"Put none but Americans on guard tonight." – George Washington
The Pines Golf Club
Sunday, September 9, 7:48 p.m.
AS long as you had something else to concentrate on, the pain did not exist. That’s what the guy had told Matt, and he may have been right. What Matt Thurman was concentrating on right now was the flag on the thirteenth green, four hundred and fifty five yards away, barely visible in the gathering twilight. He was in the teebox, driver in hand, about to hit from the same spot, give or take a few yards, that Tiger Woods had hit from last week, when the PGA tour had come through Columbus for the annual Labor Day Classic.
Next year, he’d be with them. He was sure of it. He had a new focus, a renewed commitment. No more screwing around, no more drinking, no more anything that could be detrimental to his game.
And as far as the shoulder went…
That was only pain. Plenty of golfers played with pain. Tiger won the U.S. Open one year, playing on a knee most people wouldn’t have been able to walk on. Tim Clark, Jason Saturday, they had back problems.
Bad back problems. And then there was Casey Martin. Who played through pain every hole of his life. Whose motto Matt had adopted as his own these last few months: Give yourself something else to concentrate on, and the pain would go away.
Matt Thurman squinted into the gathering darkness. Looked down the long rolling carpet of green, blocking out the hazards to either side of the fairway, the staggered clumps of pine, the sandtraps positioned where the hole dog-legged to the right. He focused on the promised land beyond, the long narrow green and the flag. The numbers came into his head almost automatically: par four and 455 yards.
Pin placement today had been toward the back, near the right bunker.
Ideal shot would be a downhill drive to the right side of the fairway.
Five-iron to the green. Two putts for par.
The kind of hole he ate for breakfast, back in the day. Now… Well. Four. If he was lucky. If the light held. Matt checked his watch: 7:51. Checked the sky. The light fading. No doubt about it; this was his last hole. Lucky thirteen. Something fitting about that.
He pulled the flask from his back pocket, took a swig, and put it back. Gave the shot a final look, and stepped forward. Put the tee in the ground, put the ball on the tee, and straightened. Rolled his neck.
Tugged his glove. His lucky routine. The same routine he’d used since he was a kid and won the Ohio Amateur. “Matt Thurman, 15-Year- Old Phenom, Stuns Field to Take Trophy.” Front page of the Columbus Dispatch. Fifteen years ago. Hadn’t changed it since then. He was never going to change it.
As long as he could swing a golf club. Which was the question, wasn’t it?
As if in answer, his shoulder pinged.
Matt ignored it, and the voice in his head. Wait six months. It had been almost five. No real pain in all that time. So he was fine, wasn’t he? Fine enough to shoot a few holes. He wouldn’t push it. First sign of a problem, he would shut it down. Absolutely.
He secured his grip, positioned his club…
And started his backswing. Drew the club up and away from the ball.
The shoulder pinged again—not so much an ouch as a twinge—as he started to bring the club forward, but that was all right. Then he sensed movement out of the corner of his eye, movement where there shouldn’t be any, and he glanced up, saw someone walking on the fairway, walking right toward him, right where he was about to put the ball, and that wasn’t all right at all, too late to stop his swing though, so he drove the ball, smacked it like he was nineteen again and made of muscle.
It flew off into the trees to his left.
His shoulder screamed in agony.
Matt screamed too. He dropped the club and bit his lip.