Many years ago, while on vacation with my family in Florida, I managed to qualify for my wife’s stringent Golf Release program. I’d done four days of hard time at two beaches, a nature preserve, a G-rated movie, and a seashell museum, and as a reward I was granted eighteen holes of unsupervised play on the golf course at the resort where we were staying. (That we were staying at a resort with a golf course was proof that this was a minimum-security vacation, but I’d nonetheless had to earn my round.) The starter grouped me with two dentists from Ohio. They were supposed to be playing with friends from home, but the missing pair had been apprehended the night before during an ill-considered alcohol-related escape attempt and were now being held in solitary.
There were just three of us, and the dentists’ handicaps were of uncertain provenance. So how could we gamble? Fortunately, my father had taught me the perfect game for just this situation. It’s called Mrs. Murphy.
In my dad’s game, you turn a threesome into a foursome by adding an imaginary fourth player, named Mrs. Murphy. She’s a kindly old Irish grandmother, who wears a big hat and a long skirt, and she can’t hit the ball more than a hundred and thirty yards, but she still manages to shoot par on every hole. Either that, or she’s a recently divorced former exotic dancer who took up the game just a couple of years ago and is kind of shaky on long putts but still manages to shoot par on every hole. Your choice.
Each of the three non-imaginary players gets Mrs. Murphy as a partner in one six-hole best-ball match against the other two, who play as a team, and everybody plays off Mrs. Murphy’s handicap, which is zero. The key to doing well is to take advantage of her rock-steady play during the six holes when she’s your partner, by aggressively gunning for net birdies, since she’s already covered par. Your opponents, meanwhile, have to play carefully enough to match Mrs. Murphy while looking for reasonable opportunities to score. Sandbagging questions are moot, and wide handicap spreads don’t matter, since everybody gets everybody else as a partner for six holes.
Mrs. Murphy is a good game for three people, no matter where you are or who you’re playing with, and competing against par is a useful teaching aid under any circumstances. In fact, Hacker (real name), Peter A., and I played Mrs. Murphy on Wednesday afternoon. Because there was rain in the forecast (see previous post), the four of us had the place pretty much to ourselves.