The Angry Czeck is a founding member of the Malvern High School Golf Team. Fewer than 10,000 people live in Malvern, which in my lifetime has seen no less than four Wal-Marts. The town’s original Wal-Mart, for decades a cavernous and barren retail tomb, lay at the bottom of a hill off the side of Page Avenue. When one boy challenged another to a fistfight, it was with the words, “Meet me at the Wal-Mart parking lot.” Fights were generally scheduled during the lunch hour, and the combatants sparred inside a steel circle comprised of Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet pickups, and Dodge Talons.
Malvern is not a golf community. At least, not in the sense once might envision a golf community. Malvern maintains one golf course, the Malvern Country Club, which in my high school years featured only nine holes. The course layout is unimaginative and not especially challenging, but the course itself is well cared for. Though the geography is flat and not difficult to walk, many members supply their own golf carts, which are housed in a long shed.
How the Angry Czeck became a member of the Malvern High School Golf Team began with my unceremonious resignation from the school’s baseball team my junior year. In need of a school athletic credit my senior year, I became intrigued by the school’s newest offerings: tennis and golf. I dabbled in both sports, and while I was a marginally better tennis player, I opted for the more leisurely pursuit.
In addition to myself, four others joined the inaugural team: My brother (who we’ll call “Sally”), Bert W., Jason C., and a junior, DJ K. To be honest, we were not kind to DJ and we snobbishly refused him access to our inner circle. This was a result of our natural tendency for mean-spiritness, but it didn’t help that DJ rolled his golf clubs along on a pull-cart when the rest of us opted to sling our golf bags on our shoulders.
We hardly resembled a golf team, by way of both skill and appearance. Rather than handsome Lecoste golf shirts, pressed kaki shorts and spiked golf shoes, we wore faded t-shirts, loud Bahamas shorts, and the same basketball sneakers we wore to our classes. Our golf bags were third generation hand-me downs, as were most of our clubs. Sally teed off with a tour-discredited aluminum three-wood. Unable to control a driver, I usually approached the tee with a rusty two-iron. Bert and Jason were fairly adroit with drivers, but suffered mightily with long irons. A good nine-hole score from any one of us began with the numeral “5.”
Golf was not a real passion for any member of the inaugural Malvern High School Golf Team. Bert was a talented guitarist who practiced more with his heavy-metal band than with his short game. Jason owned a Nissan pick-up truck and was obsessed with obtaining computer chips that would increase its horsepower. Sally and I enjoyed golf, but we were both wrestling with a menu of issues outside of lowering our handicaps. Rather than discuss methods for improving our swings, the founding fathers of Malvern public school golf devoted most discussions to strategies than involved conquering the chastity of the comely females in the Junior Class (in that regard, we were even less successful than making par).
Our coach was a fireplug-shaped man who was highly regarded for his skill in instructing defensive schemes for the high school football team. Coach was a man of great intensity who broadcasted his disappointment with glowering stares and extended bursts of silence. It is a fair and accurate assessment to make that Coach despised the inaugural Malvern High School Golf Team. Not once did he offer anything in way of useful instruction. Rather, he streamlined his job description to sullenly driving the team to a handful of golf meets. The only time he spoke to us as a group was when I made the mistake of telling the team an off-color joke, which earned me a barking rebuttal (“That’s…not…funny.”) underscored by an icy glare.
Fortunately, no one joined the golf team for instruction. We joined to A) get out of class early for “practice,” and B) to take advantage of free golf at the exclusionary Malvern Country Club. Nothing beats teeing off at Number One knowing that the majority of your classmates were currently puzzling over gerunds or the Pythagorean Theorem. The Angry Czeck sliced his two-iron into the woods with glee.
Practice consisted chiefly of our members following grisly shanks into the woods and misfiring scuffed-up golf balls hundreds of yards past the green. On the seventh hole, an accessible Par 3, we disrupted the concentration of our teammates by colorfully describing the way we imagined certain school girls looked naked. The main result was usually a banana-slice to the electrified barbwire fence that bordered the course. (“I hit that shot with two clubs!”)
Because the Malvern Country Club was plagued by swarms of mosquitoes, the inaugural Malvern High School Golf Team devised a novel insect repellant: cigars! These were not the fine cigars you carefully select from humidors. I’m talking gas station White Owls, my man. Good smoking in southern Arkansas! Once out of view from the clubhouse, we’d fire up a few White Owls and listen to the mosquitoes howl in agony. Smoking a White Owl was like inhaling a burning tire, but we looked cool, and that’s what was important. During golf meets, (perhaps after recording an “8” on the first Par 3 of the round), a member of the inaugural Malvern High School Golf Team would produce a White Owl from his frayed bag and nonchalantly light it before a forum of awestruck opponents. “Your coach lets you smoke?” stammered a thunderstruck foe. Our school representative would inhale deeply, expel a cloud of poison into the atmosphere, and coldly reply, “No.”
That was the only way the inaugural Malvern High School Golf Team earned respect from opposing schools, because we sure weren’t earning it with our play. The Angry Czeck takes pride in never shanking on an opening tee, though the remainder of my round was a comedic potpourri of chilly-dips, skanks, banana slices, blades, and skulls that skittered across the finer golf courses of Southern Arkansas. Opposing schools regarded us leeringly as we leaped out of our school van, our multi-colored shorts brazenly challenging the staid establishment of tans and solid hues. Sometimes, I wore black dress socks to underscore my flair for fashion, a move that only deepened Coach’s silence.
I might have predicted how the golf season would end after one the next-to-last scheduled meet of the year. I was inserted into the A-Flight (on the strength of the “56” I recorded in practice the day before), where I became reunited with an old friend named Travis, who had transferred to another school the year before. Travis relaxed once he realized I wasn’t challenging for the Clubhouse Cup anytime soon, and we played the nine holes while exchanging stories and jokes. After we completed the last hole, my coach approached us from the clubhouse, his face unusually warm and animated. At last, I thought, Coach is recognizing me for my efforts! When he reached us, Coach beamed, “How did the course play…Travis?” I then watched as Coach sauntered away with a player from the opposition. It was then that I knew my golf coach was a complete and utter bastard.
It was widely known that, by virtue of existing, our high school was to compete in the state golf tournament. The inaugural Malvern High School Golf Team looked forward to this event with a mixture of dread and excitement. We were well aware that our limited skills were an embarrassment to ourselves and to the school. But a golf trip is a golf trip, and that alone relieved our humiliation somewhat. It was with great chagrin when we learned that winning a spot on the state tournament team had become an open competition.
The best golfers in the Malvern public high school system happened to be members of the high school baseball team. The baseball season coincided with the golf season, so those players were unavailable…until the golf state tournament. The injustice of this was transparent, even to the ringer participants handpicked by Coach. The Coach, however, pretended that this arrangement was fair. In fact, he could not conceal his glee, knowing that his undesirable team was soon to be jettisoned of its loyal players for a revised scorecard of more able ringers.
The best scores from a weekend 18 at the Malvern Country Club would determine who would be allowed to participate in the state tournament. It would have been easy to fabricate a fictional scorecard, but I was raised to believe in the spirit of fair play, and not the edict to win at all costs. I played as best I could. Suffice to say, Sally and I were eliminated from the team. Bert and Jason, thanks to a better than average round, were magnanimously allowed to remain on the team for which they played all year. Two baseball players were then added to the roster.
Coach’s handpicked team faired poorly in the tournament. Bert and Jason returned to school with fresh tales of horrendous play and secret cigar smoking. The Angry Czeck took secret satisfication knowing that my unjust omission from the team earned my heartless Coach nothing. Despite his sinister plot that ejected me and Sally from our rightfull positions on the team, Coach once again drove a school van full of losers back to Malvern. He was a failure as a cheater as he was a failure as a coach.
I might have told Coach that to his face, but he had once threatened to stuff me into a locker, so I chose life instead.