When I was a young actor struggling to stay alive on the streets of New York, my mother would send me birthday cards with sport themes: a pipe smoking guy with a gun and dog in the high grass, a dude with a fishing pole, standing waist-deep in water.

My favorite was the 1920s golfer in knickers, or plus-fours as they were known, and argyle socks. They were so “Great Gatsby.” I loved them. I went to a golf shop in Beverly Hills once and asked about getting a pair. They smiled at one another and said Bobby Jones was the last golfer to wear them. They suggested I try the golf museum in Atlanta.

I knew nothing about golf then, and I know less now. I’ve tried watching the great televised games, but I lose the feeling in my legs. Still, I was drawn to the “coolness” of golfers, the great pink polo shirts and yellow slacks, the two-tone shoes. And who would guess that, one day, romance would play a hand in the game?

Enter Mary O’Leary, not her real last name. Mary was the daughter of a stockbroker, and besides being a golf fiend, a very devout Catholic. Before lining up a shot, she would make the sign of the cross and on particularly difficult shots, recite the Hail Mary.

Mary played golf with her father, a stern fellow who looked like Spencer Tracy, and who never looked directly at me when we talked. She was very good, and he was better. When it became annoyingly clear to Daddy that my intentions were serious, he had Mary invite me out to the links for a run. I ran to a bookstore on Fifth Avenue and got a a book on golf terminology to impress him. I memorized words like “back nine,” “birdies” and “bogeys.” Still terrified, I agreed to go out, but to cover my butt I claimed a sprained wrist, even faked a bandage. So they let me carry the bags. In the dictionary, where it shows “demeaning,” there is a picture of me carrying the bags.

Somewhere along the course, Mary asked for a driver. I grabbed what I thought looked like a driver. Daddy snorted “That’s a putter.” The jig was up. She dumped me soon after. I don’t blame her. What respectable woman golfer would marry a man who didn’t know a driver from a putter? I later heard that Mary went into the convent, a cloistered order. I feel I was responsible for that. That’s a true story.

One day, golf would play another meaningful chapter in my life. Six months after enlisting in the Air Force, I was sent to Japan. Arriving there, I was stunned to learn that I was being sent to a remote radar base high up in northern Japan, where I was told that the natives had not seen white men since Admiral Perry ventured inland in 1852.

Then a miracle happened. The assigning officer asked me if I played golf. I had heard that this was an intense golf-addicted base. I smelled a deal. Of course I did, I said I loved golf. I lived for golf. What else is there? I tossed around a few of those old Mary O’Leary words. The lieutenant was impressed. He kept me as his personal clerk, and I spent the next 16 months only thirty five minutes from Tokyo, where I spent my evenings running the officers’ club bar. By the time they discovered that I knew zilch about golf, but knew how to make a great banana daiquiri, we had become good friends.

One day just before I rotated home, I went out to the links with my officer friends. I took my first clean swing, connected, and watched the ball go soaring into the air and roll right into the hole. The officers put me up on their shoulders like a hero. No. I made all that up. But wouldn’t it make a great birthday card?

Goodnight Mom, wherever you are. Thanks for the cards.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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