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It was Saturday afternoon. The day was bright and sunny, and in the shelter of the grand stand on the campus, where the little east wind could not rustle, it was comfortably warm. The grass still held much of its summer verdancy, and the sky overhead was as deeply blue as on the mildest spring day. After a week of dull or stormy weather yesterday and to-day, with their fair skies, were as welcome as flowers in May, and gladness and light-heartedness were in the very air.
On the gridiron Westvale Grammar School and Hillton Academy were trying conclusions. On the grand stand all Hillton, academy and village, was assembled, and here and there a bright dress or wrap indicated the presence of a mother or sister in the throng. The Westvale team had arrived, accompanied by a coterie of enthusiastic supporters, armed with tin horns, maroon-colored banners, and mighty voices, which, with small hopes of winning on the field, were resolved to accomplish a notable victory of sound. On the side-line, with a dozen other substitutes whose greatest desire was to be taken on the first eleven, sat Joel. Outfield West was sprawled beside him with his caddie bag clutched to his breast, and the two boys were discussing the game. West had arrived upon the scene but a moment before.
"We'll beat them by about a dozen points, I guess," Joel was prophesying. "They say the score was twenty to nothing last year, but Remsen declares the first isn't nearly as far advanced as it was this time last season. Just hear the racket those fellows are making! You ought to have seen Blair kick down the field a while ago. I thought the ball never would come down, and I guess Westvale thought so too. Their full-back nearly killed himself running backward, and finally caught it on their five-yard line, and had it down there. Then Greer walked through, lugging Andrews for a touch-down, after Westvale had tried three times to move the ball. There's the whistle; half's up. How is the golf getting along?"
"Somers and Whipple were at Look Off when I came away. I asked Billy Jones to come over and call me when they got to The Hill. I think Whipple will win by a couple of strokes. Somers is too nervous. I wish they'd hurry up. We'll not get through the last round before dark if they don't finish soon. You'll go round with me, won't you?"
"If the game's over. They're playing twenty-minute halves, you know; so I guess it will be. I hope Blair will let me on this half. Have you seen Cloud?"
"Yes; he's over on the seats. Who has his place?"
"Ned Post; and Clausen's playing at right. I'm glad that Blair is doing such good work to-day. I think he was rather cut up about getting beaten this morning."
"Yes; wasn't that hard luck? To think of his being downed by a cub of a junior! Though that same junior is going to be a fine player some day. He drives just grand. He had too much handicap, he did. Remsen didn't know anything about him, and allowed him ten. Here they come again."
The two elevens were trotting out on the field once more, and Joel stood up in the hope that Blair might see him and decide to take him on. But Joel was doomed to disappointment, for the second half of the game began with practically the same line-up. The score stood six to nothing in favor of Hillton. The playing had been decidedly ragged on both sides; and Remsen, as he left the team after administering a severe lecture, walked past with a slight frown on his face.
"Well, I guess I'll go over and see if I can hurry those chumps up some." West swung his bag over his shoulder and turned away. "When the game's done, hurry over, March. You'll find us somewhere on the course." Joel nodded, and West sauntered away toward the links. The second half of the game was similar to the first, save in that Remsen's scolding had accomplished an awakening, and the first put more snap into its playing. Six more points were scored from a touch-down by the Hillton right end, after a thirty-yard run, followed by a difficult goal by Blair. But the Westvale rooters kept up their cheering bravely to the end, and took defeat with smiling faces and upraised voices; and long after the coach containing them had passed from sight their cheers could still be heard in the distance toward the station.
The bulk of the spectators turned at the conclusion of the match toward the links, and Joel followed in his football togs. At Home Hole he found Whipple and West preparing for the deciding round of the tournament, and the latter greeted him with a shout, and put his clubs into his keeping. Then Whipple went to the tee and led off with a long drive for the first hole, and the round began. West followed with a shorter shot and the march was taken up.
The links at Hilton consists of nine holes, five out and four in. The entire length of the course is a trifle over one and a half mile, and although the land is upland meadow and given to growing long grass, yet the course is generally conceded to be excellent. The holes are short, allowing the round to be accomplished by a capable player in thirty-two strokes. The course has thirteen bunkers of varying sizes, besides two water hazards at the inlet and outlet of the lake. The lake itself is spoiled as a hazard by the thick grove of trees on the side nearest the Academy. Sometimes a poor drive lands a ball in that same grove, and there is much trial and tribulation ere the player has succeeded in dislodging it from the underbrush.
While generally level, the course is diversified by slight elevations, upon which are the putting greens, their red and white flags visible from all parts of the links. As has been said, the holes are short, the longest, Lake Hole, being four hundred and ninety-six yards, and the shortest, the first, but one hundred and thirty-three. Outfield West once spent the better part of two weeks, at great cost to his class standing, in making a plan of the links, and, while it is not warranted accurate as to distances, it is reproduced here with his permission as giving a clearer idea of the ground than any verbal description.
Play had begun this morning at nine o'clock, and by noon only Somers, Whipple, and West had been left in the match. Blair had encountered defeat most unexpectedly at the hands of Greene, a junior, of whose prowess but little had been known by the handicapper; for, although Blair had done the round in three strokes less than his adversary's gross score, the latter's allowance of six strokes had placed him an easy winner. But Blair had been avenged later by West, who had defeated the youngster by three strokes in the net. In the afternoon Somers and Whipple had met, and, as West had predicted, the latter won by two strokes.
And now West and Whipple, both excellent players, and sworn enemies of the links, were fighting it out, and on this round depended the possession of the title of champion and the ownership for one year of the handicap cup, a modest but highly prized pewter tankard. Medal Play rules governed to-day, and the scoring was by strokes.
Whipple reached the first green in one stroke, but used two more to hole-out. West took two short drives to reach a lie, from which he dropped his ball into the hole in one try. And the honors were even. The next hole was forty yards longer, and was played either in two short drives or one long drive and an approach shot. It contained two hazards, Track Bunker and High Bunker, the latter alone being formidable. Whipple led off with a long shot that went soaring up against the blue and then settled down as gently as a bird just a few yards in front of High Bunker. He had reversed his play of the last hole, and was now relying on his approach shot for position. West played a rather short drive off an iron which left his ball midway between the two bunkers. Whipple's next stroke took him neatly out of danger and on to the putting green, but West had fared not so well.
There was a great deal of noise from the younger boys who were looking on, much discussion of the methods of play, and much loud boasting of what some one else would have done under existing circumstances. West glanced up once and glared at one offending junior, and an admonitory "Hush!" was heard. But he was plainly disturbed, and when the little white sphere made its flight it went sadly aglee and dropped to earth far to the right of the green, and where rough and cuppy ground made exact putting well-nigh impossible. Professor Beck promptly laid down a command of absolute silence during shots, and some of the smaller youths left the course in favor of another portion of the campus, where a boy's right to make all the noise he likes could not be disputed. But the harm was done, and when play for the third hole began the score was: Whipple 7, West 8.
Even to one of such intense ignorance of the science of golf as Joel March, there was a perceptible difference in the style of the two competitors. Outfield West was a great stickler for form, and imitated the full St. Andrews swing to the best of his ability. In addressing the ball he stood as squarely to it as was possible, without the use of a measuring tape, and drove off the right leg, as the expression is. Despite an almost exaggerated adherence to nicety of style, West's play had an ease and grace much envied by other golf disciples in the school, and his shots were nearly always successful.
Whipple's manner of driving was very different from his opponent's. His swing was short and often stopped too soon. His stance was rather awkward, after West's, and even his hold on the club was not according to established precedent. Yet, notwithstanding all this, it must be acknowledged that Whipple's drives had a way of carrying straight and far and landing well.
Joel followed the play with much interest if small appreciation of its intricacies, and carried West's bag, and hoped all the time that that youth would win, knowing how greatly he had set his heart upon so doing.
There is no bunker between second and third holes, but the brook which supplies the lake runs across the course and is about six yards wide from bank to bank. But it has no terrors for a long drive, and both the players went safely over and won Academy Hole in three strokes. West still held the odd. Two long strokes carried Whipple a scant distance from Railroad Bunker, which fronts Ditch Hole, a dangerous lie, since Railroad Bunker is high and the putting green is on an elevation, almost meriting the title of hill, directly back of it. But if Whipple erred in judgment or skill, West found himself in even a sorrier plight when two more strokes had been laid to his score. His first drive with a brassie had fallen rather short, and for the second he had chosen an iron. The ball sailed off on a long flight that brought words of delight from the spectators, but which caused Joel to look glum and West to grind the turf under his heel in anger. For, like a thing possessed, that ball fell straight into the very middle of the bunker, and when it was found lay up to its middle in gravel.
West groaned as he lifted the ball, replaced it loosely in its cup, and carefully selected a club. Whipple meanwhile cleared the bunker in the best of style, and landed on the green in a good position to hole out in two shots. "Great Gobble!" muttered West as he swung his club, and fixed his eye on a point an inch and a half back of the imbedded ball, "if I don't get this out of here on this shot, I'm a gone goose!" March grinned sympathetically but anxiously, and the onlookers held their breath. Then back went the club--there was a scattering of sand and gravel, and the ball dropped dead on the green, four yards from the hole.
"Excellent!" shouted Professor Beck, and Joel jumped in the air from sheer delight. "Good for you, Out!" yelled Dave Somers; and the rest of the watchers echoed the sentiment in various ways, even those who desired to see Whipple triumphant yielding their meed of praise for the performance. And, "I guess, Out," said Whipple ruefully, "you might as well take the cup." But Outfield West only smiled silently in response, and followed his ball with businesslike attention to the game.
Whipple was weak on putting, and his first stroke with an iron failed to carry his ball to the hole. West, on the contrary, was a sure player on the green, and now with his ball but four yards from the hole he had just the opportunity he desired to better his score. The green was level and clean, and West selected a small iron putter, and addressed the ball with all the attention to form that the oldest St. Andrews veteran might desire. Playing on the principle that it is better to go too far than not far enough, since the hole is larger than the ball, West gave a long stroke, and the gutta-percha disappeared from view. Whipple holed out on his next try, adopting a wooden putter this time, and the score stood fifteen strokes each.
The honor was West's, and he led off for End Hole with a beautiful brassie drive that cleared the first two bunkers with room to spare. Whipple, for the first time in the round, drove poorly, toeing his ball badly, and dropping it almost off of the course and just short of the second bunker. West's second drive was a loft over Halfway Bunker that fell fairly on the green and rolled within ten feet of the hole. From there, on the next shot, he holed out very neatly in eighteen. Whipple meanwhile had redeemed himself with a high lofting stroke that carried past the threatening dangers of Masters Bunker and back on to the course within a few yards of West's lie. But again skill on the putting green was wanting, and he required two strokes to make the hole. Once more the honor was West's, and that youth turned toward home with a short and high stroke. The subsequent hole left the score "the like" at 22, and the seventh gave Whipple, 25, West 26.
"But here's where Mr. West takes the lead," confided that young gentleman to Joel as they walked to the teeing ground. "From here to Lake Hole is four hundred and ninety-six yards, and I'm going to do it in three shots on to the green. You watch!"
Four hundred and ninety-odd yards is nothing out of the ordinary for an older player, but to a lad of seventeen it is a creditable distance to do in three drives. Yet that is what West did it in; and strange to relate, and greatly to that young gentleman's surprise, Whipple duplicated the performance, and amid the excited whispers of the onlookers the two youths holed out on their next strokes; and the score still gave the odd to West--29 to 30.
"I didn't think he could do it," whispered West to Joel, "and that makes it look bad for your uncle Out. But never mind, my lad, there's still Rocky Bunker ahead of us, and--" West did not complete his remark, but his face took on a very determined look as he teed his ball. The last hole was in sight, and victory hovered overhead.
Now, the distance from Lake Hole to the Home Hole is but a few yards over three hundred, and it can be accomplished comfortably in two long brassie drives. Midway lies The Hill, a small elevation rising from about the middle of the course to the river bluff, and there falling off sheer to the beach below. It is perhaps thirty yards across, and if the ball reaches it safely it forms an excellent place from which to make the second drive. So both boys tried for The Hill. Whipple landed at the foot of it, while West came plump upon the side some five yards from the summit, and his next drive took him cleanly over Rocky Bunker and to the right of the Home Green. But Whipple summoned discretion to his aid, and instead of trying to make the green on the next drive, played short, and landed far to the right of the Bunker. This necessitated a short approach, and by the time he had gained the green and was "made" within holing distance of the flag, the score was once more even, and the end was in sight.
And now the watchers moved about restlessly, and Joel found his heart in his throat. But West gripped his wooden putter firmly and studied the situation. It was quite possible for a skillful player to hole out on the next stroke from Whipple's lie. West, on the contrary, was too far distant to possess more than one chance in ten of winning the hole in one play. Whether to take that one chance or to use his next play in bettering his lie was the question. Whipple, West knew, was weak on putting, but it is ever risky to rely on your opponent's weakness. While West pondered, Whipple studied the lay of the green with eyes that strove to show no triumph, and the little throng kept silence save for an occasional nervous whisper.
Then West leaned down and cleared a pebble from before his ball. It was the veriest atom of a pebble that ever showed on a putting green, but West was willing to take no chances beyond those that already confronted him. His mind was made up. Gripping his iron putter firmly rather low on the shaft and bending far over, West slowly, cautiously swung the club above the gutty, glancing once and only once as he did so at the distant goal. Then there was a pause. Whipple no longer studied his own play; his eyes were on that other sphere that nestled there so innocently against the grass. Joel leaned breathlessly forward. Professor Beck muttered under his breath, and then cried "S--sh!" to himself in an angry whisper. And then West's club swung back gently, easily, paused an instant--and--
Forward sped the ball--on and on--slower--slower--but straight as an arrow--and then--Presto! it was gone from sight!
A moment of silence followed ere the applause broke out, and in that moment Professor Beck announced:
"The odd to Whipple. Thirty-two to thirty-three."
Then the group became silent again. Whipple addressed his ball. It was yet possible to tie the score. His face was pale, and for the first time during the tournament he felt nervous. A better player could scarce have missed the hole from Whipple's lie, but for once that youth's nerve forsook him and he hit too short; the ball stopped a foot from the hole. The game was decided. Professor Beck again announced the score:
"The two more to Whipple. Thirty-two to thirty-four."
Again Whipple addressed his ball, and this time, but too late to win the victory, the tiny sphere dropped neatly into the hole, and the throng broke silence. And as West and Whipple, victor and vanquished, shook hands over the Home Hole, Professor Beck announced:
"Thirty-two to thirty-five. West wins the Cup!"
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