The scrooge, the foul mouth, the guy I met on Twitter: Playing partners we’ll never forget

You don't know who you'll meet on the golf course.

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You’ve played golf alone. Or with one, two or three people you know well. But, very likely at some point in your golfing life, you’ve also been matched with someone you are meeting for the first time on the first tee. And every so often, that stranger does or says something so unusual during the round that you remember him or her way more than any of their shots. Welcome to our three-part ode to the most memorable of those random partners. Part I is below. Part II comes next week and tells the story of a round with three baseball stars at Pebble Beach. The grand finale, Part III, is in two weeks and features more celebrity groupings (though one is random).  — Nick Piastowski


The one-armed chipper who loved to swear

The son, maybe in his early 30s, hit his opening tee shot. He later told us he had been in Las Vegas for about a decade and worked in marketing, and both seemed to fit — he had the Vegas vibe and the salesman smile. But we never really got to know much else about him. There wasn’t a chance. 

The dad hit. 

“Did you see that, boys? Right down the middle,” he said. 

Except he didn’t say it quite like that. 

For one, the dad was visiting his son from Austria, and his accent was thick. Not “Ah-nold,” but more Russian sounding, kind of like John Malkovich’s character in Rounders. And between “you” and “see” was the “F” word. And between “the” and “middle” was the “F” word. As we’d learn over the next four and a half hours, his knowledge of English was impeccable. But he was fond of one word more than any other. 

I remember my partner’s name, but he’s maybe best described in the way my friend and I best remember him: 

The one-armed chipper who smoked a cigar during every shot, said “f—” every other word and told us 18 stories over 18 holes, including how to best fly internationally.

The cigar. One never left his mouth. And yet, with a fat stogie extending multiple inches from his face, he never burned himself. He had better swing technique than Adam Scott.

Let’s go in order. The one-armed chipping. Every shot from 10 yards and in was hit with just his right arm. The left just hung there. He said he had the shanks a few years back — insert “F” word before “had” and “shanks” — and this was his cure. It worked. Not one mishit.    

The cigar. One never left his mouth. And yet, with a fat stogie extending multiple inches from his face, he never burned himself. He had better swing technique than Adam Scott. His cigars were “only” Cubans, he said. And stored in a hand-crafted wooden box — which he cracked open on the 8th and gave us each one.

The swearing and the stories. He told us about Europe. He told us about South America. He told us about Vegas golf and how Butch didn’t teach him a thing. He told us about his sports bets. About baccarat and blackjack. About where to get the best steak. About Vegas nightlife. All described with that certain word.

He told us how to fly internationally. This is highly, highly, highly edited from the original conversation because there was more. Oh, so much more. But he asked us where we were from and how we got to Vegas, but before we answered, he wanted to talk about flights. It ended this way: “If you (F) ever fly to (F) Europe, make (F) sure they (F) don’t cut you (F) off after 25 (F) drinks during the (F) day or otherwise it’s a (F) waste of your (F) money.   

Noted!  — Nick Piastowski

My caddie at the North Korean Open in Pyongyang

Josh Sens at the North Korean Open. Simon Jones

In the spring of 2012, after fudging some facts on a visa application to disguise my identity as a reporter, I flew to Beijing, took a train to northern China and then hopped a puddle-jumper to Pyongyang to play in the North Korean Open. Staged once a year on the only golf course in a country so cloistered that it’s called the Hermit Kingdom, the tournament draws an appropriately ragtag field of misfits. My playing partners that week included a Mongolian martial artist, a vodka-chugging Finn who couldn’t break 100 and a gregarious Kiwi who lived in China, where he ran an assembly-line operation that manufactured edible underwear. Not the sort of characters you tend to forget.

Yet the on-course companion I recall most clearly was my caddie, a shy young woman who covered her mouth when she smiled and giggled nervously at my errant shots. Like most travelers in North Korea, I was watched over carefully throughout my visit by a government-appointed minder and forbidden from mingling with the general population, so the closest I got to ‘meeting’ an ordinary North Korean came through my interactions with the woman on my bag. Since I spoke no Korean and she spoke no English (or pretended not to; maybe she was there to spy), I can’t say that our exchanges were especially profound. I never got her name, or learned a single salient fact about her.

But toward the final stretch of the two-day tournament, we’d swapped enough hand gestures and laughed enough together at my scruffy play that I figured I would share something about myself. I pulled a pair of passport-size photos of my two young children from my wallet and handed them to her. My caddie’s eyes widened. She smiled and clutched the pictures to her chest, then raised them up and began to kiss them. Over and over. As she did, her smile faded and a look of sadness fell across her face.

It was a brief, bittersweet moment, over in an instant. She gave me back the photos and, as I tried to mime concern, waved me off and marched up the fairway. I still think about that caddie from time to time. Now, as then, I can only guess what was going through her mind, but the memory lives on as a kind of metaphor. What’s true on the golf course is true everywhere, though maybe especially in a place like North Korea. You can never really know another person. You’re lucky if you even get to really know yourself. — Josh Sens

A $20 tip? That’s a dollar for every drink he had!

I’m going to cheat a bit here and dig into my Rolodex of caddie stories, but I think it’s worth it. It was the summer of 2017, and I was working an annual outing for our club. Now, anyone who’s ever caddied for an outing can tell you they’re a mixed bag — some people tip REALLY well ($400 days were not uncommon), others … not so much. The house fee is guaranteed money, which usually makes the experience worth the painfully slow, often terrible golf. 

On this day, a scorching Monday in July, I found myself paired with a foursome. A quick glance at their clubs told me everything I needed to know: Even for a scramble, I was in for a long afternoon. A few minutes later, I learned my group consisted of two regular golfers, one non-player (who we’ll call Mr. Whiffer) and a teaching pro from the local range. 

A golfer and caddie read a putt.
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“Sweet,” I remember thinking. “The three solid players will carry our group, and the pro will make sure my tip is taken care of.”

Perhaps I should have known something was wrong when I learned the pro had been invited by his protégé, Mr. Whiffer, who began the round by missing the ball not three, not four, but five times. Perhaps I should have known something was wrong when three of the four players stopped at the halfway house for somewhere close to two-dozen libations … for the first five holes. Perhaps I should have known something was wrong when Mr. Whiffer showed me his bag full of “vintage golf clubs,” which he and the pro claimed made him a better player. 

There were plenty of warning signs, but six and a half hours in the blistering heat later, I found myself picking up Mr. Whiffer out of the fescue off the 10th green (our 18th hole by virtue of a shotgun start). He’d gotten there after falling onto his hindquarters and rolling off the green complex in a drunken stupor.

By the time I turned back around, the pro was nowhere in sight, while Mr. Whiffer had assured the other, more experienced players he would take care of my tip. He thanked me profusely for my service, even gave me a hug. Then, he reached into his wallet and pulled out his tip.

caddie tip
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A single $20 bill.

Twenty minutes later, my rage-filled walk to my car was interrupted by a commotion to my right. I looked to see Mr. Whiffer bent over the balcony of the clubhouse, returning an afternoon’s worth of cocktails to the earth, in front of a dozen or so concerned onlookers. Seconds later, a few club employees dragged him out of the clubhouse and kicked him to the curb.

Sometimes, the hammer of justice is swift.

A funny postscript: I occasionally see the pro at my local range, where he aggressively avoids eye contact and continues teaching players a golf swing is “like a tornado.” — James Colgan

We need a fourth! Who’s in, Twitter?

Two years ago, Luke Kerr-Dineen and I were in a bit of a pinch. We had a foursome booked at Bethpage Red, and our fourth bailed at the last minute. 

So, we did what the modern golfer does and put the word out on Twitter. We did so half-heartedly, with the assumption we’d be stuck as a threesome and maybe, just maybe, we could snag a walk-up outside the pro shop. To our surprise, we had a serious inquiry within minutes. Anthony Scorcia, a local school teacher, was relaxing on a summer day off and jumped at the opportunity just 90 minutes before our tee time. 

It turned out Anthony dabbles in the golf media space himself, hosting a local radio show at 8 a.m. on Saturdays called “On Par with Anthony Scorcia” on WGBB 1240 AM. He’s a sweet-swinging lefty with encyclopedic knowledge of the Long Island golf landscape.

While we were skeptical of pairing up with a random person off Twitter, joking on the range about what we might be in store for, Anthony was a seamless fit. We had a solid two-on-two match and not to brag, but I posted my low score of the season (79). 

This past summer, I exchanged messages with Anthony before our schedules finally matched up for a game. It was a quick twilight nine at Bergen Point Golf Course, and we picked up right where we left off. Also, I played well once again. Maybe Anthony is my good-luck charm?

Anthony is now someone I consider to be in my golf game rotation. All thanks to Twitter. Tim Reilly 

In the middle of a trip around the world, this couple played golf with me

Since moving to NYC, I’ve played countless solo muni rounds, which have landed me in some pretty interesting groups. I’ve written about the rounds that led to some of my best friends and even this job with, but I wouldn’t even consider those to be my most memorable pairings.

emily haas and friends
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During an early morning round at Van Cortlandt Park a few summers back, one of my buddies and I were paired with a couple visiting from Japan. It took a few holes to navigate the language barrier between us, but we eventually learned that they were on a 90-day cruise all around the world. They’d ventured from Japan through the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, made their way up through the Suez Canal, explored the Mediterranean, crossed the Atlantic and had just arrived in New York City for the very first time.

They were here for just one day before setting sail once again, and rather than visiting the Empire State Building, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge or exploring Central Park, they decided to spend that time playing golf at Van Cortlandt Park. If that’s not commitment to the game, I don’t know what is. — Emily Haas 

‘Bello, bello, bello!’

In my first round of the year on Jan. 2, I showed up as a single at Dyker Beach Golf Course, in Brooklyn, on a beautiful, 45-degree day with little wind to worry about. Two of the strangers I was paired with were 40-something Brooklyn residents hailing from Italy, with pleasing accents largely unaffected by their time living in the five boroughs. They were kind, funny and clearly obsessed with golf, which is all you could ask for from strangers you’re about to spend four hours with. The more outgoing of the two was named Alberto.

Four hours later, as we fist-bumped on the 18th green beneath a sinking sun, we announced our hope, as golfers in these situations often do, to run into each other again sometime on the course. It’s the kind of common nicety that no one expects to come true, especially in a city with eight million people — and several solid public golf courses.

Just 10 days later, I teed it up with two fellow GOLFers a few miles away at Marine Park Golf Course. As I waited for my compatriots to show up, the starter sent me to the 1st tee, pointing out a man in a gray pullover and identifying him as the fourth who would be playing with us. As we walked to the tee, both of our faces obscured by face masks and winter hats, we introduced ourselves. It was Alberto! This time, he was on his own, having grabbed the open spot hours before when the familiar itch struck.

We shared a laugh after recognizing each other and played another enjoyable round together, before, once again, exchanging pleasantries on the final green. In addition to a great memory (and witnessing Zephyr Melton fire a career-best 72), I also picked up a new way to commend a playing partner when a particularly good shot is soaring through the air, courtesy of Alberto: “Bello, bello, bello!” Kevin Cunningham 

Slow play? I’ll show you slow play! 

Last fall, I — along with my faithful golf pal Emily Haas — was paired with a couple of older gentlemen from Long Island. Both friendly guys and enjoyable to be around, but one of them talked a million miles a minute. 

angry golfer
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I don’t mind chatter during the round (or in my backswing), but by the 17th hole, I figured he’d used up all of his golf anecdotes. That’s when he dropped the wildest golf story I’ve ever heard.

The man proceeded to tell the tale of a round he played at a nearby course in which a man tried to fight him after a confrontation about slow play. Not only was there a brawl, but the man’s opponent broke a club in half and tried to stab him with it.

I don’t remember the man’s name, but I’ll never forget that story. Zephyr Melton

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