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A Spring Round With Spence

El Sid

By Robert Sidorsky

One of those shifting salt-and-pepper skies hung over The Country Club in Brookline the other day, the kind that bodes so well for a round of golf on a true links-type course. The first rounds of spring are often the most memorable, and so it was on Wednesday, when Spence Fitzgibbons took up his springy driver and embarked on a nine-hole jaunt over the Primrose course with a playing partner who will remain anonymous.

'Gimmee'

By way of introduction, Sepnce is the number two player on the Harvard gold team, having served in that capacity for two seasons. His full name is Edward Spence Fitzgibbons Jr., though he has acquired a long train of nicknames during the course of his career, the most endearing of which are "Four-Year-Old," "Jumbo," "Watty," and "Fitzleman." His playing partner on this occasion was a certain young slasher who sometimes writes about golf for the Harvard paper.

Below is the scoreboard for the day's round. The name of Spence's partner remains a dark secret, to protect him against any charges of cowardice, since he tore up his card after the seventh hole.

Fitzgibbons: 4 3 4 4 5 3 4 5 3

S: 13 7 9 20 12 5 11

Even a beginner compiling a golf score will realize that the scoring of the above was no easy task. It was a rare hole indeed when Fitzgibbons played less than three balls. He is more in his element tinkering with the loops and gyrations that must be meshing perfectly for him to strike the ball "pure" than tallying accurate scores.

Young Slasher

Player "S," on the other hand, is deeply concerned with his score. Arriving at an accurate score becomes all the harder when endless haggling ensues over whether a "gimmee" putt should have been granted, not to mention the arithmetical difficulties posed by such astronomical numbers.

Although it may not be apparent, "S" carded a courageous 11 on the redoubtable seventh, a hole replete with a meandering fairway and a menacing water hazard. Reaching the green of the par five eighth was an arduous business, and he found a greenside bunker. After unleashing a frenzied rain of blows, his ball had not budged. "S" suddenly lost the will to go on, so his incomplete scorecard will be preserved for posterity as a noble fragment.

'Psyched Out'

Aside from the discrepancy in the duo's scores, there were also temperamental difference. Fitzgibbons claimed to be "psyched out" by the high scoring of "S." Fitzgibbons has an affinity for shooting "low numbers," subscribing to the philosophy of the Scottish prof of old who gritted his teeth and said: "I 'ate heights." The plight of "S" is just as pitiful, for he faced an unequal task in competing with Fitzgibbons. He was not "playing a proud game," as caddies are wont to say. Nor is Fitzgibbons always the most encouraging of playing partners. His own words attest to his highstrung nature: "I can be a pretty intense player because I'm always hitting it rude."

Hooker

The following is a telling commentary by Fitzgibbons on his round. On the first tee he declared: "The key here is to set up to the right and boom it." His drive flew off to the right and disappeared from view, which led to the comment, "I want a mulligan, then I'll be ready." A second drive followed the line of the first, which prompted: "God damn it, I'm having trouble hooking it today."

While preparing to hit his fourth drive on the fourth tee: "If I don't hook this one I'm going to be ragged. That's one of the things I hate about golf--when you think you're doing something with your hands, and you're doing something else." Later on, a stray putt elicited: "What a rude putt. I just can't get the line right today."

While approaching a less than perfect drive on the eighth, Spence said: "I play very well during the summer. I really want to hit it pure this year. God's punishing me."

Perfectionist

Fitzgibbons, as you may gather, is a perfectionist. He seldom actually plays, preferring instead the thankless hours spent on the practice range. When he returns to the confines of Canaday, he spends more time practicing sliding his hips through the swing by banging them against the door of his room. "It's rough on the hips," he says.

Spence was an early bloomer, first wielding a niblick at the tender age of eight. He shot a 113 for his first 18 holes. He made a 74 at age 14, the same year he played in his first Pennsylvania State Amateur, then his home state.

At 17, he broke 70 for the first time with a 67 at the Hanover Country Club in Pennsylvania. That year he became the youngest winner ever of the Junior Championships of York County in Pennsylvania.

There are few mortals past or present as knowledgeable about the golf swing as Fitzgibbons. "I've put so much time into trying to find a perfect swing," he says. "I've tried to isolate every single move--to break the golf swing into 400 parts and make each perfect." Nor has he arrived at the end of his search for the flawless swing. In fact, despite taking some lessons from the renowned teaching pro Claude Harmon, he feels his swing has lost some of its youthful fluidity.

'Lateral Hip Slide'

He believes there are two fundamental components to the sound golf swing. The first is the "lateral hip slide," which results in "a nicely grooved swing plane." The second crucial ingredient is "bowing," which refers to the locked position of the wrists at impact. He says, "bowing was Hogan's great secret. He called it supination. Nicklaus does it well, so do Trevino and Irwin. Harmon's a great proponent of bowing."

Second Fiddle

Fitzgibbons brings to the Crimson linksters a certain sense of pride in Harvard's tradition. His father was a baseball standout for the Crimson in the '40s, who made it to the big leagues as a catcher for the Red Sox, but spent most of his career playing Class AAA ball. Spence came to Harvard, despite knowing that he would have to play second fiddle to number one golfer Alex Vik.

"Who wants to be number one at a rude school?" Spence explains.

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