixed with his superstitions about the thirteenth hole to form some sort of false memory?

Keep telling yourself that if it helps you sleep better at night.

Billy finished his club soda, paid his tab, and went home. He turned in early hoping for a good night's sleep before the final round, but sleep eluded him for much of the night.



Billy could feel a buzz in the air as he carried his clubs from the practice green to the first tee where Jim awaited with their cart. Jim had conveniently neglected to pick Billy up on his way past. It was all gamesmanship; Jim was notorious for it. It didn't bother Billy. He was used to it.

"Morning Bill!" Jim bellowed as Billy tied his clubs onto the back of the cart. Billy could only see the back of Jim's head, but he could imagine the enormous shit-eating grin on the man's face.

I'm going to wipe that away by the end of the round, thought Billy. He realized suddenly how badly he wanted to win this tournament. Billy's run had been going on for a little over a month; Jim's had been going on for years. It was time for someone to cut him down to size. He had some work to do, coming in to the final round down two strokes, but for the new Billy two strokes was nothing. He felt confident as he settled into the passenger seat and waited for the tee to clear.

There was very little drama for the first three holes. Jim and Billy both parred the first. Billy gained a stroke by birdieing the second, but Jim snatched it back with a birdie of his own on the third. "Nice putt," said Billy. Jim gave Billy a wink as he plucked his ball from the bottom of the cup. They recorded their scores and drove on toward the fourth tee.

Then the fun began.

Billy birdied the fourth, fifth, and sixth. Jim did his best to keep up, birdieing two of the three, but still saw his lead shrink to a single stroke after six holes. Both men parred the seventh, then Billy birdied the eighth to gain back another stroke. Both birdied the short par five ninth. When the dust settled, their respective scorecards showed that Billy had posted a thirty, while Jim had posted a thirty-two.

They were now dead even.

After hearing the results from the front nine, a small gallery formed and followed their group to the tenth tee. The club hadn't seen this sort of contest in years; Jim usually ran away with these tournaments. Billy hated the scrutiny. Jim seemed to be his usual unflappable self.

But looks can be deceiving.

When Jim hit his tee shot on number ten, he made the first real mistake of the day. He tried to draw the ball around the corner - the hole doglegged slightly to the left - but the ball never turned and it ended up behind a tree in the right rough. He had no choice but to punch the ball out sideways into the fairway. He managed to make bogey from that position to limit the damage, but Billy stuck his approach two feet from the pin and made birdie to take a two-stroke lead.

On eleven, Jim hit it in a green side bunker and failed to get up and down. Another bogey. Billy made another birdie to go up four. As Billy recorded his score on his scorecard, he noticed that his nose was bleeding.

Jim parred the twelfth. Billy made birdie to go up five. Jim threw his putter in disgust, causing the small gallery to gasp. It was a wonder the club didn't break or hit someone. As this all happened, Billy was pinching his nose with the towel from his golf bag. The blood was really gushing now.

"You okay, chief?" asked Jim as he pulled himself together and returned to the cart. The man was still frustrated, but Billy thought the look of concern on Jim's face was sincere.

"Dozebleed. Doh big deal," responded Billy. But he didn't like it. He never had nosebleeds.

They pulled up to the thirteenth tee. Billy's nose was still bleeding. He wasn't sure how he'd be able to hit the ball, but he had the honor and had to hit first. He procrastinated as long as reasonably possible before walking up onto the tee box. He dropped the bloody towel on the bench and teed up his ball, sniffling to keep the blood from dripping out. He started his pre-shot routine. He visualized the shot he wanted to play, took a deep breath, and approached the ball. Two practice swings, as always. A dribble of blood escaped his nose, running down his upper lip, down his chin, down his neck, staining the collar of his golf shirt. Billy ignored it.

Another deep breath.

The swing.

Hosel-rocket. Dead into the water hazard on the right.

A huge splash erupted from the surface of the water. There'd be no recovering the ball this time.

The crowd gasped.

Jim gasped. Then chuckled.

"Trying to give me a fighting chance, eh, Billy?"

As Billy resumed pinching his nose, Jim hit his tee shot. It was one of his best swings of the day. The ball settled about four feet from the cup.

"I still have a pulse!" shouted Jim to the crowd. The crowd erupted in laughter.

Jim drove the cart toward the water hazard. Billy conferred with Jim, and they agreed on the point where Billy would take a drop. Billy realized that his nose was no longer bleeding, so he jammed the bloody towel into the golf cart's basket. Jim glanced at it in disgust but said nothing. He left Billy with a spare ball and a few clubs, then drove off toward the green.

The crowd murmured as Billy walked along the edge of the hazard, peering into the water. He walked back and forth a few times, past the spot where he'd recovered his golf ball all those weeks ago, muttering to himself.

"Where are you this time, mister? I sure could use that ball back right about now," muttered Billy. He finally backed away from the water to take his drop.

After accounting for the penalty stroke, Billy was playing his third shot. He dropped the ball - a brand new ball, clean and pristine, such an alien sight to Billy's eyes - in the agreed-upon spot, stepped up to the ball with his sand wedge, and promptly bladed the shot into the tiny bunker behind the green. He grabbed his handful of clubs and stomped toward the green. As he approached, Jim stepped onto the green, marked his ball, and threw Billy a knowing wink. Billy ignored him.

Billy stepped into the bunker with his sand wedge. He played an explosion shot but hit it too fat. The ball barely squirted out onto the fringe of the green.

"Shit!" shouted Billy.

The crowd was stunned.

Billy chipped the ball from the fringe, leaving it about six feet short of the pin. He was still furthest away, so he grabbed his putter and walked onto the green to line up the putt.

"I need this one," he muttered to himself. He took a deep breath, picked his line, and hit his putt. The ball started to break right at the last second, but caught enough of the hole to fall in. Triple-bogey six. Billy then watched as Jim drained his birdie putt for a two. Billy's five-stroke lead had just shrunk to a single stroke in the span of one hole. He could see people whispering and money changing hands as he walked back to the cart.

Jim grinned at Billy but had the good sense not to say anything. The momentum had just taken a crazy turn. Jim had Billy on the ropes.

Billy managed to pull himself together for the next few holes. His drives weren't quite as long, his approaches not nearly as crisp, but he managed to get up and down for par on both fourteen and fifteen to match Jim's results. On sixteen, however, Billy's luck ended; he missed a six-foot par putt and settled for bogey. Jim made par. The match was now tied with two holes to go.

On seventeen, Jim's drive split the fairway, while Billy's duck-hooked into heavy rough on the left side. The lie was terrible. Billy blasted the ball out but only managed to hit it halfway to the green. He hit a nice third, however, and somehow willed in his twenty-foot par putt. Jim hit a nice second shot to fifteen feet, but missed his birdie putt.

Still tied. One hole left.

Both players found the fairway with their tee shot on eighteen. Billy actually outdrove Jim by a few yards - but only because Billy hit driver while Jim played three-wood - so Jim was the first to play his second shot. He hit a beautiful eight iron from about one-fifty. The ball flew high and landed softly about ten feet from the cup.

Billy refused to look at Jim. He thought he'd snap if he saw the man wink at him one more time.

Billy had about one-forty left to the green, a perfect distance for his nine-iron. He calmed himself, visualized the shot. Worked his pre-shot routine. Two practice swings. Stepped up to the ball. Committed to the shot.

Took his swing.

Billy watched as his shot flew straight and true... but offline to the right. The ball splashed down into a large bunker to the right of the green. He'd blocked it. The ball had never had a chance to get on the correct line.

"You put up one hell of a fight today," said Jim as Billy settled into the cart, as if the match was already over. Billy didn't dignify this taunt with a response.

Close to a hundred members and staff had gathered around the eighteenth green to watch the end of the match. There was a large scoreboard visible behind the green. None of the earlier players had managed to post a good enough score to get into contention. The championship would be decided by whoever won this final hole.

Billy grabbed his sand wedge and walked toward the trap. Years later, the locals would still laugh over drinks about how Billy didn't even bother to bring along his putter. Confidence, or coincidence? Hard to say, but for the old-timers it never got old seeing folks' eyes grow wide the first time they heard the story.

As Billy walked down into the bunker, he quickly realized it was a good news, bad news sort of situation. The good news was that the ball was on a slight upslope, and there was plenty of green to work with. The bad news: The lie sucked. It was a fried egg, the ball partially embedded within the sand. It was playable, but not what Billy would have hoped for in this situation.

The lip of the trap was just high enough that Billy couldn't see the cup from where he needed to stand to play his shot. He walked up the slope of the bunker to get an idea of the pin location and the terrain, then returned to his ball. He settled his feet into the sand, creating a good base. He took a deep breath.

He hit the ball.

It was a terrible shot.

Billy didn't take enough sand. The ball came out low and hot. It barely cleared the lip of the bunker and screamed forward. Billy knew it was moving way too fast to stay on the green. It was probably going to end up in the opposite bunker. The match was effectively over.

But then something funny happened.

The pin got in the way.

The ball took one hop, struck the dead center of the pin, and fell into the cup.

There was stunned silence for a second or two, and then an enormous cheer erupted from the gallery.

Billy couldn't believe it.

Neither could Jim.

All of a sudden, Jim's potential match-winning putt became a putt for survival. He had to make the putt just to keep the match tied and send it to extra holes. But Billy's luck had shaken Jim too much, and Jim's luck had run out. Jim left his putt two inches short.

The match was over.

Jim tapped in for par in a daze, then just stood there for a moment, scratching his head. Finally, he removed his hat and walked over to shake Billy's hand.

"You're one lucky son of a bitch, you know that? Congratulations. Hell of a show."

Billy thanked Jim, and even smiled as Jim gave Billy one final wink and walked off the course, abandoning the cart. Billy made to grab the cart himself but one of the cart kids shouted, "I've got it Mr. Connors! Go celebrate!" Billy shrugged and made his way toward the clubhouse, mobbed by happy bet-winners.



Billy's game slowly normalized as the summer faded into fall. He didn't post a single sub-par round for the rest of the season. Billy and Steve finished third in the Monday night league after having led for most of August. When asked why his game had regressed, Billy blamed a phantom back injury that was hampering his swing.

But it was the ball, of course. His magical ball was gone, and his magical golf game was gone with it.

The leaves were nearly gone from the trees when Billy went out for one final round in early November. The parking lot was empty; he had the place completely to himself. There was a chill in the air when he teed off, but by the time he made the turn the sun had turned quite warm. Before heading to the tenth tee, he stripped out of his pullover, nearly yanking his championship ring off of his finger in the process. Most clubs presented a trophy to their club champion, but here at Mill Creek they gave out rings. Billy's was too big, but he wasn't about to spend the money to get it re-sized. Still, he wore his ring everywhere, despite the sizing problem.

He was damn proud of that championship.

When he reached the thirteenth tee, he was six over. A familiar situation. As he teed up his ball, the sun ducked behind a cloud. Billy shivered, momentarily chilled.

"Not really in play," he reminded himself as he stepped up to the ball with his five-iron and took his swing.

The ball shot straight into the hazard.

"You have to be joking," said Billy, hands on hips, staring at the hazard in disbelief. He threw his golf bag over his shoulder and walked toward the water. He pulled out a spare ball and prepared to take a drop as he neared the water's edge.

"Hey, Billy!"

Billy stiffened. He knew that voice. He glanced around, but didn't see anyone.

Then, almost against his will, his eyes turned downwards toward the water's surface.

The hideousness of the face staring back was too much for Billy. He fell to his knees as the creature slowly emerged from the water, crawling on all fours. A rotted old-fashioned tweed golf cap was draped loosely atop the creature's decomposed head. Billy could just make out the initials "F. F." stitched onto the front of the cap.

"Another ball in the drink. You need to work on that shank, Billy Connors! Nearly cost you the championship! Thanks for returning that ball, by the way. I might have considered my favor repaid, had you proceeded to lose as planned. But now your name is on that nice plaque in the clubhouse, immortalized for all time. I've given you a legacy, Billy! So now I have a new favor in mind. Time to pull you in."

As the moss-covered hands wrapped around Billy's neck, Billy had just enough time to croak out, "Why?"

The creature paused momentarily, considering this highly philosophical question. Then it shrugged.

"Why not?" it replied. It cackled hideously, then pulled Billy into the pond, golf clubs and all. The freezing water made Billy gasp as he went under. His lungs quickly filled with water, creating negative buoyancy, causing him to sink, making the creature's task that much easier.

As the creature dragged Billy's face through the mud, Billy's final thought was that the creature still hadn't really explained what favor it expected.



"Shit!"

Young Henry couldn't believe it. He'd just shanked his ball into Billy's Pond. That stupid hazard to the right of thirteen was barely even in play! No one ever hit it there. No one except Billy Connors, that is, for whom the pond was named. For some reason, he'd had a lot of trouble with that hazard. He'd even hit it in there during his fabled championship battle with the legendary Jim Hughes all those years ago.

Strange, how Billy had disappeared shortly after winning that championship. His car had been discovered in the club's parking lot one fall day. Neither Billy, nor his golf clubs, had ever been seen again. That had been nearly twenty years ago, now. The police had long since closed the investigation. Billy was presumed dead, of course, although a few people still held out hope that he'd show up one day.

Henry decided to take a mulligan. He was playing by himself, after all; his score didn't really matter. Besides, everyone knew not to retrieve golf balls from Billy's Pond.

The pond was cursed.

He played another ball from the tee box, and this time the ball flew straight, landing just short of the green. He grabbed his golf bag and walked toward the green.

Had he glanced toward the hazard as he passed, he would have seen a moss-covered hand protruding from the water, holding a golf ball between thumb and forefinger, a cheap, corroded championship ring dripping rusty tears into the water below.

As Henry stepped up to play his chip shot, the hand slowly descended back into the water. A few bubbles emerged from where the hand had been, then all was still.

8 comments:

  1. What a creepy story. I don't think I would ever go near a water trap on a golf course again. This is so well-written I felt like I was there and I couldn't stop reading it.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Billy, glad you enjoyed!

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  2. A lot of insight into the psychology of golf. Well written with excellent detail....the story pulled me in he he he. And I had to keep reading. Very funny also perhaps even a bit of a satire....

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    1. Thank you for the kind words!

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  3. Well told. Never get tired of those kind of stories.

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  4. Very well written Ron. Really pulls you in. Awesome job!

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  5. Thanks John!

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