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Over the Labor Day week end I played golf in the annual Calcutta at the Kankakee Country Club. The event is called the “Rollison” after a man named Clive Rollison, who was a long-time member, albeit before my time. It is the "BIG" kahuna at our club. This was my 26th appearance in this hallowed affair which has been going on for 55 years. Twenty-six appearances pales in comparison to the 54 that my buddy, Dick Ackman, played in. Sadly, he was unable to play this year, which diminished some of the luster.
For those of you unfamiliar with a Calcutta event, a club randomly divides its competing members into four groups, depending on ability, which is measured by a handicap system. The “A” players are the captains of the team and make up the better golfers. I was not among this group. That is followed by the “B” players, which comprises a group of pretty good golfers, some of which are past captains. I wasn’t among that group either. What follows is the “C” players, generally a group of golfers who think they are better than they really are. That would be my group. And then there are the “D” players, usually a collection of new-comers to golf, the casual or the elderly, or a place for the proverbial sand-baggers to hide.
Once teams are drawn out pops the “Poop Sheet” (sorry for the visual) written by a couple of wise guys ranking the teams and poking fun of those poor souls who actually think they have a good team. (Note to the wise guys, had you read my blog you would have known a polemicist is someone who indulges in contentious rhetoric that is intended to support a specific position. And since you predicted it, I am now writing about the experience!) After that, the teams are auctioned off at a scrumptious dinner. Then the real fun begins…golf!
The week before a Rollison you will see people coming out of the woodwork to hone their golf skills. Some are even successful. Bright yellow practice balls are everywhere on the course…mostly in positions they had never been in before. New members, terrified of a poor performance, sweat bullets while beating practice balls more in one week than they had in the prior fifteen.
I have to say that in the previous twenty-six tournaments, I too had fallen into the usual trappings of preparing for a Rollison. I practiced incessantly…that week, expecting to become the next Arnold Palmer. I bought new golf balls and attire. I envisioned getting that special trophy and my mug up on the wall at the entrance to the Club. That is sanctified wall space, ladies and gents.
Then in 2010 I got lucky and won one. I was on a team with Captain Niles Crum, Bruce Dickstein and Dave Van Dehey, a great group of guys. We were ranked near the bottom, thanks to the wise guys running the poop sheet. I came out of the gate hot the first day, having practiced madly all week, and for the first nine holes kept Team Crum in the running. We made the turn at hole number ten and evidently, my golf game didn’t come with us, as I never made another point again that weekend, including the one-hole playoff. The guys hit the ball and drug Alan well enough that our picture now hangs proudly in the hall. My poor performance might explain the placement of the picture though – you have to look for it.
I have to say that having won a Rollison, I somehow might have lost some of the edge, if ever I had an edge. Over the course of the next seven years I missed two Rollison’s for back issues, and was never as anxious again when I did play. Don’t get me wrong, I tried my best, but somehow, it just didn’t seem the same as it did before. The nerves just weren’t there. Or so I thought.
This year, I was matched up with current club champ, Matt Dwyer (A Man Called Horse), Dr. Joe “Smoothie” Wertz, and my boyfriend-in-law, Jerome Warner. Yes, that is my daughter’s boyfriend – what are the odds? We were auctioned off in the middle of the pack as the Poop Sheet wise guys virtually giggled at us. There was some logic to this as a team captain had never won the Rollison two years in a row, and Matt had won the year before. First-time players also don’t win a lot of Rollison’s, a fact that didn’t seem to bother Mr. Warner. The good doctor and I sat in our cart and pondered those facts often throughout the weekend.
I should say that I regularly play golf with the same group of guys. One of them was having performance anxiety and worried he might perform poorly at the Rollison. He talked nonstop about what could go wrong, including dribbling a ball off the first tee on the first day. That is every Rollison players worst nightmare, as there is usually a crowd watching the golfers go off and sometimes can set the tone for the team. Me personally, in the previous twenty-five events, had never done that so I had no reason to think otherwise. So, Saturday morning I teed up my Titleist 2 with the Cubs Logo, took a couple of practice swings, swung mightily and promptly hit the ball about twenty feet. Yep, I had pulled off the most terrifying event of the Rollison - dribbling a ball off the first tee box, not even reaching the ladies tee. Thanks for putting that image in my noggin' buddy.
We didn’t score a point on the first hole – normally a sure sign that it is about to become a long expensive weekend with people you would just as soon get away from. But, a team led by Matt Dwyer was not to be counted out. After the first hole debacle, the captain just smiled and proceeded to catch fire. When playing golf in a two-best-ball format with Captain Dwyer, you are never out of contention for scoring. He is always going to “hold” the score at the very least, and there is a good chance he will birdie at best. That meant one of us three remaining knuckleheads could take turns scoring some points too. Joe and I pretty much shot our games all weekend, which allowed us to ying and yang for points. Joe kept reminding me to shoot like I would during any “normal” golf game, a trick that actually worked on this old codger. And then came Jerome, much like Danny Noonan in Caddyshack, he shot the best golf of his life. As the “C” player, I shot my handicap both days – a somewhat remarkable achievement given the pressure of the tournament. Jerome, the “D” player, beat me – both days! Methinks Jerome should apply to be adopted by Matt.
As most of you probably know or have realized by now, our team won this year’s Rollison. Against some stiff competition and great guys, we were in first place by two strokes after the first day and cruised to victory the second. Our “D” player just happened to close it out by promptly parring the dreaded 17th hole and then the 18th for good measure…in front of a gallery of about a hundred people. Me, after starting the tournament by dribbling off the front tee in front of a bunch of people, managed to end the event by chilly-dipping my second shot on 18, in the sand trap, again in front of a bunch of people. Obviously, hamming it up is not my forte. Fortunately, by that time all we had to do on the 18th hole was not give up six strokes to take home the trophy.
The elation of winning a Rollison in front of your peers at our club, particularly when you are the last group in and the outcome in pretty-much known, is almost overwhelming. My mother swears I had divine intervention with my late father, who played in about 30 Rollison events himself. She might be right. At one point on the 17th hole, Jerome and I were all that was left to hold or score. I was standing in front of the first creek, having laid up, facing my nemesis, that damn island between the Kankakee River and the north pond. It hates me, I swear. I have to pay it a toll of one ball on every round. As I addressed the ball I said to myself, “Come on dad, help me with this shot.” I launched a beautiful 5-wood about 220 yards, straight down the middle, coming to a stop just in front of the west pond. I couldn’t do that again if I hit a bucket of balls. I bogeyed the hole and held, while Jerome naturally parred it as every "D" player does, giving us two points for the hole.
Afterwards, I sat at the bar by myself…imbibing a little. I couldn’t believe how physically and mentally exhausted I was. Was I that out of shape, I pondered, knowing full well the answer. Having just won a Rollison event, I had not the energy to get up and go home to prepare for the dinner and accolades. When I got home, I seriously considered staying home I was so tired, but alas, the wife wouldn’t allow it. At the dinner that night I was amazed at how many guys agreed – it is so emotionally and physically taxing when every shot counts. I can’t imagine what the pro’s go through.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our “fifth player,” Tena Marquie. Score keeping her first, and last, Rollison, she was a glue that held us together. She had no idea what she had gotten herself into but went about it with a positive, fun attitude and steered our collective spirit. She wasn’t about to let anyone get down. She was truly a winning part of Team Dwyer, and there is not a man on the team that would disagree. Thank you, Tena.