If I had been watching the door instead of slipping my wolf profits into my wallet I might have escaped. As it was, the Sand Crab spotted me before I could duck out the back door of the grill.
“Hey, you got a minute?” he called. I pointed at my putter and then at the putting green visible through the glass door, hoping he’d get the message. No such luck. “It’s too hot out there,” he said. “I’ll buy my best friend a beer if I can ask him a few questions.”
“I’m all tapped out, Crabman. I can’t spare any cash.”
He chuckled and scratched behind his ear. “I saw you pocketing that lettuce while I walked up, but that’s not it. I just want to talk golf.”
I know when I’m beat, so I walked over to his usual table in the corner. As he sat down he pushed a beer over to me. “You play a lot of golf, right?” I nodded as I took my first sip of beer. “So you must enjoy it?” I nodded again. “You know why?”
“Why I enjoy golf?” I asked.
It was his turn to nod. “Uh-huh. It’s frustrating, eats time and money, you screw up a lot even when you get good, and you have to keep practicing to stay half-way decent. What’s to enjoy?”
“You thinking about hanging up your sticks, Crabby? If you are, I’d love to have that putter of yours.”
He shook his head so hard I thought the ball marker on his cap was going to fall off in his beer. “No, no. I love it. Love the game.” He winked. “Really love my putter.”
“So what’s this about, Sand Crab? Why the sudden interest in why I play?”
He pointed out the window toward the ninth green. The flag was hanging limply in the mid-summer heat. The only sign of life was a squirrel digging in the sand of the greenside bunker.
“I was out there a few hours ago, pretty close to where that bushy tailed tree rat is now. Needed to get up and down from the sand for a bogey. I used to do that all the time, but for pars. I didn’t care a lot today because nothing was on it, but I cared a little. It’s knda my signature, you know.”
“It’s how you got your nickname, isn’t it? You were the Sand Crab when I got here.”
“Not really. I got the name because I whined so much about being in the sand. But I was there a lot since I was an expert at missing greens, so I had to learn how to get up and down from there.”
“You did it,” I said.
“Thanks for noticing. Anyway, I read that post of yours from a few days ago. The one about you not warming up much. I don’t see you practicing too much either.” His raised eyebrow got my attention.
“That’s what I’m asking you. If you enjoy the game, why don’t I see you out there more?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know, Crabpot. I guess it doesn’t fit my schedule that well. But I was heading to the putting green a minute ago, you know.”
He grinned and spun his coaster around on the table. “If you weren’t just trying to dodge me.” He hesitated and then squinted up at me. “What’s your handicap now?”
“A 7.2 index.”
“You know what old Harvey Penick said about guys who play like you? You gotta practice the short game if you want to really get better. I’ve seen you putt. Harvey was right.”
“I suppose you followed Harvey’s instructions?”
The Sand Crab seemed to go somewhere deep inside himself. I waited while he gazed vacantly out at the first tee and the ninth green in the distance. When he came back from wherever he’d been he was smiling. “A long time ago, yeah. With me it was sand shots and chipping. I could always putt. The short game’s about all I can do now.”
I started to say something, but he stopped me. “Don’t try to make me feel better. It’s true. I have fun, but my game won’t ever be the same again. It happens to all of us, if we’re lucky.” He finished his beer, leaned his chair back on two legs, and pointed at me. “I want you to practice putting. Warm up on the putting green before your rounds. Keep track of your scores and your putts. Report to me every few weeks.”
“Why not? It’ll entertain me and might help you. Humor an old fart, will ya’?”
“So it’ll be like The Haney Project?”
“Except that I don’t know what I’m doing and you ain’t famous, it’ll be just like it. You’ll do it?”
“Why not, Sand Crab? I’ll report to you next week, or after a few rounds. Thanks for the beer.” I got up and left the grill. When I looked back I saw him pull a napkin out of the holder and start to write on it. I was afraid to go back and see what he was writing.