Chucky Rises

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I need to tell you about my favorite golfer ' non-professional ' that Ive ever known. His name is Chucky.
 
I should clarify. His name is not really Chucky. Its Gary Freedson, though he prefers Gary Jack Freedson. When I call his office Ill ask his secretary may I speak with Gary Jack Freedson? Its grandiose, with stage quality, like James Earl Jones.
 
Gary Jack became Chucky about 20 years ago, named after the killer doll from the Chucky horror movies. Every time Gary Jack went into a slump ' and that could be twice in a long season ' hed come back. He was never dead. He always popped back up. Just like the Chucky the killer doll. It stuck.
 
I met Chucky in the mid-70s at Berkleigh Country Club in Kutztown, Pa. I was 15 and had just teamed with 60-year-old Elmer Hertzmark to win the Better Ball of Partners title after Marty Goldstein stubbed a 2-foot putt on the last hole. The victory, shallow as it was, legitimized me in a world of 12 handicap men who practiced law, sold womens dresses and owned carpet outlets. Chucky peddled stocks, and liked action. Fifteen years older, he pulled me into his game.
 
Chucky could sell like no one Id ever met. Single with no kids, hed egg you on to bag dinner reservations with your wife in favor of a giant late afternoon match. If you wanted to play $5 dollar Nassau, hed hound you to play 10s. Dollar skins became three-six-nine progressives. If you were done after 18 hed nag you until you caved for nine more.
 
On course he acted out hilariously wild mood swings. If he missed a crucial putt, he announced that he was in a state of major depression. But then as soon as he arrived on the next tee, 2 down with four to play, a bee might land on his ball. Hed stop, look to the heavens and scream, Come on bees!
 
If you were his partner ' and I was hundreds of times ' you played along, believing that the bees were sent to your aid, that they were now on your side and that the comeback was about to begin. Wed spot a turtle by the lake at 15, and the turtles too were on the bandwagon. It worked in countless matches. And every match he ever played was in his words bigger than big.
 
The swings homemade, but very effective, Chucky heaving his barrel chest down and through the hitting area. For years he was a solid 2 or 3, capable of shooting mid to low 70s.
 
But then age began to catch up with Chucky. He was turning 60. Wed busted his stones for the last five years ' told him it was over, that father time had him four down with five to play. He suffered a heart attack and then had hip replacement. He was forced to quit smoking. The market tanked. He couldnt break 85. A lousy chipper with a borderline case of the yips.
 
All he had were the memories: the 88 Calcutta when he played the front side on the last day in 3 under gross and together we won in a runaway and the club championship a year later after so many close calls.
 
It was over. Or was it? Remember, Chucky doesnt go away, does he?
 
For years, he tried and failed to qualify for the Maccabiah Games, a kind of Olympics for Jewish athletes from around the world held every four years in Israel.
 
He decided hed give it one more run. The hip improved. His ball striking started to come around. He worked hard at his short game and went from a 13 handicap back to a 3.
 
Last August at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he shot 82-77-73. He tied for fourth out of 28 players in the Masters division. But only four would go to Israel. There was a playoff. Chucky lost. He was devastated.
 
But last month, he received a phone call from the Maccabiah committee. They told him theyd agreed to expand the Masters division by one person. He was in. He was going to The Promised Land at the age of 62.
 
Its bigger than big, my old friend told me.
 
A beautiful sport this is that sends a guy in his 60s who looks like Marty Feldman with a better afro into the hot Florida sun banging balls and prepping for the tournament of his life.
 
Gary Jack Freedson, aka Chucky, will tee it up in the Maccabiah Games this July at Cesaria, the only course in Israel.
 
Ive been striving for this for 11 years, he said. Golfs a pretty good game, wouldnt you say, when a guy my age can finally achieve a lifelong dream? And by the way, Im killing the ball right now.
 
And then he began to egg me on. You should bring an entire film crew to Israel. It would be huge. Itll be bigger than big.
 
Im tempted. Believe me Im tempted.
 

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