Kevin O'Hara: A round with Louise Sullivan
PITTSFIELD — Our caddymaster at the Country Club of Pittsfield leaned over the half-door of the Bag Room and eyeballed his remaining caddies sitting on wooden Coke crates inside The Hole. It was a Tuesday in late August — Ladies Day — and the last foursome out of eight groups had yet to be assigned.
"Parrot," he called, "go caddy for Mrs. Dube. Willie, take Miss Hegg. Little Toe, Mrs. McGowan. And Shirts, Mrs. Sullivan." He stood her plaid golf bag in front of me. "By the way, Mrs. S requested you, so no clowning around out there."
Requested me? Boy, that was a first, though it might have had something to do with my mom and me meeting her at the supermarket the week before. At that time, Mrs. Sullivan excitedly told us about her recent trip to Ireland. "When leaving our hotel in Tralee, we were surrounded by a band of young tinkers asking for coins. Well, the more coins I gave, the more children popped up, until I had nothing but pennies to drop into their tin cups. Little darlings, they were, showering me with blessings." She gave my head a playful rub: "I just hope their petitions can help my golf game."
Mrs. Sullivan's generosity in Ireland was no surprise to me, since she and her husband, "Gentle Ben" Sullivan of Crane and Company, were the warmest couple at the Country Club. For example, if a player in their foursome neglected to give their caddy a dime to buy a soda after nine holes — a long-standing tradition at the club — the Sullivans always made sure that caddy didn't go without a drink.
"Good morning, Shirts," she greeted me on the first tee, as I handed over her Patty Berg driver. "Now, I need you to pray to your favorite Irish saint, since this is my last chance to beat these gals. Otherwise, they'll hold winter bragging rights."
Once the four women had hit their modest opening drives, our parade of eight — four young boys and four middle-aged women — proceeded up the first fairway on our four-mile, four-hour march around the storied old course.
Disappointingly, Mrs. Sullivan began with a triple-bogey 7, and turned to me glumly. "Shirts, I don't know what saint you're praying to, but I suggest you fire him immediately."
Chance to break 100
At the turn of nine, Mrs. Sullivan had carded a respectable 50, or "five over fives," as she tallied it.
"Why, Louise, you're outplaying yourself," the others complimented her. "Keep this up, and you might break 100."
"That'll be the day," she half-sang. "I've never broken 100 in my life."
After our brief but refreshing soda respite, Mrs. S continued her extraordinary play on the home nine; hitting sweet shots, getting lucky bounces, and rolling in some unlikely putts. Her sub-100 round became a reality after she scored a nifty "once-every-season" par on the long par-4 15th hole.
But unlike with a pitcher in the midst of a no-hitter, whose teammates remain mum in fear of jinxing his stellar performance, Mrs. Sullivan's three rivals, though well-intended, reminded her of the impending hazards yet to come.
"Louise, just keep away from those deep fairway bunkers on this next hole."
"And the prickly bushes on the left."
"And don't score another 11 like you did last Tuesday. Remember, my bead counter only goes up to 10."
Despite their unsettling chatter, Mrs. S smacked her best drive of the day on the long par-5 16th hole. After carding a respectable six, she followed with another bogey on the par-3 17th, and walked to the 18th tee in 94 strokes, needing only a bogey 5 on the par-4 finishing hole to score her unprecedented 99.
She spanked a lovely drive, followed by a 3-wood that skipped sweetly down the sun-baked fairway. She skulled her third shot, however, and her fourth barely trickled onto the green, leaving her with a brutal 40-foot uphill putt.
Mrs. Sullivan's opponents politely finished up, setting the stage for my golfer's improbable quest to break the century mark. In the interim, Miss Hegg hurried up the porch steps to inform the other league ladies what was at stake. Little Toe also made a mad dash to The Hole, telling our gang of the unfolding drama. Down they came in droves, ladies and caddies alike, and tightly circled the 18th green.
Meanwhile, a sullen Louise Sullivan studied her near to impossible putt, as I tried to buck her up some. "Give it a good roll, Mrs. Sullivan." She nodded her thanks, and asked me to pull the pin. Doing so, I stood off the green and squeezed my eyes shut, not wishing to witness her certain heartbreak, and braced myself for the inevitable moans to follow.
Therefore, I never saw Mrs. Sullivan's ball drop into the hole. Nor did I hear the thunderous roar of the gallery, or Mrs. Sullivan's joyous whoop of disbelief. No, on that memorable Ladies Day long ago, all I heard was the giggling of children, followed by the unmistakable clink of a penny in a tinker's cup.
Kevin O'Hara is a longtime Eagle contributor. Visit his website at thedonkeyman.com.
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