Stakeout on the 18th Hole

You know, I pick up the paper and I read where some guy robbed a bank or shot a guard, and I can't relate to it.

If I read where some serial killer is on the rampage, I have no way of understanding that.

I can't really fathom pickpocketing. Drive-by shootings aghast me.

I have a little trouble understanding insider trading or money laundering. Mugging would be way beyond me. Burglary would make me hyperventilate.

But I read a story in the papers the other day out of Noblesville, Ind., and I suddenly thought, Holy Cow! I'm a hardened criminal and I didn't even know it!

Maybe I should go on the lam.

The wire story out of the Hoosier town read as follows: "A golfer was arrested in Noblesville, Ind., and charged with theft after the sheriff's office said he was caught cheating on his score. Charles D. Carey was arrested after playing in a charity tournament and accepting a $50 gift certificate for second place.

"Hamilton County sheriff's detectives, responding to a tip, followed Carey during his round at Hanging Tree Golf Club and said he shaved at least 13 strokes off his score. Carey claimed he shot a 67 in the event that raises funds for the American Diabetes Assn. Tournament organizers said they had received a tip that he had shaved strokes from his scores at previous charity events."

There! Wouldn't you like to move to Noblesville?! Must be paradise there. No crime to speak of. The sheriffs have time to go skulking in the rough looking for America's Most Wanted. Gives new meaning to the word stakeout.

All of a sudden I know what Jack the Ripper must have felt like.

I mean, what if the Golf Police follow me around next?

I have to tell you that, when I play golf, because I have only one eye, I take the liberty of poking my ball out of any divot it rolls into on the fairway. I mean, I have enough topped shots as it is. Sometimes, I ask permission of my partners, sometimes I just go ahead and do it.

I don't play with guys who won't give me putts even when they're outside the leather. I take the position if the hole is visible from the ball, the putt should be good.

Haven't you ever played "Here it is!" golf? That is, to say, you disappeared into the rough in search of your ball and, before you get to the out-of-bounds stake, you slip a substitute ball from your pants pocket and shout "Here it is!" even if here it isn't?

Haven't you learned to mark your ball adroitly enough on the green so that a 10-foot sidehiller with two breaks suddenly becomes a straight-in uphill seven-footer? Or less?

Well, old buddy, we are enemies of society. Bob Stack will have us on his TV show with our pictures. "Have you seen this man? Call our hotline."

If I kick my ball out from behind a tree (as I often do), do I now expect a SWAT team to jump out from behind the bushes with drawn guns shouting "Freeze! Police!"?

I would expect a guy to be waiting for me with handcuffs on the 18th green murmuring "You have the right to remain silent or to have a lawyer present. However, if you choose to talk, anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. Here, give me your nine-iron, it's evidence."

I wonder if they'll confiscate the candy bowl Deacon Jones and I won once at an Ontario tournament? Playing with Deacon, you don't get challenged too much when your ball mysteriously turns up in the rough and in bounds.

I'll tell you what you can do if you get caught by the golf police. Get your lawyer to concoct a story about how you're not really to blame. Say you're abused. That always works. Say your father once called you a "blithering saphead" when you wrecked the family sedan. Or say the cop who interrogated you was wearing a red tie and your psychiatrist can testify you're allergic to red and will confess anything in the presence of that color. Don't be afraid to confess. Confessions haven't been admissible in a court of law since Jesse James.

Just remember, though, society must be fed up with the kind of rampant criminality that goes on around the greens. Posting detectives around a golf course to apprehend the sociopath who would cheat to win a $50 gift certificate shows you that our law-and-order forces have had it up to here and are not going to put up with this kind of violent crime anymore.

The details of the arrest were skimpy. You don't know whether the detectives pretended to be players--or whether they just hovered with camcorders. It might be entrapment. One of them might have said "Oh, go ahead, hit another--what is this, the British Open, fer cryin' out loud!" Then, when he hit it, they might have flashed their badges and told him to spread out against the golf cart while they searched him for concealed golf balls.

Of course, Golfer Carey will want to exhaust all appeals. The last time I looked, you got upward of 15 years of appeals in capital cases of this kind. He could take it all the way to the Supreme Court and get his gift certificate back.

It's not that I take his infractions, if any, unseriously. When you shoot a 67, even net, you forfeit the right to standard excuses. A score that low does not give you much leeway. For instance, I sometimes get to mark down a lower score because I forget shots. I mean when you play the way I do, it's easy to forget shots because there are so many of them. You say "Let's see, did I make a nine or 10 on that hole? Let me add: I was two to the barranca, a lift out for three, then I hit it o.b. I was in the trap in--seven? eight?" But when you shoot a 67, there aren't so many shots you can have a memory lapse. When you're shooting in the mid-100s, you need an adding machine.

Well, never mind. Murder has become a misdemeanor in this country. But cheating 13 strokes on your golf score?! Get the noose!

We're all menaces to society. Public enemies. We're all Al Capones. John Dillingers. Other countries worry about the thought police. We have the golf police to watch out for.

And you thought our society was soft on crime! There were 23,609 murders last year, some of them solved. But if you think we're going to let some outlaw get away with $50 gift certificates, you don't know the lengths we'll go through to weed out habitual crime. The ACLU could help except I don't think they'll go to the aid of a golfer--or a polo player. Besides, the guy's probably a Republican.

Maybe the cops are there illegally. If not, it's just another on-course hazard we now face. In addition to sand traps, o.b. on the left, water holes, knee-high rough, doglegs, thick gorse, trees and--in the south--alligators, we now have the bunco squad. What kind of club do you use to play through them?

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