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Golf on the Forbidden Island

Jorge Duque And An Elderly black man with a gold tooth were waiting for me onthe first tee at the Diplo Club. Duque introduced me to Sam Snead's old caddie Angel Rodriguez. We shook hands, and Angel pulled out my Great Big Bertha driver and examined it, whistling softly and speaking in rapid Spanish.

"He thinks you should hit that," Duque translated. "He wishes to see you hit the ball with the big driver."

I made a good drive and Angel bobbed his head enthusiastically. "Berry good. Sammy Snead."

We played in virtual seclusion, and I was able to chat with Angel, through Duque, about Sam Snead and the golden days of Cuban golf. He told me he learned a great deal about the golf swing by caddying for Snead. He enjoyed watching Tommy Bolt and Toney Penna play the game as well. "Beauty-fill swings," he said, shaking his head. "But Bolt, whoosh . . ." He made an exaggerated motion of flinging a golf club in disgust.

I laughed and reached for my seven-iron. Angel pushed my hand away and said, "No, Jeems. Eight." He was dead certain I was pulling too much club.

From then on it seemed like every time I reached for a club in my bag, which Angel was pulling on a handcart, the old caddie nudged my hand away and gave me a different iron. Two birdies resulted from his consultations. Duque matched me almost stroke for stroke, and both of us were one over par--and tied once again--at the difficult ninth.

Duque had the honors. He fired his three-wood straight and safe to the heart of the fairway, ignoring the siren call of cutting the corner. I hesitated and drew the three-wood too.

"No." Angel shook his head. He took the three-wood away from me and handed over the driver. He pointed to the trees.

"Heet it like Sammy Snead," he said, flashing a smile. Of course he had no way of knowing that this was exactly how I'd lost our first round, but how could you fail to follow the advice of the man who caddied for Sam Snead in the ancestor to this match all those years ago.

Happily I didn't repeat my mistake and had the joy of watching my ball fly over the same trees that had caught it the last time.

"Can-de-la!" Angel shouted, pumping the air with a bony fist.

I asked Duque for a translation. Duque laughed and said, "Hot."

I wedged my approach to two feet and rolled in the birdie to take the match by one hole. Duque and I embraced, then Angel and I embraced.

"Like Sammy Snead, you are champion of all Cuba," Duque said graciously as we three amigos walked through a fragrant evening toward the clubhouse bar for a parting mojito or two. It was nice to think--self-proclaimed golf champion of Cuba for a day, until the Caribbean sun rose again. Duque, my man in Havana, asked me if I might come back to Cuba anytime soon. He would enjoy another match.

Reaching for my wallet to buy the drinks, I promised him that I would most certainly be back, becauseI was already missing the place.


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