We've probably all been there. You go to see your Pro for help with a specific problem you think you have. The Pro finds something else he thinks you need. The Pro might be right. But, it doesn't always feel that way. Larry
Usually, when an Amateur beats a Pro, it’s something we report on the front page of the Golf section of this Newspaper. The fact that this story is appearing at the top of the Police Blotter section, lets you know the beating that took place did not occur on any local fairways. The Amateur didn't require any strokes or swinging clubs. He made his headlines with swinging fists.
A Visit to the County Lock-Up
“We were on the practice tee. This was about five years ago.” The man speaking is Wally Fuup, Local Amateur and former 3rd Place Runner Up at the 2011 Mixed Couples Tournament at Valley Heights CC. He is sitting on the edge of a steel bunk in a an unlocked cell at the Traylor County Jail, sipping on a rum and Coke. (More on that later.) “I was just trying to get a little help with my chipping. I’m a member at VHCC; and, I thought Ty might be able to help me.”
Fuup is talking about PGA Assistant Professional, Ty Benderling - long-time backup to local pro legend, Snoot Dockery. The semi-incarcerated Golfer takes another sip from his 12 ounce tumbler and continues: “So, I played on a Saturday morning. Shot a 78 with only a couple of ‘gimmes’. Felt pretty good. So, I went to my lesson with Ty.”
As a reporter, my job is to report the facts - not hearsay. But, I’ll have to report that when Mr. Fuup says the name ‘Ty,’ it sounds like he’s spitting out poison.
County Jail Warden, Dummar Thenspit arrives at the open cell door offering more ice - or a refill. Fuup takes both. As the ice clinks into the glass, inmates from the other cells in Block A of the Traylor County Lock-Up lean in closer to the bars of their open cell doors. Jail Regular, Lucy Schmuckel, takes a quick pull on her Jail Juice as Warden Thenspit calls it. “Go on, Wally, tell it. Tell it like you told us twelve times already!” Cups and assorted glassware clink against the bars. The inmates chant a chorus of “tell it, tell it, tell it!”
Fuup takes a sip, then puts down his glass. A faint smile crosses his lips - then a grimace. “I only wanted a little help with chipping.”
The chorus gets louder: “Tell it! Tell it! Tell it!”
One more sip, then he stands and begins pacing in and out of the open cell. “Like I said, I was hitting the ball pretty good. I had a 78 - and it coulda’ been better if I had chipped better. That’s all I needed - a tip or two on chipping. Get the ball close. I can make the putt!” A tear runs down his cheek.
“Ty Benderling did this!” It’s Lucy Schmuckel. At first it seems like she’s supporting Fuup. But, then she puts down her drink and rips open her blouse - to expose a tattoo that reads “TY.”
As the non sequitur slips into an awkward silence, Mr. Fuup clears his throat and continues: “Like I said, I went in for help with chipping, and Ty says “So, how are you playing?”
And, I say, “Pretty well! I’m hitting the ball great! I’m just a little concerned about my chipping. So, if we could work on that...
Lucy Schmuckel jumps in, “But, he didn’t let you, did he?”
“No,” pouts Wally. “he wanted to see my grip. So, I showed him. I picked up my 6-iron and showed him.” The accused looks down and carefully grips an imaginary 6-iron.
Another long pause leads this reporter to posit the question: “What happened when you showed him your grip?”
Fuup walks back in his cell to grab a quick gulp. “He looked at me like I had a disease or something. Then, he says, “There’s your problem!”
“All I wanted to do was chip a little better. But, Benderling tossed a ball on the ground and said ‘hit it.’” The memory boils out of Fuup’s mouth like a flaming waterfall. “So I hit it. I hit it sweet - ‘thwack’! I hit that 6-iron 180. Just a little draw. Perfect.”
There is no sound in the cell block. We hang on every word. Wally takes a deep breath that ends in a sigh and turns into a sob. “So, the ‘pro’ says to me, ‘No! That’s all wrong! Your grip’s too strong! Your right hand is too far under! With that set up, you should be hitting a huge hook!’ I tried to remind him I just wanted to improve my chipping. But, he tossed another ball in front of me and said ‘Hit another one. But, this time, rotate that right hand to the left. Get your right thumb on TOP of the club.’”
Fuup chugs the rest of his drink - holds it out and shakes the ice in his glass. Warden Thenspit slops more Jail Juice into the shaking glass. “I still thought we were going to get around to talking about chipping. I mean, I was paying him 50-bucks for the half hour - I figured he understood. So, I went ahead and rotated my hands. It felt awkward - awful.” He gulps. “It felt dead wrong!”
“That bastard!” It was Lucy Schmuckel, who was on all fours on the floor, looking for a button that popped off her blouse when she ripped it open.
“I tried to hit the ball - I sliced it into the trees at about a hundred yards.”
“A shank,” this Reporter offered helpfully.
Silence gripped the cell block. There was blood in his eyes as Fuup cut me off: “We don’t ever say that word. Not on the Golf Course and NEVER in a jail.” He had a point. I mouthed my apology as Wally took a sip and continued. “So, I hit the ball sideways and Ty says ‘That’s the way it should look.’ He’s talkin’ about my grip - I’m lookin’ at my shot.”
“Is that when you hit him?”
“What? No! That happened five years ago. It’s been five years of hitting the ball sideways, with a perfect grip. I finally lost it after my wife beat me last Sunday morning. That’s when I went into the pro shop and beat the pro.”
Applause fills the block - and, there’s not a dry eye in the place as the Warden pours another round. “Ain’t no jury of his peers ever gonna convict him!” The interview is done. The Jail Juice is gone - The cell doors are locked for the night. As I turn to leave, Wally leans against the bars, “Be sure you spell my name right. It’s Fuup - F-U-Up.”
Notes from the Other Side
When Golf Beat sought out PGA Assistant Golf Professional, Ty Benderling, he was busy re- gripping a set of clubs in the dim light of the bag room, next to the cart garage, under the Pro Shop at VHCC. His lip is still swollen. His puffy, black and blue eyes seem to make the job that much harder.
He measures off a piece of double-sided tape as he puts things in perspective. "It's a matter of right and wrong. I ‘get’ that he’s unhappy. He couldn't hit the ball anywhere near what he was aiming at. But, come on! He thinks he’s upset? What about me? I had to listen to him whine about it for five freaking years. And, let’s get real - his grip is - now - perfect!”
Benderling pours mineral spirits inside the grip, sloshes it around, then pours the liquid out onto the double-sided tape. "Don't tell me you can't do it. Just do it. That’s how I teach.” He slides the new grip onto the shaft. As he squints to check the alignment, he winces and touches his swollen eye.
"Wasn't he hitting the ball well when he came to you for some chipping advice?" This reporter has to ask the tough questions.
The Assistant Pro takes the newly gripped club out of the vice, stands it against the wall and gets ready to re-grip the next club. “That’s not how it works. It’s like cheating if you're hitting the ball okay - but, not doing it right. He needs to quit whining and get it right. I need to see him get it right. If he can’t get it right, that’s not on me. That’s on him. Those are his fingers on his hands that betrayed him - then punched me.” He blots at the purple mouse under his right eye with the rag he’s using to wipe excess mineral spirits.
“Were you surprised he punched you?”
The Pro cinches up another club and rips open the old grip with one swipe of a box cutter. “Yeah - they don’t usually go that far. They just give up golf and take up some other sport.” Benderling has really hit his stride - he finishes the club in seconds and racks up another.
“Look, I’m not mad at Wally. I didn’t even call the cops. My Mom did that, when I came home looking like this.” He points at his black and blue visage. “But, I’m not going to apologize for trying to do the right thing. I can’t let someone I’m giving lessons to get that far off the reservation with a grip like he had. Again - I wanna be clear: he has a great grip now!”
Before I can ask another follow up, the Assistant Pro stops abruptly in the middle of ripping off another grip. “Wait a second - am I re-gripping the wrong set?”
It turned out, he was.
Larry Caringer has been writing humor for broadcast for a long time. Now, he's writing it for you. The stories, here, are from a collection of short stories from his book "Golf Beat: A Year in the Life of Persimmon Pines."