Golf courses lend themselves to nicknames. The most famous being Augusta, the site of the annual Masters Tournament, where golf writer Herbert Wind Warren named holes 11-13 Amen Corner in 1958. Prayer didn’t help Jordan Speith on the short par 3 No. 11 in 2016 when his hope to win a second-straight Masters drowned in Rae’s Creek, where he dumped two balls on Sunday.
While my friend and colleague Mike Tallarine, an AP history teacher, isn’t a famed golf writer, he nicknames everything and everyone.
Mike and I, and three other teaching colleagues, enjoy playing a public golf course, Town of Oyster Bay, a Long Island gem at 5,800 yards from the white tees but filled with tight, perilous holes. A decade ago, Mike shanked a shot into the woods on No. 2 there and instead of blaming a bad swing, he proclaimed, “There are gremlins here!”
We now call No. 2, and indeed the golf course itself, “Gremlins.” Mike insists they are there. He’s seen them.
Once there on hole No. 9, playing with Spanish teachers Antonio Benito and Mario Espinosa,, Latino workers were weed whacking as I was about to tee off. “Por favor,” I screamed at them, in a attempt to stop their whacking.
Hole No. 9 became known as “Por Favor.”
Hole No. 6 is a downhill par 3 between 135-165 yards. One day with the tee back playing about 160 yards Mario (Espo as we call him) declared that he could reach the green with a 7 iron. Brooks Koepka Mario is not.
Our fifth and final golf buddy, physics teacher Rich Colavita, quickly calculated in the hard drive that is his brain that based on Espo’s swing speed, a 20-mile-per-hour wind in his face, and the now-increased psychological pressure, a 7 iron would never reach the green.
“Bet $5 that you can’t,” Rich said.
“I agree,” said Espo.
His shot landed slightly short, by maybe 30 yards. “Double or nothing,” said Espo teeing up another ball.
“Ok,” said Rich.
That shot landed 20 yards short. He was getting closer.
“Double or nothing?” said Rich.
Espo’s final attempt again sliced well short of the green. And while Espo paid Rich the $10 for the first two bets, he has claimed for years that he did not verbally confirm that second double or nothing. The ensuing controversy has led to No. 6 being called “Espo.”
On the 360-yard No. 7, the fairway at its narrowest is seven paces wide, so of course that’s “seven paces.”
No. 13 is a 370-yard hole with a pond short and right of the green. It’s a big pond and it seems to catch nearly every ball that Antonio, called Benoot by Mike, has fired at the green, no matter where he is.
Mike named that hole “the vortex” for Antonio.
The hole before the vortex is a short par 3, between 110-135 yards. It’s ‘idiota” after Antonio called himself that following a triple-bogey there. With two Spanish teachers, that language slices into conversation often.
Unfortunately, while Rich, Antonio, Mario and I have enjoyed playing Oyster Bay twice this summer, Mike has not played there. Though he’s 15 years younger than me, he is injured more frequently than the Mets’ pitching staff. Within the past couple of years he ripped up his knee, tore his bicep while lifting his garage door, required another serious knee surgery, had part of his intestine removed and most recently strained his back.
While his game is much improved, he’s very easy to rattle if you are competing against him for pride or money. Once on the 18th hole he was three up on Rich, and as they walked to the tee Rich hit Mike with a barrage: “Well, you are playing so well I concede. It’s impossible to beat you. Nice match.” Mike was so rattled that he shanked his first two shots and they finished tied.
I rarely resort to such mental warfare against Mike. Though Mike thinks anything I say to him is an attempt to get into his head.
Mike also mistakenly believes that Tiger Woods is my favorite athlete. While I enjoy watching Tiger, I don’t have a favorite golfer. Mike meanwhile, is the one completely obsessed with Tiger as text after text from will refer to Tiger in some way. And Mike abhors Tiger ever since the sex scandal a decade ago.
After he missed our second round at Oyster Bay this summer, with his sudden back injury, he texted that I was probably wearing red, a shout out to Tiger’s shirt color on Sundays.
Other texts by Mike that day: “Feel free to give me updates…I may not want to play with your negative aura anymore…How’s your Michael Jackson bag—a reference to my ultra-light waterproof, Precise, carry bag…Anyone want to play Sunday?”
He wanted to be at Gremlins so badly. Though, were he there after a few missed shots he’d complain bitterly about the Gremlins and wish he were home on his sofa watching the NFL channel. Golf can do that to you.