Southwords

Reprieve at the Ryder Cup

When a hug is worth a thousand words

By Jim Moriarty

When the United States
Senior Women’s Open begins at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club this month, I’m going to be pulling hard for Helen Alfredsson. The Swedish star has had a stellar LPGA career statistically similar to our local major champion, Donna Andrews. In fact, Alfredsson was the defending champion in the Nabisco Dinah Shore the year Andrews won it. Reporters aren’t supposed to have a rooting interest in such things, but I do. And there’s a reason why.

Eons ago I was taking Alfredsson’s portrait for Golf Digest. In those days Helen had a reputation for running hot on the golf course. She was also into yoga. The conceit of the photograph was simple enough. She was to pose seated on a box draped in black cloth against a black background. With the help of a couple of clear tubes, some talcum powder and a bit of forced air, Alfredsson would appear to be floating in air, sitting in the lotus position in peaceful meditation, with smoke coming out of her ears. What could go wrong?

Me.

What started innocently enough turned out to be, without exception, the worst day of my 35 years in golf.

In order to make the photo look just right, it was necessary to hide the plastic tubes behind Helen’s ears. For some reason, I lit on the notion of Silly Putty. (Moms and dads, don’t try this at home.) I tested it on myself. Put a wad behind each ear. Anchored the tubes. Squeezed the talcum powder. Voilá. It worked.

I rented a conference room. Got all set up. Helen arrived. She got in position. I secured the tubes behind her ears, hidden in her lovely, long, strawberry blonde hair. As it turned out, there was one little problem I hadn’t taken into account. The warmth of her skin and the heat of the modeling lights melted the Silly Putty. It oozed into that gorgeous hair. There was no getting it out. The picture was terrific. Helen, not so much. When it became apparent what I’d done, I turned as pale as skim milk. She left in tears.

We called the Silly Putty company and asked them what to do. Surely, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, something, would get the damn stuff out. Nope, they said. The only thing you can do is cut it out. Oh, and they advised against doing it in the first place.

Now, you can’t write about golfers for 35 years without pissing off a few, but I’d never, ever, physically harmed one before. Awful doesn’t begin to describe how terrible I felt. The magazine sent her flowers. I sent her flowers. We offered to pay for a hairstylist. I wrote her a letter apologizing. No matter. Given what I’d so foolishly done, any gesture seemed woefully inadequate.

Well, months passed, maybe a year or two, before I saw Helen again. It was at the Ryder Cup at The Country Club.  I was in Boston taking pictures for Golf Digest. Unknown to me, Helen was also there doing color commentary — if memory serves — for Swedish radio. The media center was located in the curling rink. It was early in the week. I was coming out of the building and who should I see walking straight toward me but Helen Alfredsson.

I looked at her. She looked me. I didn’t know if she’d cuss me or walk right past me, but I knew I had to say something to her.

Before I could get a single word out of my mouth, Helen came straight up, threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug.

Since that moment, Helen Alfredsson has been my all-time favorite professional golfer. There isn’t even a close second.  PS

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