Tee for Two
Cotton was as right for Doug as a nine iron for a sand trap. Trouble was, she just couldn’t make the big dope see it
C. MONTE ROBERTS
COTTON LANGLEY and I are walking up the long private driveway that leads to Cedar Ridge Golf Club when we see this jalopy parked in the middle of the road. The engine hood is up, and from it protrudes an assortment of angular elbows and long legs. We judge there is a head connected with this somewhere, for we can hear a voice, and this voice is currently employed in running through an exceptionally competent and varied vocabulary.
“My, my,” whispers Cotton admiringly, ‘‘is that a mule or a motor he’s addressing?”
Cotton Langley—her full name is Louise Mae Langley, but everyone calls her Cotton because of her close-cropped platinum curls is far from a green hand herself with the adjectival improvisations, that being one of the skills quickly acquired around a golf course. She also knows automobiles of ancient lineage, having owned a long succession of disreputable heaps, which she takes apart and reassembles with loving care.
‘‘Hi, chum,” says Cotton to the back as we come up to the car, “are you making like an ostrich, or hiding your head in shame for talking that way in the presence of a lady?”
This comment causes the long back to straighten up with a jerk, and the head cracks crisply against the hood as it comes into view. “Oh gah-gracious,” says the voice, “I beg your pardon. Didn’t know there was anyone around.”
“Well, we’re here,” says Cotton. “Can we help you cuss, or would you like us to kick the thing in the fenders?”
She looks this character up and down carefully, and finds there is considerable up and down to examine. He is at least six feet four, with long, el bo wish arms, big-knuckh*! hands, a good pair of shoulders, and legs that seem to go on forever. The face is the kind you would pick to mind the baby or endorse your note at the bank: strong irregular features, with an honest
jaw, and brown eyes startling in their softness.
“Kicking might be best,” he says, “because this heap would no doubt disintegrate and then I would be free from its clutches at last.”
“Move over,” orders Cotton, “and let’s see what’s wrong.” She pushes past him, and he watches her tinkering around with the assortment of junk loosely called a motor. He is puzzled by this smooth cover girl in the crisp sports dress, with platinum hair, deep, even tan, and double-whistle legs.
It isn’t five minutes before Cotton straightens up and says, “Kick her over, pilot—should be okay now.” Still wearing his puzzled look he climbs in, steps on the starter and the motor grinds into action.
“Well, I’ll be fumdiddled!” exclaims the character. “What did you do to her?”
“Oh, just rooferawed the emphulliger,” Cotton brushes it off. “If I’d had a hairpin I’d have fixed it in half the time. And skip the expressions of heartfelt gratitude —just give us a lift to the clubhouse.”
“Climb in,” he invites, kicking open a door. “And —er—thanks. But I don’t see—oh, well, never mind. Can you tell me where I’ll find Cotton Langley?”
“If you want to see Cotton—” she begins, but he interrupts. “I don’t want to see this Langley,” he explains, “but the doc insists. He prescribes golf, and tells me to go see this Langley for lessons. Golf,” says the guy scornfully, bringing the car to a stop in the parking lot. “Imagine me taking golf lessons just because my doctor gets weird ideas.”
“What’s your trouble?” asks Cotton silkily. “Is the doctor prescribing fresh air to blow some sweetness and light into your disposition?”
He lets that one pass. “It’s this therapeutic idea,” he tells us. “I picked up a shell fragment, and when they finally turned me loose from hospital my family doc made me promise to give golf a try. He says that a golf swing is just what I need for my shoulder.” “Sounds sensible to me,” I chip in.
“Maybe,” he admits. “Anyway, I’ll have to take a whirl at it. Well, where do I find this Langley?” “Here,” says Cotton. “Present. That’s me.”
“I beg your pardon?” he eyebrows.
“In words of one syllable or less,” says Cotton patiently, “I — me—myself—am Miss Langley.”
“No, no,” he says, as if explaining to a backward child, “I’m looking for Cotton Langley, the golf professional.”
I figure it’s about time to break it up. “This,” I say, “is Cotton Langley. She is our pro. Her brother Barry is still busy with Government matters, and she is filling in for him. And,” I add, for I’m fond of Cotton, “she’s doing a bang-up job. You couldn’t find a better teacher.” He muddles that around in his bean for a while. “Oh, well,” he says finally, “I suppose it could be worse. I don’t expect she’ll make me write ‘I’ll be a good boy’ 20 times on the blackboard— or will she?”
“No, but I might chop you behind the ears with a niblick,” Cotton snaps.
“Now, now,” I soothe, “let’s keep this kindly.” I stick my mitt out at him. “My name’s Martin,” I announce, “Sliver Martin. And welcome to Cedar Ridge.”
“I’m Doug Standard,” he acknowledges. “Doc Riley is sponsoring me.” “Then suppose you take Mr. Standard in and find him a locker,” says Cotton, “and then we’ll go out on the practice tee and see if he can take his medicine like a little man.”
Which hardly sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
I'm called out of town on business a couple of days later, and run into some grief at our west coast plants, so it’s all of three months before I’m home again. And in the meantime I forget all about Cotton Langley and her pupil. But I’m not in the clubhouse five minutes before Cotton tracks me down and brings me up to date with a bang.
Cotton always talks to me as if I were
her father, which I could be if years were all that counted. As it is, I’ve been subbing for her dad since he died 10 years back, so I’m never surprised when she breaks down and tells all. Nevertheless, I’m somewhat surrounded by the news she breaks as she curls down on the chesterfield beside me.
“Sliver,” she says, “I’m in love.”
“Well, now, Cotton,” I say, “this is splendid news. 1 think it is about time you matched score cards with some upstanding young fellow and acquired a cottage small and what goes with it. Who, may I ask, is the lucky winner?”
“He’s a tall, lanky, long-drawn-out, unsociable, cantankerous, ungrateful, moody, sullen, morose lug,” Cotton mutters, “and I’m nuts about him.”
“Are you speaking of the man you love,” I ask, “or somebody who sneezed when you were putting?”
“I am speaking,” says Cotton, “of Douglas Standard, the man I have nominated as my life partner, and who is driving me crazy as the world’s most annoying golf pupil.”
“Oh, I remember now,” I say. “This would be the lengthy citizen whose car you fixed that day.”
“None other. And now I’d like to fix him, but good.”
“But you say you love this man,” I puzzle. “What gives, my blond charmer?”
“Oh, I love him right enough. But unfortunately this Standard appears to have two dislikes. One, golf. Two, me.”
THIS shocks me. It is bad enough to find someone who does not realize golf is the greatest sport in the world, but when this same man also fails to recognize the sterling qualities of Cotton Langley, it is time to send for the boys in the white coats.
“Come, come, Cotton,” I remonstrate. “Can this really be love?”
“It can and it is,” she says darkly. ‘T can prove it. Why, my game is off five strokes.”
“No!” I exclaim. “Then it must be love, or some other dangerous disease. We can’t have you going off your game . . .”
“Well, Douglas Standard, the dope, is my elected,” she says, “and I must get him one way or the other, no matter what he thinks of golf. Why, I’d even cut down to, say, 36 holes a week if I could have him,” says Cotton, and I know then that this is love in its most violent form. Cotton hasn’t played less than 18 to 36 a day since she was 12 years old.
“I give up, Cotton,” I say. “This is it, all right. So what have you done to snare the man?”
“Well,” says Cotton, “I see him every day, either giving him lessons or playing a twosome. He hates the game, he claims, but sticks to it on doctor’s orders; and I’ve helped him pull his score down to the low 90’s in just three months. Which is something, if I do say so myself.”
“It is indeed something,” I agree, “and any gentleman worthy of the name would marry you out of sheer gratitude.”
“Not only that,” says Cotton, “but I’ve fixed that jalopy of his half a dozen times. I found a place where he can buy the kind of shirts he likes, repaired his wrist watch, picked up a set of matched irons for him through a want ad—all in all, I’ve been so helpful it hurts to think about it.”
“Hmmm,” I hmmm, beginning to get the glimmering of an idea. “You Continued on page 39
Continued from page 16
are a most competent young lady, and you always do things very well.”
“I do my best,” she says modestly. “But maybe,” I suggest, “you have neglected to show him the feminine side. You know, moonlight, roses, and hot biscuits. The homey, domestic stuff.”
“Say,” Cotton agrees, sitting up straight. “Perhaps there’s something in that.”
“I’m sure there is,” I encourage her. “Now why not invite him to your apartment—give him a glimpse of the competent kitchen manager, the skilled cook? Try the accepted route to a man’s heart.”
“Good idea,” says Cotton thoughtfully. “The only trouble is, how good a cook am I?”
“Pish and tush,” I chide her. “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.”
“Well,” she says, “I’ll try it, only you’ll have to come too or he’ll think I’m trying to lure him.”
“Which, of course, you are,” I comment, “but I’ll come along if you say so. I can slip away when the soft music starts to play.”
“If it starts,” glooms Cotton. “However, I have another idea as well.” “Such as?”
“If he could ever get his game down low enough to beat me, he might dislike golf less. And as he dislikes golf and me about equally—well, it might be the beginning.”
“Could be,” I agree. “His selfesteem would benefit, and he could spend the long winter evenings telling you just how he played that five iron to the flag. But—do you think he could ever achieve a win—unless you—?” “No, no,” says Cotton virtuously. “It would be cheating if I threw one. Besides,” she ruminates, “I couldn’t get away with it. He knows my game too well.”
“Perhaps he’ll get unconscious some day and trim you,” I comfort her. “If he’s playing in the low 90’s—and you’re five strokes off your regular game, why, that puts you in the middle 80’s—and a real streak of luck might bring him there too. Then everything would be strictly solid.”
She cheers up a little at that, and looks at her watch. “Goodness,” she says, “I’m due to meet him in five minutes. We’re playing this morning— like to walk around?”
“Sure,” I say, “but I won’t play. I’ll concentrate on wishing you both luck. Bad for you, good for him.”
When I meet Doug Standard at the first tee, he hardly lives up to Cotton’s deprecative adjectives. He’s a little on the gloomy side, perhaps, but all in all a right guy, and I like the firm way he shakes hands as he recalls our previous meeting. Also, it seems to me he looks at Cotton with something less than pure hatred—although this may be a romantic flight of my imagination.
“Well,” says Doug, “let’s get my usual trimming over with. I am told,” he adds sarcastically, “that golf is only a game.”
NOW I can see this is no frame of mind for a young man about to play golf with his future wife, even if he is not aware that she is his intended, and I’m beginning to realize that his ego has indeed taken a beating. I feel certain of this when Cotton rams down a six-foot putt for a five, while he needs six strokes and thus loses the first hole. There’s a defeated look in his eye, and he follows Cotton off the next tee with a who-the-heck-cares swing. As a matter of fact it works nicely; maybe
he’s been trying too hard before, because his drive clicks for a nice, straight 210 yards down the middle—not spectacular, but safe.
He follows this with a lackadaisical midiron that rolls up the apron of the green, and from there he trickles a lucky approach shot into the cup— giving him a one-under-par three, that golfer’s delight known as a birdie.
“Well, well,” he says, teeing up on the third, “miracles do happen, eh?” And the miracles keep right on happening. Cotton and he halve the third and fourth, and he goes one up by sinking a long putt for a par on the fifth. Cotton and I swap hopeful glances; Standard is playing ’way over his head, like it sometimes happens to the worst of us, and he looks to stay that way too.
He is still one up at the turn, and by this time is.almost smiling. “You know,” he says, “maybe there’s something to this game after all.”
In other words, the guy is no different from 99 out of 99 other dubs when the breaks start coming their way. They figure they have the game by the tail, and that next season Byron Nelson will have to scratch along on second money.
Well, Cotton finally squares it up on the long seventeenth with a brilliant birdie four against Doug’s par five, and even Doug is enough of a golfer to get a bang out of losing a hole that way. As a matter of fact he’s about busting through his slacks with pride by this time, for as he goes to the eighteenth tee he only needs a five on this par four hole to break 85. This, as any 90 golfer knows, comes under the heading of blessings of Allah.
Cotton is playing steady golf; she can see romance sprouting with every well-hit shot by Standard, and is obviously feeling optimistic. As for me, by now I’m convinced that all the boy needs to make him a contender in the love handicap is the shot in the ego which this game is giving him.
As I say, Cotton is playing nice golf, but something gives on the eighteenth tee. She still swears it was an accident, and I’ll take her word for it; but anyway she hooks her tee shot out of bounds, and it looks like easy sailing for Standard. All he has to do is stay on the course and he’s home free.
This eighteenth is a pretty hole, and it’s also a nice gentle one, which is one reason we have a cheerful locker room at Cedar Ridge. The only hazard, unless you manage to hook with a roundhouse curve, as Cotton did, is a stream running across the fairway at the 235-yard mark. This doesn’t bother ordinary golfers, as it’s no trick to lift your second over it if you get any kind of drive, and the long hitters simply hold back on their tee shots and play it safe and short.
So Standard has a happy gleam in his eye after he “tough lucks” politely to Cotton and steps up on the tee. Wondrous to relate, he now not only has a chance to break 85, but also figures as a cinch to win the match.
The boy winds up, nice and slow on the back swing, and for oncelike it sometimes happens—everything clicks. Timing is perfect, the wrists come in like so, the weight shifts into the ball, the follow-through is there—and the ball takes off like a jack rabbit that’s been drinking high octane.
It climbs with a long, low zoom, and lights at the 220-yard mark. It takes a couple of hops, and then, just as we’re all gazing in admiration, the pill flips once more—and dives into the creek.
Well, for a minute that’s some tableau. Doug opens his mouth to let go a few well-chosen remarks, then closes it with a snap when he catches the glance Cotton drifts his way. Say,
I never saw so much double-distilled sympathy in one pair of eyes. And Doug, grabbing his self-control with i both hands, leans over to tee up ! another ball without saying a word.
So Cotton gives with the advice, all I soft and motherly. “Too bad, Doug,” j she says, “but—hadn’t you better play I it safe? Use an iron?”
Cotton is right, as usual, so Doug pulls out a number two iron—and almost missed the ball completely. It dribbles along all of six feet off the tee. “Now, Doug, take it easy,” suggests Cotton. “Relax—head down—eye on the ball . . .” and lots more of the same. I try to flag her down, because even I can tell Doug’s in no mood for competent advice from an expert. But all he parts with is a meek-and-mild “Thanks,” and proceeds to chop the ball about 20 yards ahead.
So the way the eighteenth works out, Cotton gets a six, even with her twostroke penalty, and Doug staggers up the fairway in 14 resounding blows.
When he walks off the green, he says politely, “Thank you for the game. And will you be good enough to post a notice that there is now a set of golf clubs for sale, cheap?”
COTTON seems about ready to throw in the towel, but maybe she’s after a perseverance prize. “He’s as good as lost, Sliver,” she mourns as we leave the club, “he’ll hate golf and me the rest of his life.”
“Come, now,” I try to cheer her, “he isn’t the first dub to give up golf. And they all come back again.”
“Not Doug. He means it,” she says. “So now my only chance is to try your idea. Fortunately he accepted the invite before that horrible last hole.” “Then he’s coming, eh?”
“Yes. Tomorrow at 6.30. You be there too, Sliver. I’ve already bought the frühest apron in town, and now I’m off to get a flock of cookbooks. It will take a little study, but I can bone up on domestic science tonight—and,” she promises grimly, “I’ll domesticate him within an inch of his life.”
Well, I’m a little late arriving at Cotton’s apartment, and Doug Standard is already on hand, looking somei what sheepish. He’s wandering around the living room, staring at pictures and twiddling with the radio, the way people do before dinner is served.
“Greetings, amigo,” I greet him. “And where would Cotton be?”
“I’m in the kitchen, Sliver,” her voice comes from behind the closed door. “I’m busy just for a few minutes.”
Judging from the sounds which filter I through, Cotton without a doubt is j busy. There seems to be great rattling j of pots and pans and crockery, and we ' hear her feet pattering back and forth.
I These manifestations are pleasing to j the ears of hungry men, and both I Standard and I are willing to admit j that a half cow, medium rare, would j about settle our needs of the moment.
Well, we sit and chat about this and that, mostly food, for we’re getting hungrier by the minute. What seems like at least 30 minutes slip away with no signs of dinner, except that the sounds from the kitchen gradually increase. Standard and I politely ignore the noises as we concentrate on keeping the conversation away from golf.
Finally there is an especially loud clatter, and at about that time I have to say, “Doug, do you smell something burning?”
“Well,” says Standard, “I have no wish to be rude, but now that you mention it, I think maybe the joint’s on fire.”
“I believe,” I say, climbing out of the chair, “I’d better have a look-see.”
“Me too,” says Doug, and we head for the kitchen.
If this is a scene of domestic bliss that greets our eyes, then the Halifax explosion was probably caused by someone preparing dinner for eight. But it’s easy to guess the cause of the trouble. Cotton is a high-handicap player in the kitchen league, and she’s trying to produce a par-busting performance. She’s soaked up the cookbook stuff, and is trying to give us a complicated meal without even playing a practice round.
Propped up beside the stove, open at a page headed “Full course dinners for discriminating hostesses,” is a cookbook, larger than a telephone directory. On the stove are sundry pots and pans. One of these has boiled over, and is sending up clouds of smoke. Cotton, a hand over her eyes, is trying to lift the pot off the stove with a No. 8 iron.
Doug can’t resist the chance. “Pardon me,” he says, “but are you sure you’re using the right club?” Cotton turns round slowly, takes one look at us, and says in a loud voice, “Boohoo. Oh, boohoohoo,” and rushes past us, obviously headed for the bedroom.
“Well, well,” says Doug, peering through the smoke. “Sliver, I am hungry, and I think I will take the liberty of salvaging what food I can.” Saying which, he strips off coat and vest and moves in. And what that guy can do in a kitchen is amazing. By the time I have pried Cotton out of the bedroom and persuaded her to turn off the sprinkler and powder her nose, the kitchen looks like a kitchen again, and various pots are bubbling away on the stove in businesslike fashion. The table in the breakfast nook is set for three, and Doug is presiding over all, like Toscanini on the podium, only calmer.
Cotton takes one look and starts to cry again. “Oh, Doug,” she wails. “I’m such a failure. I did so want to cook a nice dinner for you, and look at the mess I made of everything. Oh, Doug, whatever will you think of me now?” “Now never mind, Cotton,” says Standard, patting her indulgently on the shoulder, “all you need is a little practice in this racket.”
“But how did you get everything straightened out so slick?” asks Cotton, looking at him through a teary mist.
“Why, that is easy to answer,” explains Doug with a grin. “All through college I cooked at lumber camps in the holidays, and anybody who can shovel the grub to loggers can cook in any man’s league. Also, I am very fond of the art of cooking, and have given it scientific study.”
Doug pauses long enough to take a peek in the oven, from which slip out some very savory aromas, then he goes on. “As for your first query, asking whatever will I think of you,” he says, “why, I must confess that I thought of you as the most overwhelmingly competent woman I ever knew, and did not believe there was one small thing in this world at which you did not excel.
“However,” he says, “I find there is something at which you are a little less than expert, and I now think of you as a young lady sorely in need of instruction in the simple rudiments of kitchen craft.
“And,” he adds, “I am just the tutor for whom you have no doubt been looking all these years.”
“Oh, Doug,” says Cotton, picking up her cue fast, “do you think you could teach me? I feel so helpless!”
Well, right there I can hear the soft music starting to build up, and I see I’m about due for my exit. But I stick around long enough to put myself outside a slightly superior meal. I figure I owe myself that.