"The Wacky World of College Athletics"
Now, during my years at Westminster, I did a lot more than drinking, raising hell with the fellas up in room 302, getting yelled at while working for the basketball team, and occasionally attending class. I also competed as I did at both the high school and junior college levels on the varsity golf team. Golf on the college level was much different than it was back in high school. You played a practice round on Sunday, followed by a thirty six-hole marathon session on Monday and then a final eighteen holes on Tuesday. No carts either, it was all on foot. Four of your teams' individual scores comprised your team score. There were kids in a lot better shape than I was literally crying in pain after the Monday rounds. College golf was more of a physical and mental endurance test than it was based solely on skill. But the trips themselves were a nice chance to get away from all the pressures of college life and decompress. Well, they usually were, but here is one example of a trip that did not exactly go as expected.
I had just turned 22 years old and was the old man of a pretty green group of men and women college golfers. You had the innocent, church going folks in T-Sick, The Juice, and Meg, Bradford the rocket scientist, a savvy and highly touted freshman player in Rache, Brightie the private school princess with a wild streak, and a stereotypical redheaded kid in Loony Zack. And then there was Golf Girl. Ahhh yes, Golf Girl, a kind of goofy, but drop dead gorgeous 6-handicapper transfer student from Idaho State. She was a total knockout with an unbelievable swing to boot. She was just what the doctor ordered for this old, rotten bastard to finally put my failed relationship with Jules behind me and move on. She was any serious golfers dream girl. And we were about to embark in a five day van trip to Billings, Montana to wrap up the Fall-half of the Frontier Conference golf season.
Coach DP thought it would be a nice idea if we left a day earlier than what was typical. We took off from Westminster on Saturday morning so we could spend a relaxing day seeing the sights in beautiful Yellowstone National Park. I was especially excited because I hadn’t been up to Yellowstone since I was in the 9th grade. Outside of the mountains in Alaska I have always thought that our nation’s first national park was the most beautiful place on Earth.
As bleary as I felt that morning, my mind was still sharp as we played a little game during the drive using Trivial Pursuit cards. We split into two teams, if your team could answer all six questions on a card, you earned a point. I scored the first point of the day answering a question regarding Yankee pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson swapping wives before the 1973 season. "Only Nickas would know something like that." Coach grumbled as he honked the horn displeased that his team was now down 1-0. Ten of us, crammed into a fifteen passenger van with all of our equipment. It almost felt like family.
We pulled into West Yellowstone early in the afternoon and received our room assignments. The girls were all stuffed into one unit, and the guys ended up divided by, well, cultural lines. T-Sick and the Juice doing their bible study, while Bradford, I and Loony Zack piled into a room. Now, Loony Zack's shtick was, well, he made everybody a little nervous. He had transferred to Westminster from Dixie College, where one of my old Junior College coaches at Eastern Utah had taken a job a year earlier. The kid was what we call in the team golf world, a horse. Always came through with a solid round no matter what. He was what you would think would be the ideal teammate. And from a purely competitive standpoint he was. But there was also something a little bit off about the kid. He would wear these clear sunglasses that magnified his eyes as he stared at you. He also had a nice little habit of getting just a little too close to you when he would talk to you. He wasn't exactly standing on your toes or anything, but he was just close enough to make you uncomfortable. That was when he talked which he didn't do very often. Mostly he would sit on the back bench of the van chanting along to his latest trance-music CD. I would wager to say that at least 90 percent of the team thought he was some kind of a serial killer or something. I was pretty much the only guy that was not scared shitless about rooming with the guy. I thought it was hilarious.
Bradford, who may have been psychic or something based on what happened later asked me if I would be offended if he roomed with the other guys. He had a huge physics exam when we got back into town and wanted to spend his off-course time studying. This left me alone with Zack. "No problem at all bro," I said, "but I think it would be a good idea if you went to the park with the rest of us today. You know, get to know everybody a little better." I just wanted the whole team together. Build some unity.
"Sounds like it might be some fun," he replied.
We drove into Yellowstone and cruised to my personal favorite feature of the park, the Norris Geyser Basin. Norris is a wide valley full of hot springs, low clouds, bubbling geysers of many beautiful colors and herds of bison walking around. We hiked along the wooden trail, checking out and taking pictures of one of the widest actively volcanic areas in the country. I sat down on a bench as one of the biggest buffalo I have ever seen walked no more than ten feet away from me. Goddamn I love nature! Of course, no trip to Yellowstone is complete without a stop at Old Faithful where we wrapped up our afternoon as I snapped our unofficial team photograph right in front of the world famous geyser.
Back in West Yellowstone, the team split up for dinner, T-Sick, Bradford and The Juice hit a diner with Coach, while the rest of the squad and myself took up residence at a local bar and grille. Something about a gigantic buffalo steak and a couple of cool brews with my teammates made me put school and the hijinks of Room 302 behind me. At the time, I was all about putting on a good show to impress the girl. I would get kind of loud and a little obnoxious, kind of like Vince Vaughn as Double-Down Trent in Swingers. I was putting on a show tonight! Pretending that I knew a damn thing about the one or two rotguts on the wine list, and trying to be semi-refined, but acting like a know-it-all jackass, I was an idiot. But Golf Girl seemed to dig it. I knew she was a good girl, and your typical Utah cultural issues doomed any hopes I might have had, but dammit, I had fallen for this girl. Eventually the beers mellowed me out a little bit, and we had a nice conversation once the food arrived.
We finished dinner and walked back to the hotel. Zack, Brightie and I stopped along the way at the local grocery store. Now for those who don’t know, in Utah our beer selection is pretty sparse. And it is a weak 3.2 percent ABV to boot. So I always made sure to take an extra large clothes bag on these golf trips in order to bootleg some of the good stuff back to Utah. Stuff like that sweet golden elixir known as Alaskan Amber. While at the store Zack and Brightie picked up some items and I snagged two cases of my favorite sweet, sweet microbrew. We got back to the hotel where I left my contraband by the back door as I was not sure the prying eyes of Coach needed to see anything like that.
I finally got the stuff up to the room and was packing it away into my clothes bag when Loony Zack suddenly appeared about three inches from my face. "Hey, man." He asked quietly, "Brightie and I are hitting the hot tub. You want to join us man?"
"Naw dude," I said taking a step back, "I'm just going to take a bath in some Icy-Hot and hit the sheets. My knee is killing me." I was out of shape, unless round is a shape.
"Oh. Hey man." He got in close again, "Can we borrow some of your beer, man?"
"Knock yourself out dude. I'll catch ya in the morning."
After a nice long bath, I felt relaxed enough to hit the sack. I made the rounds to my teammates rooms wishing them all a good night. My old ass was like the team dad or something. I wanted to be a leader so bad, sometimes I overdid it. I went back to the room, flipped on the television and cracked a beer. Nothing was on, except the Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck vehicle Armageddon. Not the greatest movie of all time, but a nice chance to see my future ex-wife Liv Tyler looking as stunning as ever. As they were drilling the asteroid, I passed out. It was 12:30 in the morning.
I am a shitty sleeper, so when my eyes opened and saw the clock still read 2:30 am I was not too surprised. I rolled over and was welcomed with a sight somewhat common on your average rock band's tour bus, but not seen pretty much ever in my traveling career. There on the bed next to mine, were Loony Zack and Private School Princess Brightie knockin' the boots! And what was that on top of the television? Yup, it was Loony Zack’s mini-camcorder, and the red recording light was definitely on. Holy shit! Those two crazy bastards are making their own homemade porno in here!
Now, here I was, faced with a decision. What do you do in this kind of situation? I kind of had to take a whiz, but obviously for them anyway, there was a beautiful moment going on, and who am I to screw it up? I had no aspirations of becoming a movie star anytime soon either. And those two had kind of been putting on that whole Woody Harrelson/Juliette Lewis "Natural Born Killers" vibe all afternoon, listening to their trance and Fugazi discs. There was that off chance that if I interrupted, I may be the unsuspecting victim of some kind of ritualistic blood orgy or some shit. Who knows? All this shit was running through my head as I shut my eyes and tried like hell to fall back asleep. The last things I heard between the moaning and grunting as the NyQuil kicked back in and I drifted back to slumber was Brightie whispering to Loony Zack, "Isn't it kind of weird, with somebody else in the room?"
"Yeah man. It’s kind of a turn-on, man." Zack replied. He really did talk like that ALL of the time.
I woke up the next day, and sauntered down to breakfast. I was nibbling at my toast and pounding coffee when the remainder of the girl’s team nearly knocked the table over sitting down. The inquisition began. "Brightie never came back to the room last night, what happened?" "Was it her and Zack?" "What happened?" Over and over again they asked the same question as I stared blankly into my coffee cup. I finally looked up.
"Ladies, put two and two together and subtract me because I didn’t have anything to do with what those two did last night."
"You mean they...?"
"I'd rather not talk about it," I said as I nodded my head and took another sip of coffee. “Let’s just say that was possibly one of the weirdest fucking nights I’ve ever had." They knew my reputation and got the message. If I thought it was strange, it would probably be traumatic to most god-fearing people.
Something about that night kind of took my head out of things that weekend. I played a hell of a practice round, my best round of the year actually that day, a 6-under par 66 at the Peter Yegen Golf Club in Billings. I had high hopes going into the tournament. Coach must have had a losing night playing cards with the other coaches the night before, because suddenly there were all five of us guys crammed into one room. No way Zack would be nuts enough to try it again with and extra four guys stuffed into the room. But who knows? I fell asleep not feeling right at all. Must have been something I ate.
The tournament started the next day, I warmed up great and managed solid pars on the first two holes when it hit. It felt like I was being repeatedly kicked in the gut. I barely made it to the bushes when the vomit started to flow. Yup, it was food poisoning. I was on hole-three of thirty-six for the day and I could barely stand. This wasn't going to be a good day at all. Pretty much every other hole we played, I would honk in the weeds. We finished the first 18 and as we were checking our cards I was shocked to see I had managed a 73. I signed my card and handed it to Montana-Western's coach who handed me a bag lunch in exchange. The second that turkey-on-a-roll hit my gut it was on its way back up again. We still had 18 holes to play, and I had no way to refuel. "You okay man?" Western's coach asked as I shook my head.
"How's my score matched up with my teammates so far?" I asked.
"Yours is the second lowest round carded on your team," he replied. "One of your guys got D-Q’d though. Are you sure you’re going to make it?"
"Got no choice now, if we don’t post a tournament score, we can’t go to the Regional. Going to have to gut this one out." I wish I had felt as confident as I wanted to sound.
Round-two wasn’t much better than round one. Although about six holes in, I was able to keep a little cone-cup of water down. My drives were getting weaker, my vision was blurry. I felt like I was turning into a 90 year old man. Montana-Western's coach rolled up again about eleven holes in to the round and stuck a bottle of Gatorade from his team's own stash into my bag. "Just try it, see if you can keep it down. Some of the other coaches and I are taking bets on if you're going to finish."
"How are my odds?" I asked weakly.
"Well, I'm pretty much the only one banking on ya."
"What does my coach think?"
"Don’t know. Nobody’s seen him since the first round." He replied.
Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen hide or hair of my own coach since the driving range that morning. Glad to see he cared. Maybe I should have played for Montana-Western. "I’m so taking this program over after I graduate!" I thought as I took down a baby-swallow of Gatorade.
We finally hit the eighteenth hole of the round and thirty-sixth hole of the day. And I had to take a knee to tee the ball up. At that point I felt so weak; I could barely hit the ball across the street. I popped the ball out into the fairway. Thankfully it was a short hole and I only had about 140 yards in. By then a small crowd of about thirty already finished players was surrounding the green. I embarrassingly grabbed a 6-iron out of the bag. Ordinarily that was way too much club for this shot, but in my condition, this was barely going to get there. I swung the club back and threw my hands at the ball. Thinned the piss out of it. That ball barely got three feet off of the ground and landed about twenty yards off the green. Surprisingly, it bounced forward, nearly rolling off the back of the green and left me with about a 45 foot putt back to the front-left hole location. Two putts to go and I can finally lie down. The other two guys in my group, Chad from Rocky Mountain and Colt from Carroll had both knocked wedges to inside four feet. I could barely see the damn hole from that far away. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied Golf Girl in the crowd. I was suddenly overcome by a familiar feeling of calm. Good lord she was beautiful. "Man up dude! Just get it close." I thought as I jabbed at the ball. "Aw hell!" I hollered, as I saw the ball burn a trail to the hole, "that better hit it, or it’s off the fuckin’ green!" Maybe it heard me, because next thing I knew my ball slammed into the back edge of the cup, hopped in the air a little bit and then settled at the bottom of the hole as a collective shriek went up in the crowd, which to my blurry eyes and ringing ears, looked and sounded like Sunday at Augusta. I staggered forward to snag my ball out of the hole, but Chad from Rocky already had it.
"You are the toughest son-of-a-bitch I've ever met." He said as he handed me my ball.
We sat down at the scorer’s table to sign our cards, when I finally realized after adding up the numbers I had shot a 1-under par 70. My pen had barely finished autographing the scorecard when I blacked out.
The next day I felt a lot better, but could not get the putter to work. I struggled to a 76. But I had still managed one of my best three round tournament scores in years. Not that I really cared, I was just happy to hold my lunch down. Unfortunately my coach wasn't as impressed. He came up to me while I was happily crushing some Taco Johns with my teammates. "Nickas, if you would have shot 74 today, we would have taken 2nd place. I’m going to need better scores from you down the road." He said matter-of-factly and walked out of the restaurant. Dude couldn’t have saved it for his office when we got home. If we weren't 700 miles from home, I would have throttled him right there. Let’s just say things were a little cold between coach and me for a long time after that.
The ten hour ride home was long and quiet. Where things were jovial a few days earlier, everybody kind of did their own thing. While Juice and T-Sick read their prayer books, Zack and Brightie shared a blanket in the back giggling. Bradford and Rache studied physics and Meg and Coach talked basketball. I slipped my copy of Alice Cooper’s Hey Stoopid into my Discman and did some thinking. "Am I just spinning my wheels here? Is this even worth it anymore?" Then I looked over at Golf Girls sleeping head next to me. "Are you kidding," I thought, "this weekend was the time of my life!"
Since that was the final trip of the fall, we all kind of went our separate ways for the winter. Zack and Brightie broke up something like three days later and nobody ever heard from them again. They did not return the next semester. T-Sick and The Juice both went on church missions, so I never got the chance to play with them again. Coach stuck around for a few more years before moving on to bigger and better things. After the events of that weekend, I figured I had absolutely nothing to lose. I had seen it all so I worked up the gumption to ask Golf Girl out to the homecoming ball. But that is a story for another day.
Here's a photo of that team:
Back Row: Meg, Brightie, Golf Girl, Rache, Coach DP, Bradford, Juice
Front Row: Loony Zack, The Golf Monster, T-Sick