Golfers love to tell stories.  It’s a bit of a necessity, actually.  Given that the action part of a round–the act of striking the ball so as to propel it towards its target–comprises only three to four minutes out of a four-hour experience, we’d better find a way to fill up all that time.

But not all stories and topics are created equal.  Equipment talk? Interesting only to the golf geeks among us. Great shots that you hit? Polite interest, but really not all that captivating.  Blow-up holes? Now, we’re getting somewhere, but there are those golfers who find them disturbing, like having somebody talking about engine malfunctions while you’re waiting to board a plane.

But everybody loves a sandbagger story. Everybody. It’s a universal thing.  Well, let me qualify that.  They probably make a sandbagger who isn’t a total sociopath uncomfortable.  They likely elicit a bit of “Heh heh heh” laughter and a quick move to shift the topic (“Hey how about those Niners?”) when there’s a lull in the conversation.

A good sandbagger story appeals to one of our most treasured, and psychologically delicious feelings, righteous indignation. (Cue Homer Simpson voice-over saying, “Hmmmmmmmm, righteous indignation.”)

So here’s my favorite sandbagger story of the past year.  Honestly, I wasn’t cataloging them.  This is just the best one.

The Butter Stick

The setting: My home course, Lake Merced Golf Club.

The situation: First round playoffs in the NCGA 12-man team competition.

The back story: We had won our division, or bracket or whatever, for the second consecutive year.  We take particular pride in finishing in front of the team from the Olympic Club, which is a little like having a small technical school with a predominantly Jewish and Asian student body beat Notre Dame in something other than a math competition.

Our opponent: Not going to give that out.  But as a side note, we had defeated this club last year in the first round.

Where I come in: I was playing with my buddy Don Wood. We were both playing as  11’s and our opponents are playing as 13’s.

First indication that something wasn’t right: Hard to pinpoint it exactly, but in the first couple holes there did seem to be an excessive amount of frustration being voiced by our opponents about shots and putts that wouldn’t look out of place in the games of most 13’s I’ve seen.

The first thunderbolt: Don’s opponent holes out from 220 yards (4 hybrid, in case you were wondering) for a double eagle on our par-five 9th hole. Now of course the improbably perfect shot can happen for any golfer whose ability is above a certain rudimentary level.  But let me put this particular shot in perspective.  This hole is our 13-handicap hole, so, if we had been playing a net Stableford round this would have garnered our worthy opponent the equivalent of a net triple eagle.  Last time I looked that possibility doesn’t exist in the known universe.  It’s like an 11 on the Richter scale.

Second warning sign: On the 10th hole my opponent hits a high fade from 176 yards out to eight feet below the pin on our number two handicap hole. Oh, that’s right: he got a stroke on that hole.  Oh, and one other thing: he was about to go back and hit another drive when I found his ball for him.  That’s how bad his lie was and how big a sucker I am.

The crowning moment, the best sandbagger moment of 2011: We’re now on the tee box of number 13, a narrow, testy little par-four that requires a precise drive. The fairway runs flat, then downhill and then up again to a green that does not hold shots particularly well, so there is a premium not only on accuracy but distance, since a straight but short drive leaves you an awkward downhill lie.  My guy instinctively pulls out his driver and heads towards the tee box, only to be advised by his partner, who had played a practice round at our course the day before, that driver was not the right call on this hole.  “Bring out the butter stick,” he says.

The butter stick?

Well it turns out that the b.s. is how my opponent refers to his 2-iron, which he proceeds to lace straight down the fairway and to a final resting place just on the uphill slope approaching the green.  So, the questions start queuing up in my head like planes on a bad day at LaGuardia:

1. How many 13’s carry a 2-iron? And this is an iron, mind you, not a 2-hybrid.  It would be great if I could say definitively that it was a blade, but my head was spinning and I was about to pass out, so I can’t add that as a final damning embellishment.

2. And then out of that tiny slice of humanity, how many of them have a freaking nickname for their 2-iron?

3. And if they do have a nickname for it, how many of them call it something like the “butter stick” as opposed to something like “The club that I don’t know why I carry around because I can’t hit it for shit”?

4. And finally, how many of those guys can stripe it 225 yards straight down the middle?

I think we all know the answer to this sequence of questions: nobody, none, zilch.  And in the end, that leads to the almost endearing quality of the sandbagger, namely the obvious and transparent nature of their malfeasance.  They’re almost childlike in their belief that nobody is going to notice.  The true caliber of their game will reveal itself, make no mistake.  They cannot disguise their skill while committing the crime, and while a series of perfectly struck approach shots certainly belies the mid-teens number that they’ve given as their handicap, the really precious clues are the things that they say, the comments and reactions that reveal what their expectations are of their game.  In the end, while I do begrudge them the money and the losses, I remain eternally grateful for giving me the gift that keeps on giving, the great sandbagger story.