The Golf Ball Also Rises

(If Hemingway Liked Golf)

The tournament on the fourth day was much better. Kitty sat between Orenthal and me along the ropes near the green, and Gordon and Whitaker went up above to the tents. Shelton was the whole show. I do not think Kitty saw any other golfer. No one else did either, except the reporters that had to. It was all Shelton.

He was playing with two other golfers but they did not count. I sat beside Kitty and explained to Kitty what it was all about. I told her about watching the cleek, not the ball, when the blade comes through swift and even, and got her to watching the golfer line up the blade of his cleek so that she saw what it was all about, so that it became something that was going on with a definite end, and less a spectacle with unexplained knicker lengths and patterned socks. I had her watch how Shelton’s caddy took the red flag away from the hole and held it so that it did not flap in the breeze, and how he showed Shelton, smoothly and suavely, the line of the break. She saw how Shelton avoided every brusque movement with his jigger and saved the holes for the last when he wanted them, not whirly around the rim of the cup, but smoothly, into the center. She saw how Shelton worked the ball near the hole, and I pointed to her the tricks other golfers used to make it look as though their ball was also near. She saw why she liked Shelton’s jigger work and why she didn’t like the others.

Shelton never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves like corkscrews, their elbows raised, and leaned against the shafts of their cleeks after the ball ran past the hole, to give a faked look of the dangers of three-putting. Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling. Shelton’s putting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of the line in his movements and putts, and always quietly and calmly took the ball from the bottom of the cup. He did not have to emphasize with his fist that his ball had gone into the hole. Kitty saw something that was beautiful done close to the hole that was ridiculous if it were done a little way off. I told her how since Hagen and Jones, all the golfers had been developing a technic that simulated the appearance of bogey danger in order to give a fake emotional feeling, while the par was really safe. Shelton had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum exposure to the danger of bogey, while he dominated his competitors by making them realize that his score was unattainable, always accepting his cleek like an assassin preparing for killing.

“I’ve never seen him do an awkward swing,” Kitty said.

“You won’t until he gets frightened of three-putting,” I said.

“He’ll never be frightened,” Orenthal said. “He’s too damned good with his mashies and niblicks.”

“He knew everything when he started. The others can’t learn what he was born with.”

“And God, what looks,” Kitty said.

Just on the edge of the green, Shelton drew his jigger, rose on his toes, and sighted along the blade. The wind surged as Shelton drew the blade back. Shelton’s left hand dropped the face of the club over the ball, his left shoulder went forward as the blade moved and, for just an instant, he and the ball were one, Shelton went out over the ball, the right arm extended high up to where the hilt of the jigger had gone, high on the hill’s shoulder. Then the figure was broken. There was a little divot as Shelton came clear, and then he was standing, one hand up, facing the crowd, his red tie slipped out from under his jacket, the red blowing in the wind, and the ball, the red tie, his other hand holding the jigger high like a sword, the ball coming to rest by the hole. Then the tie was gone, he was waving, and his legs settling.

“There he goes,” Orenthal said.

Shelton was close enough so the hole, if it had eyes, could see him. His cleek up, he whispered to the ball. He tapped one foot. Then he sighted along the blade of the cleek, his feet firm. He gathered himself in the wind. His caddy held the red flag tight. Then Shelton, standing close over the ball, his head forward, lifted the cleek slowly, the blade held low, then straight through, suddenly, two feet in the air. The ball disappeared and it was over.

Handkerchiefs were waving all along the green. The gallery did not want it ever to be finished. The Club President looked down from his box and waved his handkerchief.

Shelton putted not as he had been forced to, but as he wanted. Boys were running toward him from all parts of the green, making a little circle around him. Others started to dance around the hole. The President whistled and Shelton, running to get ahead of the crowd, grabbed one of the other golfers and cut off his ear. He leaned against the rope and gave Kitty the ear. He nodded and smiled. The crowd were all about him. The caddy released and replaced the red flag.

“You liked it?” Shelton called.

Kitty did not say anything. They looked at each other and smiled. Kitty held the ear in her hand.

“Don’t get bloody,” Shelton said, and grinned. The gallery wanted him. Several golfers shouted at Kitty. Shelton turned and tried to get through the crowd. They were all around him trying to lift him and put him on their shoulders. He fought and twisted away. He did not want to be carried on people’s shoulders. But they held him and lifted him. It was uncomfortable and his legs were spraddled and his body was very sore. They were lifting him and all running toward the clubhouse. He had his hand on somebody’s shoulder. He looked around at us apologetically. The crowd, running, went off the course with him.

We all went back to the hotel. Kitty went upstairs. Orenthal and Gordon joined a large table. Whitaker and I sat and drank iced-tea with lemonade at the bar. The iced-tea and lemonade made everything seem better. I drank it without sugar and it was pleasantly bitter.

After a while Whitaker said, “Well, it was a swell tournament.”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s like a wonderful nightmare.”

“What’s the matter, feel low?”

“Low as hell.”

“Have another iced-tea and lemonade. Drink it slow.”

It was beginning to get dark. The two of us sat at the bar and it seemed as though six people were missing.

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