Missing the Cut


© 2003 by Thrillerauthor

FORT WORTH, Texas - The eyes of the sporting world are on Annika Sorenstam today as she becomes the first woman golfer in over fifty years to play on the PGA tour. Although most of the men playing alongside her in the Colonial Open have been supportive, Denny Grimes has made no secret of his disdain. The diminutive Grimes, who has won two tournaments on the PGA tour this year despite being the shortest player off the tee, vowed to demand a place on the women's tour and play in a skirt if Sorensen outscores him at the Colonial.

* * *

As the fates would have it, Sorenstam and Grimes were paired together in the last twosome to tee off on Friday. It was the round that would determine which golfers got to advance to the final two days of the tournament, and the gallery that followed them around the course that afternoon made Arnie's Army look like the Baghdad defenses. I was there, following it all as a stringer for the Wall Street Journal, and the story that follows transcends sport. The battle of the sexes will never be the same.

Anika got off to a good start the day before, posting a round of 71, one over par. Grimes was comfortably ahead of her at two under par when they teed off together on Friday, and he managed to increase his lead to four strokes before the wheels fell off on the back nine. It all happened with shocking swiftness: Anika birdied the seventeenth hole with a long putt, and after she drove into the center of the fairway, Grimes hooked his drive into deep rough. He would have been better off with a lost ball, but the marshals were able to find it, buried in a thicket and screened from the green by a copse of trees. Grimes went for the pin, and although he managed to get the ball up in the air, it ricocheted off one of the trees and caromed into a ravine.

Three strokes later, an exhausted Grimes finally made it to the green, where Anika was waiting for him with a sweet smile, lying two. Grimes labored over his putter like a heart surgeon over an operating table, but he rimmed the cup. When Anika drained her eight foot putt for birdie, the scoreboard behind the eighteenth green said it all: Anika Sorenstam had a composite score of 1 under par, which made the cut. Denny Grimes finished at even par, and his life would never be the same.

Grimes was besieged by reporters as he fought his way to the clubhouse, and I thought I could see tears in his eyes as he tried to answer their questions. Most of the sports writers were respectful, but the event had become a media circus, attracting feature writers, fringe publications, and a rogue reporter for a notorious shock jock. Things hit rock bottom when a voice boomed out, "Hey Denny, what's your dress size?" Poor Grimes retreated into the locker room amidst a chorus of laughter and catcalls.

* * *

Say what you will about Denny Grimes, but he is a man of his word. Or rather, he was a man of his word, and I am not referring to honesty here. Two weeks after his humiliating defeat at the Colonial, he missed the cut at his next tournament. It was the beginning of a long downward spiral that was excruciating to watch, although fascinating to report. The demise of his golf game may have been precipitated by his collapse on the eighteenth fairway at Colonial, but it was accelerated by gleeful revelry in the galleries as his misfortunes continued.

To my surprise, Denny's harshest critics were not women. It was the men who taunted him, as if his defeat had somehow let down their half of the population. "How's it feel to lose to a broad?" one miscreant shouted out in the middle of Denny's backswing when he teed off his first time out after the Colonial. Denny shanked his drive out of bounds, and never recovered. The following week, he missed the cut again, spraying the golf course with errant drives and approach shots. He managed to make the cut the next week, and was playing well enough to be in one of the final pairings on Sunday, which only made matters worse. His performance on national television that day was among the most painful things I have ever witnessed. The gallery hooted in derision as Denny put three balls into water hazards on the back nine, and a small riot broke out when the outmanned security guards tried to evict some loudmouthed spectators.

I was following Denny exclusively now, in preparation for a long profile that I hoped to sell to one of the leading sports magazines. I observed him closely during this period, both on the course and off. He must have thought I was stalking him, but it was not until my article appeared in Sports Illustrated that he finally confronted me.

Death of a Thousand Cuts by Carrie Freese

The gradual disintegration of a human being is a terrible thing to watch. Yet that is what is happening on the PGA tour to Denny Grimes. Ever since he blew up on the eighteenth hole during the second round of the Colonial, the former PGA Champion and Ryder Cup hero has been a shadow of his former self. He walks the course now with a haunted expression, and by his own account, he is "putting like a basket case."

His money winnings have plummeted. His sponsorships have dried up. He has given his private jet back to the leasing company, and flies coach to the tournaments that still accept him. If he continues at his current pace, he will lose his PGA card by the end of the year.

Then there is the fan mail. Tons of it, delivered daily in huge sacks, piled up outside his home in Orlando to greet him when he returns from the latest tournament disaster. Virtually all of it negative, and most of it caustic, although nothing like the barrage of one-liners delivered nightly by Letterman and Leno.

The only bright spot is the one million dollar award promised by one of the major tabloids if Grimes can make the cut at an LPGA tournament. But even that will elude him, since the president of the women's tour announced last week that they will never allow Grimes to make a mockery of women's golf by keeping his promise to wear a skirt in one of their tournaments.

* * *

I was sitting in the coffee shop of my hotel, waiting for the opening round of the next tournament Denny was scheduled to play in, when he came up to my booth and asked me if he could join me. The issue of Sports Illustrated with my article was clutched in his hand.

He was much better-looking up close than he appeared on television. His sad eyes were framed by long lashes that most girls would have killed for, and his chiseled nose and high cheekbones would have been the envy of fashion models. His skin was smooth and deeply tanned, and he carried his slight frame with unusual grace. But what I noticed most about him were his hands. His fingers were slim and almost delicate, despite the thousands of hours of practice on the driving range and putting greens.

"You did a nice job on my obituary," he said in his soft voice, which had just a trace of a southern accent. Not the broad twang of a good old boy, but the melodious drawl of Virginia aristocracy. "Are you going to cover my funeral too?"

Completely disarmed, I stammered something about how sorry I felt for him.

"Poor old Denny Grimes," he said with a sigh. "He used to be one hell of a golfer."

"Maybe you'll snap out of it this week," I said without conviction.

"Nah, I'm done for. My head is so screwed up, I'll never get back into the zone again." The zone is that special place, known only to professional athletes at the highest level, where the mind lets the body take over and do incredible things. "Maybe I can caddy. You'd enjoy writing an article about that, wouldn't you?"

"No, I wouldn't. Are you telling me you're going to give up golf?"

"Look, my PGA days may be over, but I'll never get golf out of my system. I just love it. Can you understand that?"

I tried to respond, but he kept on talking. "The funny thing is, it's not the tournaments, or even playing the game. I love the smell of the fresh cut grass. The sound of the birds. The wide open space, even when you're surrounded by a big city. That's what's killing me, knowing that I used to get paid for playing golf, and knowing that I'll never be able to make a living at it again."

This was a side of Denny Grimes that no one had ever seen. Notorious as a womanizing playboy, he had gone through three marriages, and left untold broken hearts across the country. Who knew that he had a sensitive soul? Maybe I was on to more of a story than I realized. At that precise moment, the idea hit me.

"So the money's gone?" I asked off-handedly.

"Pretty much. With three hungry ex-wives to feed, and nothing coming in, I'm running on empty. My attorney is recommending a personal bankruptcy filing. Wait till the comedians get wind of that."

"Too bad you can't collect that million dollars by making good on your promise."

"Damn right. And don't think I wouldn't do it. God knows, I need the money."

"Suppose I told you I know how you can pull it off?"

"Come on, Miss Freese, you know what the LPGA said about that. Those old bags won't let me near one of their tournaments."

"It's Carrie. And there is a way, if you have the balls."

"What are you talking about?"

"I had breakfast yesterday with the Vice President of Marketing of Revlon. They're sponsoring an LPGA tournament next month, and she was moaning and groaning about how pitiful the presales were. Plus, they've committed to a huge commercial buy for the television broadcast, and nobody is going to be watching."

"What does that have to do with me? The LPGA won't let me within a mile of the golf course."

"Not if they recognize you."

I could see it was starting to dawn on Denny. "No way," he said with a laugh. "You can't just walk onto a professional golf tournament, even a women's tournament. You have to qualify or have a player rating."

"Not if you get a sponsor's exemption. How much would it be worth to Revlon to get you into their tournament? And can you think of anybody better than them to help you pull it off?"

* * *

As I knew they would, Revlon jumped at the idea. They were intending to drop their LPGA sponsorship anyway, and their beleaguered CEO, facing earnings pressure, was desperate for some way to make a splash with their new product line, "Metamorphosis."

I was sworn to secrecy, and in return all I asked for was the right to break the story after Denny either met the challenge, failed trying, or was unmasked in the process. For the next two weeks, I saw nothing of him as he slipped away to a spa in Baja California and disappeared. The golf writers had lost interest in him, he had become old news on the comedy circuit, and everybody assumed that he had faded away into oblivion at the age of 32. The sporting press took no notice when Revlon quietly sponsored an unknown golfer, Denise Kamm, and granted her an exemption to play in the Revlon LPGA Classic.

The tournament was scheduled to take place the second week in July, at Fairmount Country Club in northern New Jersey. A few days before the pre-tournament events began, I was relieved to get an email from Denny. I had my press credentials for the tournament, but I was hoping to get an interview with him before he made his appearance, and I was dying to learn how he planned to pull it off. The email was short and to the point: "Meet me for lunch on Saturday at the Short Hills Hilton. I'll be waiting for you in the restaurant at noon."

I rented a car and drove through the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey that Saturday morning, not knowing what to expect. The Short Hills Hilton was a five star hotel, so I wore something conservative, a navy blue blazer and white wool pants. I got there a little early, and I wandered around the lobby after parking my car, thinking I might meet up with Denny before our lunch date. But there was no sign of him. At noon, I presented myself to the maitre'd and asked if Mr. Grimes had been seated. He scanned his list of reservations, and told me nobody by the name of Grimes was expected.

Then it sank in. "Do you have a reservation for a Miss Kamm?" I asked hesitantly.

"Yes, of course, she is already her. Are you supposed to meet her too?" he asked me with a quizzical smile.

I stammered something, and he motioned for me to follow him. He led me to a table occupied by a beautiful girl, seated by herself and studying her menu. She looked up and smiled at me as the maitre'd pulled back my chair.

I couldn't take my eyes off her, or should I say, him. Speechless, I stared at Denny Grimes, who had been transformed into one of the most stunning women I have ever seen. His hair, now shoulder-length, fell in soft blonde curls around his face, which had been made up to perfection: soft pink lips, a hint of blush in his cheeks, just the right amount of mascara on his exquisite lashes, and fine brows arching over his sparking blue eyes. He was wearing a navy blue top with white polka dots, and a thin gold chain with a heart pendant dangled against his pert breasts.

"Well, aren't you going to say something?" he finally asked, in the soft, sweet voice of a southern debutante. He raised his glass to sip his Arnold Palmer, and I noticed the same delicate hands that I had seen before, only now his nails were beautifully manicured. He brushed a wisp of blonde hair away from his face, revealing a pearl earring set in platinum or white gold.

"My God, you pierced your ears," I finally blurted out.

He blushed and shook his head. "What were you expecting?"

"I don't know. It's just…it's just unbelievable. You're so…beautiful."

"I had a lot of help. But most of all, it's a state of mind."

"What do you mean?" I asked, still staring at him.

"When I decided to become a professional golfer, I knew I would have to put everything I had into it, one hundred percent, if I was ever going to have a chance to succeed. It's the same with anything. I knew if I was going to convince the world that I was a woman, I'd have to go all out."

"I hope you didn't do anything permanent," I said with a nervous laugh.

"Don't worry, just the ears, and they'll grow over, or so they tell me."

"But your hair…."

"A weave, and extensions, done by one of the best stylists in southern California."

I shook my head as I continued to study him. Reaching out to touch his hand, I slid my fingers up his forearm, which was smooth and hairless.

"Hot wax," he said. "Everywhere."

"Everywhere?" Not believing that I was doing it, I lowered my head under the white linen tablecloth. Sure enough, he was wearing a skirt or a dress, sheer nylons, and low heeled pumps.

I looked up to see a waitress staring at me, and it was my turn to blush. I ordered an iced tea, and waited for her to leave before I said what was on my mind. "I can't believe you've gotten so into this. Is there something I should know about you?"

He shook his head and gave me a rueful smile. "If you're asking me whether I like what I've done to myself, the answer is no. But if convincing a couple of million people that I'm a girl is going to win me a million dollars, then I've got to be all girl, or else I'll never have the confidence to get away with this. You tell me. Do you think I can pull it off?"

"I'll say. You're amazing. I mean, not just the way you look, but your voice, and the way you talk. Even your gestures. Everything about you is so feminine. You gotta admit, Denny, it's a little weird."

"Tell me about it. In between the spa treatments and the body sculpting with a personal trainer, I had two straight weeks with a drama coach who specializes in helping guys act like girls for parts in plays and movies."

"I just can't believe you did all this for a golf tournament."

"Once Revlon got behind this, things got way out of hand. I mean, it must have cost them a fortune. I almost walked out on them when I found out what I had gotten myself into. But once I realized there was a chance we could make this work, I decided not to hold anything back."

The waitress returned to take our orders. I watched Denny closely as he bantered with her before ordering a Cobb salad with the dressing on the side. She had absolutely no clue that he was really a man, and how could she? His speech pattern and his mannerisms were in perfect synch with his appearance.

I found myself talking to him like he was another woman, and for the next hour we chatted about this and that as we ate our salads. He told me about the crash diet they had put him on at the spa, which combined with an aggressive aerobics program had resulted in the loss of over ten pounds. Denny had been slim to begin with, but now his weight was ideal for his height as a woman, and he told me proudly that his butt and abs were tight as a drum. His stomach must have shrunk, he said, and he pushed his plate back after eating only half his salad. As I watched him dip his fork sparingly into the dressing, taking dainty bites, I began to get a feeling for how intense his training must have been.

After the waitress brought us our check, Denny signed for it with a girlish hand in the name of Denise Kamm. "You're staying here at this hotel?" I asked him.

"That's right. The golf course is a few miles away. I don't want to push my luck, so I'll skip the practice rounds, but there's an event before the pro-am on Wednesday that I just found out about. That's why I asked you to meet me here."

"What do you mean?"

"The Short Hills Mall is directly across the street from us. I'm going to need your help in picking out a few things to get me through all this."

"Didn't Revlon send anybody to help you?"

"They offered, but I refused. I've got to play tournament golf in a few days, even if it's women's golf, and the last thing I need is some fruitcake hanging around telling me how to put on my makeup."

"You mean you got dolled up like this all by yourself?"

"Yes," he said with a sad smile. "It's one of the things I hate about being a woman. It used to take me ten minutes to get up and go. This morning I spent two hours putting myself together." We got up to leave the table. "How did I do?"

For the first time, I saw him from head to toe, and once again I was speechless. He was wearing a two-piece dress with a drop waist and a pleated skirt a few inches above his knees. His legs were terrific, and he walked in his heels like he had been doing it all his life. I followed behind him as he slung his purse over his shoulder and started to walk towards the door, watching the heads of most of the men in the restaurant turning his way as he passed beside their tables.

I caught up with him as we walked through the lobby. "You haven't answered my question," he said.

"You're gorgeous. And you sure don't need any help from me."

"That's where you're wrong," he said as we stepped outside into the July heat. He took a pair of designer sunglasses out of his purse and led the way across the hot asphalt parking lot towards a pedestrian crossing to the mall. "I have to go to a press dinner on Tuesday night, and I haven't a clue what to wear. You'll be there, so I figured you'd be able to help me."

"How are you fixed for golf clothes?"

"No problem there, except I realized when I watched the LPGA event on TV this weekend that I'll probably be the only player wearing a skirt in the damn tournament. Why didn't someone tell me they all wear shorts or long pants before I made that stupid bet?"

"You look good in a skirt," I said as the light turned green and we started across the six lane highway.

We had to hurry, and Denny's true voice came back to him as he tried to run in his heels. "Damn these fucking shoes!" he shouted as he tottered across the street.

"Good thing no one heard that but me, or you'd be on your way home right now," I said as we entered the enormous mall. It was delightfully cool inside, and we stopped to look at the directory of shops and department stores while Denny regained his composure.

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