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Lee Trevino said it best: "You don't know what pressure is until you play for five bucks with only $2 in your pocket."
Lee Trevino said it best: "You don't know what pressure is until you play for five bucks with only $2 in your pocket." (Brandon Tucker/WorldGolf.com)

Gambling and golf (or why a dime isn't 10 cents)

John J. WhiteBy John J. White,

You have a 2-foot putt you can make in your sleep. You haven't missed one this easy since the time Madonna really was a virgin.

Sweat beads mercilessly on your forehead, the salty drops plopping on the $400 Scotty Cameron putter you convinced yourself you deserved last Christmas. This is for seven skins, more money than you've taken from your foursome in years.

Your triumvirate of so-called golfing buddies make it their life's quest to force you to screw up. They rattle coins and flap flags and one, Rugg, your best friend, cries, "Noonan! Noonan! Noonan!" But you ignore it all and concentrate. You think, Tiger - head still - don't follow the ball with your eyes, you moron, just maintain your triangle and it's in.

You start the putter head back slowly along the surface of the green like Dave Pelz said to do in his $35 instruction DVD. Everything moves in slow motion.

You block out the din of hecklers behind you and make a smooth transition - putter face square to the ball. A piece of cake. You normally pick up or backhand such short putts. It's nothing.

The putter head nears the ball. This is it. Seven skins. Thirty-five bucks to flash half-drunk in their faces at the 19th hole.

Then a thought creeps into your fragile psyche ("seven skins - oh my God"), and the damn putter head strikes the green an inch short of the ball. Your sweat now mixes with tears as the three idiots roll on the ground in fits of laughter.

Alas, what gambling does to the nerves. Lee Trevino said it best: "You don't know what pressure is until you play for five bucks with only $2 in your pocket." And that's true whether it's for five or 5,000 bucks.

A bet is a bet is a bet

It's all relative, depending on your income. A Michael Jordan or a John Daly can afford to plop down a large bet without feeling a lot of financial pain. Well, at least Jordan, anyway. How good can Daly's finances be if he writes a song titled "All My Exes Wear Rolexes"? For us average muni players, that would be "All My Exes Wear Timexes."

It's still the same pressure, though. You had better know what you're doing when you gamble. Let's face it, you're a bad golfer or you wouldn't be on this Web site. You'd be on GoodGolfer.com or something, and bad golfers rarely win bets from good golfers, even with handicaps. Ninety percent of bad golfers think Nassau is an island. (Yes, I made that statistic up.)

My uncle invited a visiting single to play on his private golf course. The stranger was one of those good golfers and suggested a dollar a hole to my uncle, who accepted. When the round ended, my uncle was up four holes, and his gracious opponent handed him $400.

Had my uncle known a dollar meant $100 in the gambler world, he would have lost every hole. Pressure.

(Thus the subtitle, why a dime isn't 10 cents. A dime's a thousand dollars. A dollar is a hundred, and a nickel is 500 in betting circles. Now you know.)

Golf gambling: The terms

Let's keep this simple and explain just a few bets:

$2 Nassau: The front nine is worth $2, the back nine is worth $2 and the 18th hole total is worth $2. When your opponent "presses" during the round, a new bet runs concurrently. If they keep pressing, the money can build up quickly, and the bad golfer usually folds from the pressure. A good golfer will usually wait for a long dogleg par 4 with water down the right side before pressing. Don't fall for it. Just say, "No."

Bingo Bango Bongo: No it's not an Elvis movie; it's a points bet. A player wins points for first on the green, a point for closest to the pin when all balls are on the green and a point for being the first to hole out. Most points win. The convoluted bet is best known for turning a four-hour round into six hours.

Sandies: My favorite. You get up and down for par from a green-side bunker, and you win $1 or $5 from your partners. This bet entices greedy players to purposely hit into the bunker for the chance at a sandie, though I rarely have to try to land in a bunker.

There are many more types of golf wagering games, but most are as confusing as Tiger's tax return, so I won't list them.

No one really knows for sure if gambling on golf is illegal, but I assume it's not when you see all that money exchange hands at the Police Benevolent Association scrambles. But illegal or not, I'll risk making a bet now.

I bet a dime (10 cents, not $1,000) that despite their age difference, Charles Axel Woods and Sophia Mickelson will someday marry and create offspring of phenomenal golf ability. I'll bet another dime the two continue the Woods-Mickelson tradition of not speaking to each other.

John J. White is not a bad golfer. He just plays one on the course. When he is not golfing, he is an engineer and freelance writer. He has won several awards for his short stories, and has been published in literary magazines. He is currently working on his fourth novel, "Nisei," and lives in Merritt Island, Florida with his understanding wife, editor and typist, Pamela.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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