News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Rub of the Green

July 3, 2011

RUB OF THE GREEN: Golf is only sport that offers both hilarity, pathos

It’s been stated more than once that “golf is a microcosm for life itself.”

This writer would heartily agree. No sport or game can offer combinations of happiness and sadness, hilarity and pathos as evidenced by an activity called “cow pasture pool” by some of its practitioners.

Tony Lema was busy making his way to the top echelon of professional golf. He went to England and won the British Open on his first try. 

Later, while walking through the press tent after a tourney had ended, Tony noticed the golf writers were sipping beer provided for them by the tournament sponsors. At that juncture, Lema announced to all assembled, “From now on when I win a tournament you will drink champagne.”

True to his words, cases of champagne were always delivered after a win and Lema became known throughout golf circles as “Champagne Tony.” 

It was great public relations.

Lema was destined to become a superstar of golf, but a tragic plane crash took his life as he traveled to an exhibition near Chicago. The accident also claimed Lema’s wife, Betty, as well as three others.

More than 1,000 people turned out for Tony Lema’s funeral.

Perhaps the ironic aspect of the accident is the fact that the airplane involved crashed on the seventh hole of a golf course.

Tony’s book “Golfers’ Gold” recounts his life on and off the pro tour.

Payne Stewart was also a breath of fresh air as he could always be identified by the knickers he wore as he advertised the colors of various professional football teams.

Shortly after winning the U.S. Open championship and enjoying being at the top of his golf game, he lost his life in an accident when the plane taking him to a tournament lost its cabin pressure and flew until it ran out of gas and crashed.

Besides being one of professional golf’s best, Payne was also known as a consummate practical joker. Once, when good friend Paul Azinger chipped in on the last hole of a tournament and nudged Payne by a stroke, Stewart took revenge. When Azinger put on his street shoes in the locker room, it seems that someone had placed a mashed banana in each of them.

Golf lost a real ambassador with the passing of Payne Stewart. It often seems like an extremely short jump from “having it all” to having it all disappear.

On a happier note the Kaperak brothers, George and Mike, were two of the most liked golfers in Terre Haute.  They both entered the Casey Open back in 1953. When the tourney ended it was Mike on top in the pro division and George the winner among amateurs.

It would be safe to say the Casey Country Club had seldom, if ever, seen a celebration of such magnitude that followed. The festivities didn’t end until 3 a.m.

Rumor has it that Mike was driven home, for obvious reasons. When his wife answered the nocturnal knock on their door, there stood Mike who thumped himself on the chest, uttered four words, “Old Mike’s the champ” and then fell face first on the front room floor.

After awaking the following morning, Mike was afraid his car had been stolen, but he soon found that his vehicle was at Rea Park. Arriving there, he found his car was full of golf clubs that belonged to Virgil Morey, who was the Casey Country Club professional. Mike had to return Morey’s inventory before he went to work.

I sincerely doubt if the amount of money won that day came close to covering the bar tab, but it didn’t matter.  The Kaperaks were champions and everyone was celebrating.

Being struck by a golf ball is definitely not a laughing matter, but at times there is an element of humor involved.

Back in the ‘70s in a hunt at the Elks Fort Harrison Golf Course, mayhem was about to ensue. Dave Berry hit a long drive but shanked his second shot, which hit Rich Tickner in the head and dropped him in his tracks.

After getting him up and moving it was on to No. 6, where an unidentified player was sitting on the wheel of his cart waiting to play. A “worm burner” came his way as he dived out of its path and the ball smacked the wheel of the cart where he was sitting.

By the time this wild foursome reached No. 9, I noticed a player who was intent on getting ready to hit a 3-iron to the green. I told him it was too much club. He replied, “I don’t think so.” At any rate, he hit the 3 and nailed a gentleman who was standing at the back of the green. The poor fellow executed a “backward roll” off the putting surface. 

By the time we got to the clubhouse, the guy was showing bystanders the outline of the ball on his chest.  All this mayhem in just nine holes.

In the area of bliss and beleaguered , both Jackie Pung and Roberto DeVincenzo lost tournaments due to scorecard errors. Pang watched the Women’s U.S. Open fly away when she signed for a 3 where she made a 4, and Roberto was relegated to runner-up in The Masters when he signed for a 4 on a hole he had actually birdied and made 3.

At times the “rags to riches” syndrome is reversed. Jack Myers, playing in the Lawrenceville Amateur, scored a hole-in-one on the seventh hole. His prize was to be a classic automobile until it was announced that the prize applied only to a hole-in-one on the 14th hole and not the seventh.

Both holes were 210-yard par 3s, Myers was a victim of a “riches to rags” scenario and Lady Luck was nowhere to be found. Jack has five holes-in-one to his credit.   

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