Karl Lindholm: Gimmes & gotchas – and life lessons

It was just a short putt, about a foot and a half.
“Is that a ‘gimme?’” I asked.
“I’ll give you a gimme,” Chick replied, “if you gimme a gotcha.”
“What’s a gotcha?”
“You don’t want to know,” he said.
There were no gimmes when you played golf with Chick. No mulligans either.
William J. “Chick” Leahey was the director of the Poland Spring Caddy Camp for seven of the eight summers I was there, 1958-65, from when I was 13, a kid, to when I was 20, a young man.
Chick was the best. He was my first boss and he demonstrated to me how to be responsible — and have a good time in the process.
The Caddy Camp was a 10-week overnight camp for boys, begun in 1922 as a robust summer experience for underprivileged Boston kids from the South End Settlement House. It had lost that connection in my years but was still a rugged experience, hardly a “fun camp.”
The Camp was organized like a military barracks, 52 boys in one building; we had inspections, details, duty rosters, uniform of the day, and so on. Athletic competition dominated our lives. Every night, after a day of caddying, we had an organized competitive athletic event for team points,
Chick’s main job was as a coach at Bates College — he was the baseball coach there for 35 years. The baseball diamond at Bates is Chick Leahey Field. Chick was a Marine in World War II, serving in the South Pacific, and played professional baseball after that.
Chick had an impeccable pedigree in our eyes and we in turn admired him extravagantly.
But that was not all: He was tough, yes, but warm and funny and very willing to collaborate with his young staff members. Caddy Phil Niddrie remembered him as “possessed of a quiet strength, much patience, an unfailing sense of humor, and a wonderful smile. He commanded the respect of us all.”
Chick died two weeks ago, at 90. A charter member of what some call the “greatest generation,” he had a long and satisfying life. After his first wife died of cancer, he met Ruth, a student from Tufts, spending her summer as a waitress at the Poland Spring Hotel. They were married for 55 years and raised four highly accomplished children.
My last three summers working at Poland Spring with Chick, I was a Caddy Master/Senior Counselor, the senior member of Chick’s small staff of high school and college boys.
One of my tasks was to “rate” caddies, take them out on the course and grade their performance. This meant frequently playing golf with Chick, lucky for me.
Chick was an exuberant player who showed us all how to be a good golf companion. No one else cares, really, how you are playing, he said, so be a good playing partner. Keep on an even keel. Be good-natured. Have fun, regardless of your score. Congratulate other players on good shots.
This was a baseball player’s posture: neither get too high when things are going well nor too low when you can’t buy a hit. Eighteen holes …  and you have to play each one (like nine innings).
Chick emphasized that you can often get away with a bad shot, but not two in a row, so don’t get mad, don’t start stringing bad shots together. Stay calm. Don’t throw clubs. One shot at a time. For me, golf was a good way to learn self-control, hard for a teenager.
He also insisted we play fast. Slow players drove him crazy — and they still do me: “Hit the ball, dammit; this ain’t the Masters.” We took caddies out to be rated when the golf course was least likely to be crowded, either at 7:00 or so in the morning or in the mid-afternoon.
In a twosome, it took us about two and a half hours to get in 18 holes. Practice swings are redundant: walk up to the ball, be loose, get serious, take a hack. On the green, line up your putt while the other guy is putting. Then, go up to your ball and hit it. How hard is that? That was our attitude.
We counted every stroke — no “mulligans.” We knew the rules. We needed to model the best golf behavior for the caddies carrying our bags. We didn’t improve our lies. People who cheat at golf will take shortcuts elsewhere. Part of the fun was taking the game itself so seriously. For many golfers the worst lie they have all day is their scorecard. For us, an 83 was an 83, not an “83” and really an 88 or 89.
We loved being out on the course, this manicured wilderness. We fastidiously replaced every divot. Golfers who don’t replace their divots cannot be trusted. They are careless people.
Chick and I always had a little side bet, but we knew in golf our chief competition was the terrain. Standing on the fourth tee, we could see out over the lakes and ridges all the way to Mount Washington in the distance. We took nothing for granted.
Chick’s gone, but for me and a generation of boys who caddied at Poland Spring, some time ago, the lessons live on.

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