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Authors: Rick Shefchik

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BOOK: Amen Corner
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“What happens when you run into him?”

“I'm expecting a big scene—broken furniture, flying drinks, maybe a punch or two. Nothing that hasn't happened before.”

“I think that kind of behavior is outlawed at the National,” Sam said.

“Oh, it is. That's the fun of it.”

“Where are you staying?”

“A lovely dive called the Southwinds Inn. I've been there before—they gouge you a little less than the places closer to the course.”

“And Shane?”

“He's renting a house with his caddie up at Jones Creek. He'll have hot and cold running bimbos all week. What about you? Where are you staying?”

“The Crow's Nest.”

“Oh, that's right—amateurs can stay in the clubhouse. I've always wanted to see it.”

“I could take you up there sometime this week,” Sam said, then realized it sounded like a come-on. “I'm sharing it with two other guys. The Amateur runner-up and the Mid-Am champ. The Amateur winner won't be there. He turned pro.”

He was talking fast now; Caroline sensed his unease and smiled at him as if to say, no offense taken.

For the next hour they talked about her background and his.

Caroline was the daughter of an Air Force colonel who had been stationed at U.S. bases around the world, including Germany, Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, as well as Florida, Arizona, and Virginia. She'd played golf in high school and liked watching the pro game. After getting her degree from Georgetown, she visited her parents in Riyadh and took a weekend trip to Doha to attend the Qatar Masters, a European PGA Tour stop. There she met Jorgen Pedersen, a touring pro from Denmark who needed an emergency caddie. She agreed to take his bag on a weekly basis in return for 10 percent of his winnings and travel expenses.

She met Rockingham during the first round of the Indonesian Open in Jakarta. She couldn't take her eyes off him (“That bad-boy look of his was especially appealing compared to all those other golf geeks”); Shane must have noticed her, too. When Pedersen missed the cut, Rockingham asked her if she wanted to caddie for him. He won the tournament, they ended up in bed, and she spent the next two years traveling around the world with him.

By the time they got married, she was beginning to suspect he wasn't the faithful husband type, but they either had to take the next step or end it, so she took a chance. He was winning tournaments by then, and had qualified for the U.S. tour. He bought a big house for her in Tucson and hired a veteran PGA Tour caddie. He'd be gone for weeks at a time; when Caroline did join him at tournaments, she sensed something in the looks that she got from the other tour wives—something that seemed to her like pity.

“The breakup was inevitable,” she said. “He was getting laid at famous golf clubs all across America. I'd hear rumors about a girl at Doral, and one at Riviera, and another one at Muirfield Village. But until he ditched me for that cocktail waitress in Vegas, I guess I just didn't want to face it. After that, I didn't have a choice.”

“It must have hurt,” Sam said.

“To be the publicly humiliated wife of a rock-star golfer?” Caroline said with a tight smile. “Yes, it did.”

Sam looked in her eyes and saw they were glistening. Tough, but not bulletproof.

“So how does an Ivy League guy become a cop?” she asked him.

“There are a few of us,” Sam said. “The chief of police in St. Paul is a Princeton guy.”

“Are you trying to make chief in Minneapolis?”

“Nope. I couldn't stand the politics. My dad was a street cop in Minneapolis for 25 years. He always told me the desk guys and the suits had the worst jobs in the shop. He was right.”

It was almost 4 p.m. when Caroline looked at her watch and said she had to get back to her motel. Sam thought about asking her to stay for dinner, but decided that would be pushing things. He'd see her again during the week—he hoped.

She put down a tip, gave him a wave, and walked out of the grillroom. She had the easy but purposeful stride of someone who could go up and down hills with a tour bag on her shoulder and make it look like she wasn't even trying. Smooth yet muscular calves, thighs that rippled gracefully with each stride.

Golf, Sam. Don't forget, you're here to play golf.

Chapter Nine

Tuesday, April 8

The pro shop put Sam in a Tuesday practice round with Luke Bellecourt, the previous year's Canadian Open champ; Buddy Cremmins, a rookie sensation from LSU who had already won twice on the tour; and Clive Cartwright, an Englishman who'd won the Masters in a playoff a dozen years earlier.

Before his warm-up session on the range, he walked into the Trophy Room to get some breakfast. Caroline Rockingham was sitting at a sunny window table with a bagel, a glass of grapefruit juice, a cup of coffee, and the New York Times. She looked utterly at home.

“Want company?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said, flashing him the smile that he'd thought about until falling asleep the previous night in the Crow's Nest. “Sit down.”

She pushed a chair away from the table with her tanned, sandaled foot and kept reading. Sam ordered a plate of bacon and eggs and a cup of decaf. He picked up a copy of the Augusta Chronicle and saw the screaming headline: “masters official found dead at amen corner. Police investigate possible homicide.” Several pages of coverage followed, but the reporters didn't seem to have much more information than he'd heard on TV Monday.

Could one of Ashby's fellow members really have done this? And on the eve of the Masters, when the club was obsessed with running an orderly tournament and keeping negative press to an absolute minimum?

“They made an example of him,” one of the members of WOFF was quoted in the paper. “He was a martyr for our cause.”

Ashby's wife didn't seem to think so. Another story quoted Annabelle Ashby saying that no member of Augusta National would ever do such a thing.

“They were the people he loved most in this world, besides his family,” she had told a reporter. “I know they all loved him, too.”

Not necessarily. Sam knew how it was at golf clubs. Nobody is universally liked unless he loses all his bets and pays up cheerfully and immediately. When Ashby went public with his opinion on women at Augusta National, he must have made some enemies.

“Read this,” Caroline said, handing Sam the sports section of the Times, folded open to a column by Deborah Scanlon:

See, hear and speak no evil at Augusta National

Poor Annabelle Ashby. Not only did she lose her husband, Harmon, sometime early Monday morning, but she seems to have lost her sense of reason and outrage well before that.

Harmon Ashby was found murdered at Augusta National Golf Club Monday. The Masters Rule Committee Chairman was a wonderful man, according to his friends.

The thing is, Harmon Ashby's friends are a little hard to find at the National these days. You see, he died less than a week after telling this columnist that he believed women should be admitted as members to Augusta National. As everyone, including the widowed Mrs. Ashby, knows all too well, the club bars women from joining. Always has—and, say many of the members, always will.

But here's poor Annabelle, rationalizing in her grief that it couldn't have been—just couldn't have been—one of her husband's golfing buddies who did him in. Oh, no—they loved him too much, she says through her tears.

To that I say, wake up and smell the fertilizer, dear.

Love, trust, friendship and most other decent human emotions are stopped at the National's gates, along with women who'd like to become members there. To many at Augusta National, the issue of keeping women out of the club is even more important than it was to keep blacks out of the club. After all, Augusta National finally broke down and let a black man join in 1990. Now there are five black members, if you trust the unofficial count—David Porter won't comment on his members—but still not a woman to be found.

Keep in mind that this club is located in the heart of the Deep South, where thousands were once willing to die to retain the monstrous evil of slavery. What makes Annabelle Ashby believe that at least one good ol' boy member wouldn't be willing to see her husband die to retain the despicable institution of all-male country clubs?

Sure, it's within the reach of one's imagination to picture an intruder penetrating the maximum-security walls of the club and, finding Harmon Ashby strolling the grounds in the dark, killing him for no particular reason—and then spraying THIS IS THE LAST MASTERS on the adjacent fairway with herbicide.

Isn't it a bit easier to picture an angry Neanderthal in a green jacket—one who has unlimited access to these ultra-private grounds—taking it upon himself to teach Harmon Ashby and the world a lesson?

And what is that lesson? That anyone who speaks out against the virulent sexism of Augusta National will pay dearly for the indiscretion, and that the Masters itself is expendable if women keep beating at the gates. A lesson of that sort, written in blood, would certainly keep the rest of the members in the fold.

The world is finally closing in on these throwbacks to the antebellum South; the noose—if you will forgive the use of that term in this context—is tightening around the club. It is hardly a leap to picture one of Harmon Ashby's brethren lashing out in response. I believe Ashby paid the ultimate price for crossing over to the enemy when he openly opposed the club's arrogant, misogynist ways.

There is still time for this club to redeem itself. If, as so many suspect, the killer can be found in the club's directory, David Porter must do all he can to help bring him to justice. Then, the next step is clear: Begin to remove this stain by admitting not just one woman, but many. And not next week, or next year.

Now.

Sam put the paper down and started to take a sip of his lukewarm coffee. A waiter appeared before he could even bring it to his lips and asked him if he wanted a refill. The waiter—a white-haired black man wearing a gold jacket—refilled Caroline's cup from the pot of regular coffee he held in his other hand. Most of the clubhouse employees that Sam had seen were black. He assumed the jobs paid well, and judging from their ages, the employees obviously clung to them. But he also knew that many social critics would presume that blacks waiting on whites at Augusta National was a symbolic preservation of plantation life.

“What did you think?” Caroline asked after he put the paper down.

“I disagree.”

“With what?” Caroline asked. “That somebody here killed him? That the club should allow women?”

“With her premise that there's something evil about an all-male club. People like Deborah Scanlon always assume the worst. They think exclusion means discrimination. People make choices every day about who they want to be with.”

“Would you be a member here—if you could?”

“I wouldn't have much to contribute when the conversation turned to investment portfolios.”

“You could be their token middle-class member.”

“How about you? Would you join?”

“They don't allow women, remember?”

“You know they will eventually.”

“So what are they waiting for?”

“For their members to demand it. It's their club—not ours. And not Rachel Drucker's, either.”

Caroline tilted her head, thinking about what Sam had said, then pulled a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of her purse.

“You mind?” she asked.

“No,” Sam said. “I don't mind smokers, just like I don't mind all-male clubs. If I don't like it, I can go somewhere else.”

“Seems reasonable,” Caroline said, lighting up.

“Have you seen Shane yet?”

“No. I'm not looking for him, either.”

“You can see both of us on Thursday. I'm paired with him and Frank Naples in the first round.”

“I might have to catch that threesome. Naples is a hunk.”

Sam actually felt a slight pang of jealousy. He put his napkin on the table and stood up.

“Time to practice. Maybe we'll see you Thursday.”

“Maybe,” she said. Then she returned to reading the newspaper in front of her.

*

Sam got to the range at 10:45 a.m. He was determined to really study the course today, not gawk at it. With all the commotion Monday, he had no idea what kind of score he could have posted. He thought he could finish close to par if he kept his concentration and managed to make a few putts. On Monday, Dwight had constantly reminded him to aim a little higher and hit it a little softer with the putter. Maybe today he'd drop a few.

“No distractions today,” Dwight said on the first tee, as though reading his mind. “Keep the ball below the hole and inside the treeline, and you'll do fine.”

“How are you feeling today?”

“Old and fat,” Dwight said.

Sam teamed with Bellecourt, a tall, burly, black-haired man with large teeth and dark moles on his face and arms, against Cremmins and Cartwright in a best-ball match. Cremmins was a cocky young kid with a spiky haircut, wrap-around shades and one of those pretzel finishes to his swing where the club ended up behind his back, pointing all the way around to the target again. It would have put Sam in traction to swing that way, but it was obvious that kids like Cremmins were the new wave. Cartwright, by contrast, was an old-school practitioner of the controlled fade and positioning off the tee. He was rarely in trouble and relied on his short game to compete with the long bombers.

BOOK: Amen Corner
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