Lucky Numbers

On fortunate pairings and playing the same ball for more than 240 holes
No 24 Lipping Out Lucky Numbers

As my years in golf stretch on, I’ve realized that my best rounds now mostly serve as side notes to more-lasting memories. One of my favorites came at Sonny Guy Municipal Golf Course in Jackson, Mississippi, while I was in seminary many years ago. I cherished the course not for its conditioning (it was goat track adjacent), but because students could pay $50 per semester to play as much as we wanted. One special day I shot 72—a career low at the time—and while I barely remember a swing, I still think about my playing partners. 

The young men were cousins who looked more like twin brothers, and I got the feeling that they had to respond to the twins question so often that sometimes they just answered in the affirmative. Their actual names are fuzzy, but in my head they are Brady and Cole. 

They were sensational. They swung smoothly, played fast and barked back and forth at each other with the type of code language that only cousins/twins build. Brady asked if I played the course often.

“I do,” I said. “I’m a grad student.” (I usually kept the seminary part quiet to prevent new friends from clamming up and me from feeling like I should act the part.) “You would not believe how cheap it is to play here.” Cole quickly answered, “Oh, we believe it. We go to West Alabama; we just drive over and play all day and drive back when we’ve had enough.”

They both ran cross-country at University of West Alabama, which was more than two hours away. There are very few people in the world who would drive 30 minutes to play Sonny, especially while motoring past any number of better courses. But Brady and Cole got it. Golf and its potential adventures meant something different to them. 

On the eighth, Cole Army-crawled into a thicket to retrieve an errant shot. I yelled, “Cole! I’ll give you some golf balls.” Brady clued me in: “It’s not that he needs golf balls. He’s played that ball for, like, 13 rounds in a row and doesn’t want to break his streak.” At that moment, Cole came bounding out of the woods holding his trophy aloft: “Titleist 7, baby!” 

He dropped it a club length out and played on. He showed me the ball on the green; it had the dull, worn look of something you’d find in a laundry basket at the far end of a remote driving range, just enough of the “7” showing to confirm it was his. “I love this ball. It’s my all-time record, 242 holes.” 

They will not remember me from that day, and had no clue that I shot a career low. They celebrated good shots and commiserated on bad ones, moving through the round in blissful moment-to-moment peace. It occurs to me now that my best scores come when I get caught up in the energy of others, especially those who “play” when they golf. 

These days, I like to imagine that Cole and Brady have mortgages and kids and mainly communicate via inside-joke text threads. They’ve never joined a private club, and while their wild blond hair has thinned, they have, to my frustration, maintained their cross-country physiques. They still keep golf balls that they find in the woods, and Brady splurges each Christmas to send a box of customized Titleists that stack unused in Cole’s garage. All 7s.

Ben Shaw is a minister from Louisiana and the creator of the infamous “St. Rappeo” ball marker from No Laying Up’s “Strapped.” He’s been a Broken Tee Society member since 2019.

Photo by John Mummert/USGA