The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 30, 2013

'Big game' provides memories, perhaps cash

By Clair Goodwin
Globe Columnist

— I look back on my many, many years playing golf and memories of several fabulous rounds sweep over me like a Technicolor flood.

Unfortunately, such rounds were shot by someone else and I was just a gawking, admiring onlooker for the most part.  

My first memory of golf heroics came in the late 1970s or early 1980s when Bob Smith, an Ozark Amateur, Joplin Globe City Championship and Briarbrook Invitational winner, decided that I was “good” enough to be his partner in the “noonie” game at Schifferdecker Municipal Golf Course. I was shooting in the low 80s to the high 70s. Every weekend Smith would take me on one or two bets, and we won more than we lost.

Playing in the “big game” against guys who were considerably better than me was a learning experience. I was always nervous when I found out we were playing against, say, the combination of Derril Tate and Jim Greenlee or Barry Franks and Terry Key. Fortunately for me, those bets were small enough that I could lose and still go home with enough money to take my wife, Cynthia, out to a movie.

But on this particular Saturday, Smith loaded my clubs onto his cart and announced that “we” were swinging, meaning we were playing any and all combinations of guys in the group, which usually ran between 20 and 30 players. I not only could lose the original bets, but I could lose much more to teams that had us 2-down on automatic second and third bets.  

That left me sweating and worried that I hadn’t brought enough money.

But I had faith in Bob, who was the greatest shotmaker that I have ever seen. He could hit high or low fades and hooks. His distance control was as good as most PGA pros.

He responded to the challenge by birdieing the first seven holes. That’s correct — Nos. 1 through 7. The sad part of his 29 on the front was that he could have birdied all nine with just a little luck.

On the eighth, he hit probably his poorest approach of the front nine. The ball stopped about 25 feet to the right of the cup. The putt lipped out. His iron shot on the par-3 ninth covered the flag and stopped about two feet past the hole. The putt hit a spike mark, jumped straight up and whispered around the right side of the cup for a tap-in par.

I didn’t help Smith even one hole on the front side. But I had a couple of birdies on the back and, if my memory serves, saved the team on the 11th with a par.

Bob might not remember that round. But it was special to me. I knew Bob was good, but he surpassed my expectations that day. The swing was as powerful as it was controlled. He often would finish in a near-pretzel shape that would have broken me in half. Smith remains to this day the finest shotmaker I ever saw.

My second vivid memory is of Bill Parker, then head pro at Twin Hills Golf and Country Club and a former touring professional. I had been hunting for a 5-wood, but no one had any. Parker had just sold his last one at Twin Hills before I arrived. As I was turning to leave, Bill asked me to be his guest and play in his big group of members. I acquiesced.

When I got my clubs out of the trunk of the car and returned to the first tee, a dozen or more members of the club were waiting for me, including such top players as Marvin Porter, Eddie McKay, Chi Galloway and Ernie Fagan. Parker asked me my handicap and I said “6.”

“Well, I’m a plus 1,” he said. “That makes us a 5. In fairness, we’ll give everyone four shots a side.”

The money began piling up on the first hole. Bill pushed his drive into the right rough and then holed a wedge from about 110 yards. He aced the par-3 fifth hole, with the ball hitting about 10 feet onto the green and then rolling into the cup. As I recall, he birdied the sixth and I birdied the seventh.

My great claim to fame in that round came at the 18th. I had hit the ball into the front trap. Bill had missed the green to the right and had chipped poorly out of the rough. I splashed my ball out of the sand to within a foot or so and dropped the par putt.

We wound up 8- or 9-under for the round. Parker had one bogey on the back and finished with 65. Along the way, I absorbed several lessons on when to “go for broke” and when to play cautiously.

My third highlight came in a four-man, fundraising scramble at Loma Linda Country Club several years ago. One of our players didn’t show up and so we were given one extra shot as a team and an extra putt on each hole. Our group was the oldest. I was 67, Art Dahms was in his 70s and Marshall Smith was in his mid-80s.

But we shot a 17-under at what is now Eagle Creek and won the tournament.  The key was Marshall as our leadoff putter. Smith made 14 straight putts for birdies and an eagle. Art kicked in a birdie and I also had one. What was so impressive to me was that our team-age average was probably 30 years higher than any other group in the event. So who says that old guys can’t play?

After the round, the team of young flat-bellies who finished second and saw every one of our putts as they played behind us marveled at Marshall’s putting exhibition. “Does he ever miss?” one asked.

“Very seldom,” I replied with a big smile.

 Rescheduled

The Joplin Golf Club opening day two-person has been rescheduled for noon Sunday, April 7, at Schifferdecker Municipal Golf Course. It had been planned for last Sunday but was snowed out.

Members are encouraged to invite a guest. Entry fee is $10 per person.

 More Schiffy events

• The Missouri Southern Investment Club is sponsoring a four-person scramble on Saturday, April 6, at Schifferdecker Municipal Golf Course. An 8 a.m. start is planned. Entry fee is $160 per team. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place as well as closest to the pin and longest drive.

Entry forms should be mailed to the MSSU Investment Club, 3850 East Newman Road, Joplin, Mo. 64801.

• The KNEO Spring Golf Classic is planned for April 27 at Schifferdecker. Registration is set for 7 a.m. and a shotgun start at 8 a.m. Format is a four-person scramble. Entry fee is $240 per team or $60 per person.

Registration will be limited to 30 teams. Prepayment is encouraged to secure a spot in the field.