Shergar ch 7

7.

THE secret of pitch-and-putt is the putting and that’s just the truth. The pitching part is important but if you want to make a great score you have got to be some kind of demented wizard on the greens. All the great champions like Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus and Christy Toye’s older brother, Noel, who won the Ballytermin Golf Club summer pitch-and-putt championship four years in row, understand this. There’s no point in pitching to two feet if you miss the putt. You might as well hit your pitch shot in the brambles if you are going to do something crazy like that.

Alternatively, if you want to be great at pitch-and-putt you could cheat. You could hit two balls on every hole instead of one and only count the ball that scores best. You could move the ball into a nice clump of grass whenever you wanted instead of hitting the ball where it lies. If you felt like it, you could just ignore all the rules of golf. Or how about this — you could just lie about your score. Plenty of people do. I’ve been there to see them do it.

The thing about me is, I don’t like to cheat. The way I see it, if you cheat then you’ll never know if you’re getting better and if you don’t know if you are getting better then you’d might as well give up because what would be the point? I know. Call me Saint Cillian.

THERE’S no nice way to say this so I won’t even try. Jonathan had the worst golf swing I ever saw. It was like a caveman killing his dinner. Someone else said that first, not me, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I tried giving him golf lessons but he wouldn’t listen. Whenever I offered him a swing tip — don’t move your head in the back swing so much, for one very good example — he never failed to point out that if my swings tips were so great how come my name wasn’t Rory Woods or Tiger McIlroy?

“TIger Woods or Rory McIlroy,’’ I corrected him.

“Yes I know,’’ he said. “Tiger Woods — what kind of stupid name is that?”

The kind of stupid name that makes you world famous celebrity golfer? I knew he was only messing around. Actually, I think that was his problem — he thought pitch-and-putt was a big joke. Maybe it was when he came from but not in Ballytermin, let me assure you of that.

WE PLAYED a lot of pitch-and-putt that demented summer. I would have played more but with Jonathan not exactly being Mr Golf my mum said I should find other things to do. And we did. Obviously, we spent hours prospecting with the metal detector. We covered every square inch of the town, from up on Horse Hill to the soccer field at the southern end of the Dublin Road housing estate. We got chased off a couple of farms for scaring the cows. In our defence, cows are too easily scared if you ask me.

I was right all along about prospecting. It is boring, just like fishing. It’s just hours and hours and hours of walking around slowly, looking at the ground and waiting for the detector to find something. I would have enjoyed it more if I had my own metal detector and didn’t have to wait until Jonathan gave let me use his, which I have to say, wasn’t that often. This sounds really ungrateful, especially after what happened with the 20p piece we (me, actually) found on the beach, but walking around with Jonathan as he scoped the ground in front of him wasn’t exactly a thrill a minute. Imagine watching your brother do his maths homework. That’s what it was like.

Finding the 20p coin was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me but Jonathan was right when he said it was beginner’s luck . I didn’t find anything valuable after that, not even when we went on a day to trip to the Rock of Cashel. Oliver Cromwell’s forces laid siege there in 1647 and killed a lot of Catholics. They didn’t leave anything behind, though.

We played pitch-and-putt the day after that. It was hot and sunny and I got really sunburned. The course was busy. We had to play with Mairtin O’Nuallain and Gerry Whyte — Mr O’Nuallain and Mr Whyte to you and me. I was in the same Irish Studies class as Ciara, Mr O’Nuallain daughter. Mr Whyte was something at the town council and knew my dad. I had played with both of them before though not at the same time. They were excellent golfers in their own minds, the kind who could hear the commentator’s whispered voice at the top of every backswing. The serious kind. There were plenty of them around Ballytramon and the best thing to do when you found yourself playing with them was stay out of their way. Speak when you are spoken to, say “good shot” even when it wasn’t. So that’s what Jonathan and I did.

I warned Jonathan before we started and he took my advice. He didn’t hit four balls off the tee, or try to throw his club further than he had hit the ball. He tried to play properly and the crazy thing is he was quite good. He even had a par at one hole.

We didn’t keep score but Mr O’Nuallain and Mr Whyte were playing a match and were counting every shot as if the future of mankind depending on it. There were a couple of what you could call incidents (can you see me making air commas?) concerning the blessed rules of golf along the way. I won’t bore you with the details because I think you would be more interested in what happened at the end, when Mr Whyte holed a five foot putt and did this little jig across the green towards the hole.

“That’s a four for me,” he said, bending down to pick his ball out of the hole. “I win one-up.”

I wasn’t paying attention to their match, especially after what had happened earlier in the round. I was just glad it was over we could maybe go round again, this time on our own and be able to speak without disturbing Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

Mr Whyte flipped his ball in the air, let it bounce off the back of his hand and then catch it in his palm. The smile on his face lasted only as long as it took Jonathan to utter four words.

“That was a five.”

Mr Whyte froze exactly where he stood. “Excuse me.”

Jonathan smiled at him. “That was a five.”

“It was a four.”

Mr O’Nuallain was off to the side of the green. He had a wallet in his hand but he stopped whatever he was doing when he heard Jonathan and Mr Whyte arguing. I glanced back towards the tee. There were three people, all staring in our direction and no doubt wondering what was going on. If only the knew, I could have sold them tickets.

“No it wasn’t. It was five,’’ Jonathan said. “When you put your putter behind the ball you nudged it a little closer to the hole — accidentally, but that still counts as a shot. Right?”

The back of Mr Whyte’s neck was sunburn red, the colour of rage..

“I did no such thing.”

“You did.”

Jonathan smiled when he said this, which was guaranteed to make Mr Whyte crazy. No-one talks to the man from the council like that, not in any corner of Ireland. Even I knew that and I didn’t know very much.

“Listen, sonny….”

Mr Whyte narrowed his eyes and took a deep breath, like he was sucking every last ounce of air before diving off a cliff.

“Are from around here?” he said, not waiting for an answer. “I don’t think so…”

“London, actually,’’ Jonathan said.

“Well, I don’t know how they do things in London but in Ballytermin you don’t go around accusing people of doing things they didn’t do. How old are you anyway?”

“Sixteen. What’s that got to do with anything?”

The wait proved too much for the people on the tee. One of them shouted for us to get a move on.

Mr O’Nuallain had his say. “Gerry, let’s just leave it for now. Come on, let’s go. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me,’’ Mr Whyte said. “I won’t be accused of cheating by anyone.”

I don’t mind telling you I was scared. I wanted Jonathan to shut up so all the unpleasantness and fear would go away.

“I didn’t accuse you of cheating. I just pointed out you took five shots and not four,” he said. And then he said the worst thing he could have said. “You saw what happened, didn’t you Cillian? The gentleman here did take a five. Right.”

I have to confess I did see him nudge the ball forward just before he hit his putt. It was an accident and I wished I could un-see what I saw, but there it was. I couldn’t.

All eyes were on me now. I had the casting vote in an election to decide who was telling the truth. Jonathan was in the right but it wasn’t as straight-forward as that, not with Mr Whyte from the council standing right in front of me. He knew my dad.

“I’m the Lord Provost of this town,” Mr Whyte said.

This was news to me. The bad kind of news. Turns out I was being asked to call the most important person in Ballytermin in town a cheat at golf. No wonder I wanted a hurricane to arrive and blow me into the next county, the sooner the better. Like right then in fact.

“Weeeell….,” I began.

I’m pretty good with words even though I say so myself but there were none in the dictionary that could get me out of the fix. Either Mr Whyte was going to go crazy at me, or Jonathan would think I was a coward.

“Don’t be scared. Just tell the truth,’’ he said.

This was easy for him to say but, still, it made me think. Maybe my dad wouldn’t be so upset after all, not if he found out I told the truth. He wasn’t keen pitch-and-putt but he was a big fan of being honest. Mr Whyte would give me credit for being polite, even if he didn’t like what I said. Then again, probably not. Perhaps I should do what Mr O’Nuallain did and have no part of the argument. He walked back up the hill towards the clubhouse.

All of this could have happened but none of it did. The group on the tee behind us got fed up waiting and one of them hit a shot towards the green. The ball landed in front of the green, bounced hard a couple of times and rolled towards Mr Whyte. It stopped five feet away from — far enough away to not bother a normal person but close enough to send a raving cheating like the Lord Provost of Ballytermin crazy. Off he stumped towards the tee to speak to whoever hit the ball in our direction.

I took my chance while he was distracted and headed back past the clubhouse and home. Jonathan followed but at a much slower pace. Mr O’Nuallain was in the car-park, sitting on the ledge of his open car-boot changing his shoes.

“Don’t worry about Gerry,’’ he said. “He’ll calm down in a bit.”

I slowed down for a couple of steps, just long enough to say thank you

“Have a nice day,’’ Jonathan said.

Have a nice day. Only American talk like that, at the start of movies before the axe murderer appears and chops everybody’s head off.

The good news is nothing bad happened with Mr Whyte. I never saw him again that summer, except once when I was coming out of the dentists and he was parking his car across the street. Luckily, he didn’t see me. The worst thing was the waiting for him to speak to my dad. If he had, I would never have heard the end of it. I would be been sent to my room for fifteen years, what with Mr Whyte being the Lord Provost and all. Every morning for the next two weeks I woke up and that was the first thought in my — that this was the day.

Johnathan, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less. He forgot all about Mr Whyte by the time we got home from the pitch-and-putt. He never mentioned it again, except when we played pitch-and- putt and he scored about a 25 on the nine hole one afternoon. “That’s a four for me,’’ he said. We both had a good laugh at that one.