Mr. 99 and the $100K Bet

Jordan Spieth teed it up at Shady Oaks, Ben Hogan’s course, during a recent warm patch in the November chill. No one watched, or even cared. All eyes were on a 100-shooter. A hundred at least.

Cody Campbell has been playing the game off and on since the fifth grade, but he’d never dipped into double digits. An ex-football player – Canyon High, Texas Tech and the Indianapolis Colts – Campbell played golf like an ex-football player. His swing brought to mind someone beating a rug, very, very hard, as if he were mad at it. With a grip stronger than garlic breath, he could snap a hook so severe that the ball seemed likely to boomerang back to its starting point. He was dangerous.

“A bull,” said Chad English, the Shady Oaks head pro, of his favorite former offensive lineman. “All upper body. Stance too narrow, grip too strong, hit it all over the map. But good hand-eye coordination, so there was potential.”

So why would anyone want to watch the things that Campbell might do to the pristine acreage at Shady Oaks? Seems that in August, the big fella was in the office discussing current events with two other big fellas from Red Raider football, Ben Griffin and John Sellers. All three are oil men, all quite successful, and in their early 30s. Griffin breaks 80, and Sellers breaks 90, but all Cody could break was the seal on another sleeve of balls.

Sellers: You’re so bad. Bet you can’t break 100 by December first.

Campbell: Bet I can

Sellers: How much?

Campbell: How about a hundred?

That would be $100,000, payable to the charity chosen by the winner. Here we must interject that Cody and John had recently sold the assets of their company, Double Eagle, for $2.8 billion, so the wager, while huge, was not entirely inappropriate. And when the day came, the roundness of the numbers – $100K to break 100! – seized the imagination of scores of spectators.

At this point in the story, Campbell’s Quest became a buddy movie. English gave him at least ten lessons – widened the stance, slowed the tempo, fixed the grip. The determined student beat practice balls. English encouraged. You can do it, Cody! Cue the theme from “Rocky.”

The day finally came, and Campbell and Sellers stepped onto the tee. The fight began. English caddied. The first thing the caddy/pro did was take the driver out of the bull’s hands. Hitting a 2-hybrid from the tee, the likeable underdog shot 45 on the front nine. By requiring his pupil to play strategically, and to not compound errors with aggressive attempts to recover, English coached Mr. (perhaps) 99 into a happy place.

“Hey John, what did you shoot?” Campbell asked, knowing damn well that he’d beaten Sellers.

As the strange match neared its end, its convoy of golf carts seemed to double on each hole, because the mild-mannered Campbell is exceedingly popular at his club. Someone with a Sharpie and a supply of paper posted the running total on his cart’s window.

“Wake up, Cody!” Sellers said. “You’re not this good!”

Or was he? As the golfers reached the 18th tee, the big number read +22. Par at Shady Oaks is 71. Campbell was going to win the bet easily. A 10 or under on the final hole would do it. In the distance, the late afternoon sun glinted off the outstretched wings of the metal sculpture between the 18th green and the clubhouse, the avian symbol of the late Mr. Hogan.

Cody went right, left and center, resulting in 112 uphill yards for his fourth shot on the par 4. “Just smooth it,” said English, handing his man a gap wedge. “Aim for The Hawk.”

But the 6-foot-4-inch, 280-pound pilgrim nuked it over the green and into a bunker. Not good; Campbell hated sand. Now he hated it four times. Chop, chop, chop, chop. The feel-good story deflated like an old balloon, and now he lay eight, 20 feet from the hole, about a yard off the green. English whispered advice that could not penetrate

Campbell’s brain, and in that moment, he became a golfer. The most athletic pressure he’d ever felt had been in the Colts training camp, when very good football players were cut every day. But this was different.

“In football,” he said, “you get all jacked up and go all out. But golf is so much more finesse and control.”

Campbell finessed the 20-footer 30 feet past the hole. Now he lay nine. If he couldn’t make the next one … Sellers and Griffin offered to call off the bet. Campbell considered for a long moment, and then he said no. And then, somehow, miraculously, he rolled it in, and everyone was yelling and jumping. 99! Charity won, and golf won a new nut.

“I’ll be playing for the next 50 years,” Campbell said.