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The Epic of a Chronic Slicer

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Bert Leston Taylor (1866-1921), who wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune under the initials BLT, wrote a poem with the title “Frenzied John” which he never finished. In June 1926, The American Golf published an article with the unfinished poem and offered a prize of two dozen golf balls to the reader who best finished the poem in ten stanzas or less. I searched later issues of the magazine in vain trying to find the winning entry. Here is the poem (slightly shortened), as far as it goes.

FRENZIED JOHN

He worked as hard at golf
As any man alive;
For  nothing went the time he spent—
He always sliced his drive.

He held himself like this,
He held himself like that;
By hook and crook he tried to look
And see where he was at.

He changed his stance and grip—
It mattered not at all:
The same old thing with every swing,
He sliced the bally ball.

He put his right foot forward
He put his right foot back;
But still his game remained the same—
He sliced at every crack.

He told it to the lockers,
He told it in the hall,
Till more and more it grew a bore
To hear he sliced the ball.

He read the books of Vardon
Of Taylor, Braid, and all;
But every shot went straight to pot—
He sliced the cursed ball.

He went to Doctor Vardon,
And got the best advice;
He whaled the pill till he was ill,
Nor ever lost his slice.

Doc took him out to pasture,
And showed him what to do,
And while the Doc was there to knock
He hit them fairly true.

But after Doc departed
The stuff was off again;
He shot it on to Helngon,
And nearly went insane.

No matter how he whacked it,
He sliced into the tall.
“O Lord, how long,” his frenzied song;
“How must I hit the ball?”

Again to Old Do Vardon
He tottered for advice.
Said Doc: : “We’ll have to operate
And cut away that slice.”

He put his right hand under,
He put his right hand up,
But still the ball would hunt the ball,
Nor ever reach the cup.

He put his heels together,
He put his heels apart.
With anguished brow he wondered how
He’d ever learn the art.

he laid the club-face forward,
He laid the club-face back.
His face grew thin, his chest fell in,
His mind began to crack.

If you would like to enter the contest, it’s too late to “Please mail all answers to ‘The Contest Editor,’ AMERICAN GOLFER, 353 Fourth Avenue, New York, N.Y.”  But you can leave your ending as to what became of Frenzied John in a Comment below.

In the next post, I will provide the ending that the magazine included in the article. Yours may be better.

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The End of Golf Season

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Yesterday morning (10/15), here in Eastern Massachusetts, a thin white covering could be seen from the kitchen window for a brief time. An early warning of things to come. In fact, it has been very cold all week. Even colder than the Red Sox were in LA!

C.P. McDonald saw this kind of weather in the Fall of 1913 and lamented the end of golf season in the following poem.

STOW THE STICKS

When Autumn’s chill is o’er the land,
And maple leaves are turning gold;
When coal trucks are on every hand,
And Summer’s radiant tale is told;
When steam first crackles through the pipe,
And geese fly southward day by day;
When hunters trek the fen for snipe,
Then, golfers, stow your sticks away.

When days are short and nights are long,
And sweethearts hover ’round the grate;
When winds no long croon a song,
But shriek in tones that irritate;
When Summer drinks have disappeared,
And rye and bourbon hold full sway;
When stalwart trees stand gaunt and seared,
Then, golfers, stow your sticks away.

Just bid the caddie sad farewell,
And in your lockers put away
The pristine balls, that eke would tell
The splendid scores you did not play;
Go, golfers, get an ample stock
Of rock-and-rye without delay;
Then get your blanket out of hock,
And stow your golfing sticks away.

The poem first appeared in The American Golfer in December 1913 and was later reprinted in Lyrics of the Links compiled by Henry Litchfield West and published in 1921. Though the coal trucks have bit the dust, “rock-and-rye” still makes headlines.

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At the Docks to Send Off Ouimet in 1914

Ouimet's ship to England

Ouimet’s ship to England

Suppose you lived in Orlando and wanted send Tiger off to the 2009 President’s Cup matches. Chances are you would not have known where to go or when. Things were different 95 years ago.

If you lived in Boston and the date was March 29, 1914, then in the late afternoon you might have decided to go down to the harbor where the steamship Lapland was docked. You’d have gone there to wave goodbye to Francis Ouimet, the current U.S. Open champion, who was off to England for the Amateur and Open championships. At the dock you would have been “surrounded by a hundred and more golfers who risked the loss of a good Sunday dinner in order to be on hand and give a rousing cheer when the ocean liner started on its way across the deep.”

The quote is from an article in the May 1914 issue of Golf Illustrated. Also included is a song about Ouimet written by “the golf poet-laureate of Boston, Joseph A. Campbell…” that a few of his friends might have sang on board ship before it sailed.

Oh! He wasn’t known in Europe till last Fall,
But they know him now in far off Hindustan,
In Bombay, in Baroda, in Bengal
He’s known to ev’ry blooming Englishman.

He had read about this Vardon and of Ray,
But they didn’t seem to feaze the lad at all,
He just simply kept on playing,
Did not mind what folks were saying,
And proved himself the topper of them all.

Chorus:

Oh! Francis, Francis Ouimet,
You’re a golfer through and through,
You rose to the occasion
When our last hope was in you;
May your good luck never fail you,
May your shots be always true,
God bless you, Francis Ouimet,
All our caps we doff to you.

Oh! He’s always on the job when Duty calls,
He’s the golfing pride and glory of the Hub,
He’s modest and his modesty enthralls,
And a deadly shot he is whate’er the club.

He knows we like to hear the Lion roar,
And to see the knots a’tying in his tail
And Johnny Bull he’ll show once more
What he showed him once before,
That the golfer who is best must prevail!

Ouimet along with his sailing partner Arthur G. Lockwood, 1903,1905 and 1906 Massachusetts State Amateur Champion, landed in Dover, England on April 6th. Unfortunately, both golfers faired poorly at both the British Amateur and Open. Ouimet would later write in his book, A Game of Golf, first published in 1932, “My trip to England was a horrible failure from the competitive point of view…” (p. 62)

So neither the golf trip nor the song turned out to be memorable. But had you been at the dock, you would have had a good story to tell.

(Note: After Francis Ouimet returned to the U.S. , he did win the 1914 Amateur Championship, becoming the first career winner of both the U.S. Open and Amateur Championships.)

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On the Anniversary of a Hole-in-One

If you want to become a better golfer, find someone who has a great swing and try to copy it. Similarly, if you want to improve as a poet, find a great poem and see if you can write a parody. I had such an assignment in a poetry class a few years ago. The poem I selected was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. If you remember, it ends with the lines,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The event that I wanted to commemorate with my poem was my first and only hole-in-one, on October 1, 2003. The poem I wrote is as follows:

A Good Walk Unspoiled
(With apologies to Robert
Frost and Mark Twain)

I hit a ball into the sky
I hit it from a perfect lie
From tee to pin one sixty four
If just to there the ball would fly.

I’ve hit few balls like that before
On line that orb did deftly soar
It sailed just like a diamond kite
How could I really ask for more?

Then on the green it did alight
But soon it disappeared from sight
I started walking towards the pole
Where did the golf ball end its flight?

Not in the trap, not by the knoll
Not on the green, but in the hole!
And on my card I wrote a one
And on my card I wrote a one.

Leon S White
5/9/2006

This poem is included in my new book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages.

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