It is noon on a Wednesday in mid-October, and Theodore Wirth Golf Course is awash with bright sunlight and autumnal color. To the right of the tenth tee stands Eddie Manderville, 71, clad in a white golf shirt and khaki shorts. Manderville is hitting ball after ball at a flag some 90 yards in the distance. Scattered around are perhaps a dozen pitching wedges; parked nearby is Manderville's Cadillac sedan, which contains still more clubs and countless practice balls. "I think I've finally found a club that's gonna work for this shot," he announces. To Manderville, this is no small discovery. The wedge approach is one of golf's money shots, and when it comes to competitive golf, for a guy like Manderville, it's always about the money.
Manderville has recently returned from a two-day tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where, based on his age, he says, "Those stupid S.O.B.s put me on the forward tees." He cleaned up. By winning the long drive competition both days and a slew of skins (awarded for beating the entire field on a given hole), Manderville was able to pay for his trip. Well, almost. "I had a few side bets as well," he adds.
A longtime fixture at Theodore Wirth, Manderville lives just a couple of hundred yards down the road and can be found most evenings on the practice green, putting for quarters. "I hate to miss putts, especially short putts. After 47 years, it just seems inconceivable that you'd miss." The putting game is strictly small time; a good evening's work might net just a few dollars. All the same, the competition can be intense, and good sportsmanship is optional. Players will jangle coins and keys and talk trash while their opponents are lining up their putts. Manderville has raised this psychological warfare to an art form. "Everything goes up there," he laughs.
If the putting game is small potatoes, the competitive 18-hole match is Manderville's bread and butter. Despite his age, and though his knees have been ravaged by decades of construction work, Manderville remains a fine golfer, capable of shooting his age on any given day. An old golf adage holds that you win your match on the first tee, when you set the terms of the bet. Manderville concurs. "Always. That's the sign of a professional negotiator. I never go into a match feeling like I'm going to lose." In the interest of a fair match, an opponent of lesser talent is customarily granted a handful of shots. But Manderville will generally have none of it. His well-honed routine goes something like this: "Hey, man, I only got one leg! I'm a senior citizen! Fixed income! Grew up in the ghetto!" This litany of hardship tends to produce lopsided terms --and a victory for Manderville.
In fairness, Manderville did grow up poor. He was a latecomer to golf, and got his first taste of the game by caddying at Oak Ridge Country Club in Hopkins during the late 1950s. As a young man, he says, "I never was interested in golf." What did interest him was the money to be made lugging members' bags around the suburban links. "I used to say, 'You can't ask me where your ball is; I'm struggling with these bags.' I was the world's worst caddy." He was also, ironically, perhaps the world's worst golfer.
Later that summer, Manderville's landlord dragged him out to Theodore Wirth with a bagful of mismatched clubs, and the young caddy proceeded to shoot "at least a hundred and fifty." The telling moment, though, came on the home hole, where Manderville recalls hitting "a beautiful shot. I've been hooked ever since."
Under the tutelage of a local instructor named Chuck Weighman, he made steady, if halting, progress. By 1971 Manderville had made himself a golfer, winning the Francis Gross Invitational with a final round of 69. No one took more offense than Gross member Harvey Borseth, who tracked Manderville down at Theodore Wirth. "You won my tournament, didn't you?" asked Borseth. "You wanna play?"
Manderville obliged. "I kicked his ass," he recalls, "and we partnered up." Thus began a decades-long alliance involving "a lot of tournaments, and a little hustle."
Many years later, Manderville was doing so well in Arizona that Borseth showed up one day, unannounced, hoping to get in on the action. "We were making so much money," recalls Manderville. "We couldn't wait to get back to the hotel to throw it in the air." One time Borseth lamented, "I came down here with a whole pocketful of twenties, and now they're gone." "What happened to 'em?" Manderville asked. "They all turned into fifties and hundreds," Borseth said.
These days, while the stakes are not so high, Manderville's competitive spirit remains undiminished. He still makes regular appearances at Wirth hoping to hustle up a game, even though course regulars will seldom take the bait. No matter. Manderville knows that come winter he can always get out of town and find some action in Texas, Arizona, or the Carolinas.
"I've been really blessed," Mandeville says, flashing his trademark grin. "I've had a good life."