Friday, June 29, 2018

Miracles at Belmullet - Carnage and Celebration at Carne, Part 2

Approach to Carne's 6th from the right hand side.
Here is Part 2 of Mike Considine's Carne story (You can read Part 1, here).

But then, in a moment, as often occurs in golf, something happened.  Things changed.  It was a moment that would define the weekend.

After five perfect holes, on the 6th tee, Finian slightly pulled another prodigious drive. But this time, the wind carried his ball perilously close to the out-of-bounds marker on the left side of the fairway. [which is no longer there, Ed.]  We thought there was a good chance that his ball stayed in bounds. Finian then proceeded to hit a provisional drive which proved a dead pull hook about 100 yards left of his first.  Out of bounds.  We grimaced. Then he hit
another.  Same place.  And another.  He finally found the fairway with his fourth, and played it after we found his first drive inches outside the OB marker.
We were stunned.  What could we say?  This was a tin-cup moment before tin-cup moments were invented, and very early in the tournament.   How does a professional golfer accept this crushing scenario?  To his credit, Finian finished the hole without anger or comment.  I think his final score on the hole was a very dirty dozen.   There was not much chatter among our group as we played the next uphill par 3.   On the first day, on the sixth hole, our leader was out of the tournament.  Would he continue?  He didn't know us Yanks; we’d just met him.  He didn't owe us a weekend of social golf with no chance of payment.     
The par four 8th at Carne - a narrow chute runs down to the green.
We got an emphatic answer on the very next hole, the 370 yard par-four dogleg 8th.  With the wind howling, Finian unleashed a draw over the hill which landed on the sloping green a mere ten feet above the hole. He drove the green.  To this day, it remains one of the finest golf shots I have ever witnessed.  After just missing the eagle putt and tapping in for birdie, Finian announced, "I'm out of it, boys, but let's get you in the money."  
Our spirits lifted, we journeyed on, managing to eke out some net pars and birdies while still struggling in the wind.  But, as Finian reminded us, everyone else was playing in the same conditions.  What a grind.  And what a surprise, then, when we arrived at the clubhouse to learn that as a team we had finished tied for fifth place (out of 48).  All players at the bar, even local Carne members, were complaining about the wind.  We were not alone.    
And now begins the rest of the story.  The yoke of competitive golf lifted, at least for the restless Finian, the prospect of recreation seemed to capture his imagination.  A few post-round beers in the busy clubhouse that night brought us into the company of Finian's close friend and Celbridge mentor, Wayne Westner. Wayne, who was also hosting a trio of amateurs at the Pro-Am, was an accomplished professional player and teacher, and a former playing partner of Ernie Els in international competitions. Wayne’s ascending career had been cut short by a serious ankle injury.  There was no stopping the duo’s post-round banter about golf, the scoreboard, the course, and the golf swing.  Wayne, in particular, regaled us with his philosophical musings and theories about inner golf and the gravity-fed swing.  At one point, Finian proudly recounted to Wayne his booming drive on the 8th.
Wayne: "Did you make the putt?"  
Finian: "No."  
Wayne: "I did."
For the eagle, mind you.  Fabulous stuff, and you can only imagine how we three amateurs soaked up this professional badinage.  We only wanted to hear more.   Pint glasses of Guinness incredibly multiplied on our table, reminiscent of the biblical miracle of loaves and fishes.  After a couple of hours, Finian announced that he was heading to town.  Were we up for some crack? he asked.   I glanced at Kevin and Joe.  Crack?  This was indeed crazy.  Beer was fine, but no drugs for us, thank you, Finian.  We were out, and we so informed him.  Laughing, he explained that CRAIC was Gaelic for "fun or entertainment."  Thus educated, we took the bait, and followed The Pied Piper of Celbridge into town.
Lavelles, a bar/restaurant in downtown Belmullet, was uncrowded when we arrived, but soon filled up with other tourney players.  Finian proceeded to solicit a few punts from each of us.  We complied, and he disappeared to the nearby turf-management office (off-track betting parlor), where he immediately picked three winners. Triumphantly, he returned with a wad of cash and threw it on the table for public consumption.  This economic stimulation sparked instant community development.  Wayne and his team joined us for more Guinness and craic, though Westie’s personal preference was rum and coke.  The rest of the night was a blur.  At 4AM we drifted back to our bed & breakfast.    
Breakfast arrived quickly the next day, as did our tee time for the second and final round of the tournament.    Kevin, Joe, and I arrived in a sorry state.  We had violated curfew, big time.  We had no idea if Finian would even show up.  But ever the professional, Finian was prompt and amazingly chipper, right on time.  
My tattered original score card from that last round confirms that our trio registered only six pars for the front nine, a paltry average of two each.  We were playing ourselves out of the tournament. The first few holes on the back were more of the same, and our games were only deteriorating in the increasing late-day wind.  We were tired and flat.  After another weak team performance on the par-3 14th, Finian huddled us together on the 15th tee.  
Views over Carne's 14th green.
Finian: "Boys, just hit the ball.  I'll bring out the scoring."  (That is an exact quote, just as I scribbled it down.)    And just like that, Finian had turned on the switch.  All the Westner/Dwyer talk of inner golf was distilled in his phrase:  "Just hit the ball."
Hit the ball, indeed.  Joe responded first on the long and demanding 15th hole, getting up and down for a crucial net birdie.  The downhill par-3 16thwas next.  Joe again hit the green, eventually settling for a two-putt par. I was last to hit and by this time the wind was really blowing, even by Belmullet standards.  The flags were bending at acute angles and we could hardly keep our balance.   Finian asked me what club I was hitting.   I showed him.  He removed the pitching wedge from my bag and handed it to me.  He then pointed 25 yards right of the green, an area full of mounds and drumlins.
He was serious.  Ordinarily I never would have hit a wedge for that tee shot, and certainly not 25 yards right of the target into a mounded hazard.  But I hit the wedge where Finian pointed, and incredibly, the ball caught a gust of wind, bounced around the mounds like a pin-ball, and ricocheted up behind the green before miraculously rolling toward the pin and coming to rest a mere three feet above the hole.  We couldn't believe our good fortune.  We finally had our birdie and some momentum.
The 17th hole at Carne is a brute-- an uphill par four with a narrow green.  Trouble everywhere, especially in the wind.  Finian said to stay left.  My ball somehow found the green for a 2-putt par and Joe again answered with a net par. We marched to the 18th tee, suddenly with a slight spring in our steps.  
Finian huddled us again:  "Two more."  We needed two more net birdies to guarantee a place in the tournament. Now it was Kevin's turn.  A long hitter, he smoked a perfect drive and lengthy approach on #18, leading to an easy net birdie.  The redoubtable Joe followed suit.  Finian slapped us five.  We were proud of our effort under Finian’s tutelage.   We were also spent, but adrenalin was working wonders as we gathered in the clubhouse for the results.  And Finian was right -- our strong finish had enabled us to garner 4th place.  
There were congratulations all around for our accomplishment, and more than that, as it turned out, we’d won a prize:  Barbecue grills for each!  Enormous barbecue grills, generously donated by a local sponsor.  We’d been expecting a shirt, or maybe some pro shop credit, but what would we do with these?   We could not possibly ship them home.  Seeing our predicament, Finian took matters into his own hands, approaching the third-place team with an offer to trade their Tiffany-style lamps, also donated by a local vendor, for our arguably more valuable and more utilitarian back yard grills.  They agreed, and soon we were posing, colorful lamps in hand, alongside Tournament Organizer Michael McGarry for our team photo. 
The lamp I brought home remains one of my cherished golf mementos, prompting a grin every time I turn it on.  Our team photo sits proudly in my office.
As the tournament came to an end, the four of us watched as the Irish PGA representative stood with the winning pros for final photos.  Tradition had it that winning pros would wear sport coats for the occasion, but the only sport coat on hand was size 48.  As one player commented on the photo op:  "The coat will look great when he grows into it."     
Finian and his merry band of Americans celebrated that night, again way too much and way too late.  Into the wee hours, it was the Westie and Finn Show Redux.   We discussed the golf swing, and all other topics of interest: politics, religion, South Africa, the burgeoning Celtic Tiger, Wayne's love of flying, Finian's love of fast cars. And once again, we retired at 4AM, too tired to imagine an alarm clock being set, or even awakening before noon. Golf was the furthest thing from our minds.
But wait, we wondered before turning in.   Had Wayne and Finian actually promised us a golf lesson at the Carne clubhouse the next morning at 8AM?  Were they joking?  Of course they were joking.  There was no way they were going to wake up early tomorrow to give us a lesson.  Yet we thought they had said it, and the Irish law firm could not bear the thought of standing Wayne or Finian up the next morning if they were serious.  
One more miracle at Belmullet.  We got up shaking our heads, openly questioning if we were daft.   We drove to the course, arriving a few minutes before 8AM.  Neither Finian nor Wayne nor anyone else was in attendance. It was an overcast morning, chilly and softly raining.  Foggy, like our minds.  Ten minutes passed.  We were alone, and it served us right -- we had dipped our toes into the cauldron of dipsomania, and it had scalded us.  We were either drunk or delusional in believing any sane person would show up after such a night of revelry and craic.  And frankly, it was not a problem.  We had enjoyed an extraordinary weekend.

The 18th green below Carne's clubhouse.
But wait -- a faint sound in the distance.  A vehicle.  The vague outline of a sports car appeared on Carne's winding entry road.  Could it be?
It was. A final lesson in the mist at Carne. Inner golf.  Gravity was our friend—as were our Celbridge teachers.  
“Just hit the ball.”    
Useful advice, in golf and in life.  
Thank you, Finn and Westie.    

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