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May 17, 2007

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

It is not unusual to use a terror movie analogy to describe my golf game, so this might not be the first time you see the word ghost in the outdoor corner. My game is horrific enough to scare folks away from the golf course, so the last thing I want to do to the country club is to start the rumor that the local course is haunted.

I can’t say that I have ever actually seen a ghost at the facility, nor have I ever been afraid of anything at the course outside of embarrassing myself with my poor play.

Yet as I played on Friday afternoon in a local benefit tournament, I couldn’t help but feel like there was an extra presence at the event.

It wasn’t like the famous scene from the movie Ghost when Patrick Swayze’s spirit takes hold of his wife’s hands and helps her mold the pottery. No ghost helped me make a hole-in-one – far from it.

But as dozens of friends, family members and former colleagues joined together for the first annual John Ed Luther Memorial Golf Tournament, it was hard not to see the judge out there playing with us. I can still see that tall, lanky form, topped off by his trademark straw golf hat as he motored around in his red cart on his way to his next shot.

The judge was present throughout the day. Stories abound about his skills, his interaction with other players and his course knowledge.

As we prepared to play a shot on hole number six, one of my teammates pointed out that I had too much club in my hands. “The judge always said that was the 100-yard tree, so you are closer than you think,” he told me. And he was right.

After muddling along with a number of poor shots, I recalled a conversation I had with John Ed. I immediately remembered his advice, to slow down my back swing, and to approach the shot all at one speed. On a short shot, I have the tendency to use my normal back swing speed, and then try to slow it down as I hit the ball, resulting in a choppy punch at the ball.

“If you’re going to take a half swing, you don’t need to have a full back swing,” he told me.

But I remember the advice not only for its accuracy but also for the manor in which it was offered. Sure he had just made yet another excellent approach shot, but the Judge didn’t come across as boastful or intrusive when he offered the little pointer. He just told it in passing as he headed to his putt, not even pausing to give it time to sink in. He wasn’t telling me what I was doing wrong, but instead giving me a tip to help me avoid the frustration of yet another bad golf shot.

The Judge’s advice rang true on the putting green as well. After a number of poor efforts to get the ball into the hole, I focused on keeping my head down on the ball.

“What are you looking up for?” he asked me once. “All you are going to see is a bad shot.”

I could almost feel his pat on the back as I drained a rather long putt on hole number eight. I hardly had time to see the ball disappear as I focused on the stroke.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who the judge visited on the course that day.

But I don’t want to confuse memories with the supernatural. There were no sightings. As a matter of fact there really was not even any talk of ghosts that day. Yet I can’t believe that I was the only one curious about the disappearance of one special golf ball.

For those who never had the chance to golf with John Ed, let us just say he had a proclivity for collecting lost golf balls. The Judge was famous for fishing golf balls out of the ponds and for spending a little extra time in the weeds searching for wayward shots.

In the spirit of this memory, the Rotary Club, which sponsored the tournament, took a genuine found ball from John Ed’s collection and placed it out on the course. The lucky golfer that claimed the lost ball was to be rewarded with a $50 prize.

But at the end of the day, no one came forward to claim the prize. It seems that lost ball remained lost. When we were told where it had been placed, several golfers indicated they had been in the vicinity but had not seen the prize. The ball had the initials JEL penned on its side, so I wonder if the rightful owner did reclaim the ball to finish his round?


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