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The Flatlander

Writers Have Heroes Too: Grizzard Was Rare Talent

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Any writer who tells you he/she hasn’t been influenced by some other writer isn’t telling the truth or is completely unaware of their surroundings.

When others ask me this question, the answers are easy. I’m most drawn to the journalistic/literary style of Southern writer Rick Bragg, the beautiful prose of South Carolina’s Pat Conroy, and the great Texas writer, Larry McMurtry.

But a syndicated newspaper columnist from Georgia was my hero from the time I was old enough to read a newspaper. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution’s Lewis Grizzard was an exceptional talent. We lost him far too early in 1994. He was 48.

Grizzard’s work was a beautiful blend of sarcastic criticism toward the South he truly loved, and self-deprecation. He wrote most frequently about a severe heart condition that ultimately took his life. Several marriages and divorces, rednecks, and golf were also trademark topics.

Among his most-read books were Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel so Good Myself, and Kathy Sue Loudermilk: I Love You.

You don’t see Grizzard’s work a lot today. I wanted to share my very favorite Lewis Grizzard column. I don’t think he’ll mind at all. The words that follow are his.

•••

I made a hole-in-one.

Honest, I did. This isn’t some sort of make-believe column like I often write. For instance, I recently wrote a make-believe column about Jim Bakker meeting his new cellmate, Mad Dog.

But this isn’t anything like that.
I mean that I hit the golf ball on a par 3 and it went in the hole for a “1.”
Do you know the thrill of writing a “1” on a golf scorecard next to your name?

I’ve had my thrills in sports before. Playing for dear old Newnan High School back in ’63, I hit a jump shot at the buzzer to defeat the top-seeded team in the regional tournament.

That got my name and picture in the paper. (I wanted a kiss from a certain red-headed cheerleader, but she remarked how she detested kissing anybody covered in sweat.)

I also pitched a no-hitter in Pony League, finished second in a tennis tournament, hit a hard-way six on a crap table in Vegas, made back-to-back net eagles playing with Greg Norman in a pro-am tournament in Hilton Head, and once had dinner with the girl who used to say, “Take it off. Take it all off,” in the old shaving cream commercial. (I realize having dinner with a girl who made a shaving cream commercial has nothing to do with sports, but she made the commercial with Joe Namath, so there.)
But none of that compares with my hole-in-one.

Get the picture:

I’m on the par-three 12th hole at the lovely Island Club here in coastal Georgia. I admit No. 12 isn’t that long a hole, but I didn’t design the course, so it’s not my fault.

The hole is 128 yards over a small pond.
It was Saturday morning, November 4. I was playing in a threesome, comprised of myself, Tim Jarvis and Mike Matthews, two players of lesser talent with whom I often hang out.

It was a lovely morning, having warmed to the low 70s as I approached the tee. I was wearing an orange golf shirt, pair of Duckhead khaki slacks and my black and white golf shoes, the ones my dogs have not chewed up yet.

I was first on the tee.

“What are you going to hit?” asked Matthews.

“None of your business,” I said.

We were playing for a lot of money.
O.K., so we weren’t playing for a lot of money, but you never tell your opponent what club you’re hitting.

“Tell us,” said Jarvis, “or we’ll tell everybody how you move the ball in the rough when nobody’s looking.”

“Nine-iron,” I said.

The green sloped to the right. I said to myself, “Keep the ball to the left of the hole.”

(Actually I said, “Please, God, let me get this thing over the water.”)

I hit a high, arching shot. The ball cut through the still morning air, a white missile against the azure sky. (That’s the way Dan Jenkins or Herbert Warren Wind would have described it.)

The ball hit eight feet left of the pin. It hopped once. It hopped again. It was rolling directly toward the hole.

An eternity passed.

It has a chance to go in, I thought. But that’s not going to happen, of course, because I’m terribly unlucky and I’ve done some lousy things in my life, and I don’t deserve it to go into the hole.

It went into the hole.

A “1.”

It was a joyous moment when my first hole-in-one fell snugly into the hole. But the best moment came at the next tee, the par four, 13th.

For those non-golfers, the person with the lowest score on the previous hole gets to hit first on the next hole.

I strode to the tee with my driver, teed up my ball and then said to my opponents, “I think I’m up, but did anybody have a zero?”

Jarvis and Matthews were good friends. I shall miss them.

•••

See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com)

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