By Michael P Lambert
When I was in the Army and stationed at a post in Southern Virginia, I was called into my superior’s office on my first week on the job.
“Lieutenant Lynn reporting as ordered, sir,” I said to him, saluting.
“At ease. Do you play golf, son?” he said as he was shuffling papers from one side of his massive oak desk to the other.
“Yes, somewhat, sir. I play with high enthusiasm and little skill, however.”
“That’s fine, fine. You have a new extra duty assignment, then.” He smiled at me.
“What duty, sir?” I was regretting that I admitted to being a duffer.
“You will be playing golf with our Commanding Officer, Colonel Pullman, every Friday morning at 0630.”
“Why me, sir? There’s gotta be a dozen officers who would love to play golf instead of coming to work.”
“Wrong. No one in this entire command can stand to golf with the CO. As the new guy, you get the duty.”
“With all respect, sir, why don’t people want to golf with him?” I asked.
“Because he is a spoiled baby when he loses—to anyone. He comes back here, to the office, and the next thing you know, he’s screaming at everyone, including me. He is a vindictive ogre.”
“You’re telling me that I must not beat him?”
“I’m telling you to ‘go in the tank’ without him ever suspecting you. Take one for the team, son.”
I was forced to swallow my pride, and I became the CO’s doormat on the golf links. I was a resounding success at losing convincingly. Every single Friday. And due to my bravura performance, the Colonel became sweetness and light at our office. I was a hero. Guys even bought me drinks at the Officers’ Club when I walked in.
Until one day…
My dad and his golfing pal, my parish priest from back home, Father Jerry Macon, came to stay with me at my quarters on the Post.
I had arranged for my dad, Father, and me to play golf at the Post’s Golf Club on Friday morning. The Colonel was delighted to have a group to impress and, being competitive, he was over-confident in his mediocre abilities. Why shouldn’t he be? After all, he did trounce me every Friday.
Colonel Pullman was, in this order: a teetotaler, intolerant of crude language, a non-smoker, and was not at all fond of Catholics.
The four of us met at the Golf Club. Father Jerry was dressed in golf togs. There was nothing to indicate that he was a member of the clergy.
“Colonel,” I said, “I’d like you to meet my dad, Bill, and his golf buddy, Jerry.”
Hand shakes all around. We teed off, the first foursome of the day.
Father and Dad were excellent golfers, and they would sooner grow horns on their skulls than throw a game to appease someone.
For some reason, the Colonel played way above his double-digit handicap. He was tearing up the course, scoring pars and birdies. It was, after all, his home course. He knew every blade of grass on it, every rock and vale. But the competition from two men his age seemed to ignite him. It was either that, or he had made a Faustian bargain with Mephistopheles.
Father Jerry and the Colonel were all tied as we walked up to the last tee box, Number eighteen, a long par five.
“Jerry,” the Colonel said, “I see you and I dead even. Would you like to make a small wager between the two of us?”
“Well, Bob,” Father said. “I’m not much of a gambler.” This assertion came out of the mouth of a man who operated the most lucrative bingo game in Western Pennsylvania.
“Ah, don’t be shy, Jerry. Just a small bet. How does five dollars sound?
“Bob, tell you what. You only live once. Let’s make it twenty.”
The Colonel blanched and stuttered, “Ah, okay, sure. Twenty dollars it is.”
The tension built as we teed off. My dad could not keep the grin off his face.
Father and the Colonel both reached the green in three strokes. The Colonel, furthest from the pin, putted his ball to within a few inches of the cup and Father Jerry granted him a “gimme.”
He score was five. The pressure was now on Father.
Father’s ball lay three. His ball was ten feet from the hole, a distance from which the pros only make such a putt forty percent of the time. And with big money on the line, the pressure was palpable. Should Father sink the putt in one stroke, he’d win the bet.
I looked at the Colonel. He seemed to be lost in thought. Then Father did something that they still talk about to this day at the Post Golf Club.
He knelt on the green as if he were going to plumb bob the azimuth of his putt. It’s a theatrical move, frowned upon by players. But instead of lining up the ball, he said some words in Latin over it: In nomine Patris et Filii… and he blessed the ball!
My dad and I automatically blessed ourselves. It’s what Catholics do reflexively.
Then Dad broke another of the Colonel’s taboos: he yelled out, “Sink that fucking putt, Father!”
And Father Jerry sank his putt.
The next week, I got a set of orders, hand-delivered in a large, tan envelope directing me to report to Long Binh Junction, Republic of South Vietnam, in six weeks. I was glad to get the orders, since I was disgusted with myself for losing on purpose at a game I loved. I was free.
And the only tank I had to go in was an M-48 Patton.