Moving from a small high school in a small town to a big one in a faraway place is hard enough. But it’s especially rough if your name is Ferger Brown. Some people with different names shorten them, or use a nickname. There is nothing you can do, however, with Ferger. Shortening it doesn’t help, and the only nicknames I ever received were worse than Ferger.
In every class that first day of school my junior year, I endured the snapping of other students’ heads in unison when I answered “Here” in my deep bass voice to each teacher’s incredulous question, “Ferger Brown?” Had I been six feet and 190 pounds with the face of a movie star, I suppose any name might have been considered dashing. As it was, at five-feet-four, with a hook nose; long, skinny face; and glasses, I looked—as one of my friends back home said—”just like my name.” Added to that, I had a voice lower than sea level. For some reason, when I turned 13, my voice went bottom fishing and never came up.
As I walked out of my second-period class, a girl with blond hair walked up and said, “Hi, I’m Stephanie Hays. You’re new here, aren’t you?” Her freckled nose crinkled when she smiled, and I thought things may not be so bad around here after all.
“Yeah,” I answered, returning the smile. “We just moved here from Steamsprings, Illinois.”
“Welcome to Hillsdale High,” she said.
I was ready to start strolling down the hall with this beauty when a character who looked like he had been on Mr. America vitamins since the third grade walked up to us. He was muscular and at least six-five.
“This guy bothering you, Steph?” he asked.
“No, he’s new here. I was just introducing myself.”
Brute Force—that’s what I immediately named him—looked down at me from on high.
I stuck out my hand and said, “I’m Ferger …”
“I know what your name is,” he said, cutting me off. “I heard the teacher.” He looked down at my hand but didn’t take it. Then he looked up again. “I don’t think you’ll have to worry about anyone forgetting that name, or that voice.” He grinned, looked at my hand once again, then said, “Come on, Steph. Or do you want to hear Frogger croak again?”
“The name’s Ferger!” I boomed, aware that my basso profundo voice had the power of intimidation—unless, of course, the person I was trying to intimidate happened to be looking at me.
Brute Force and Stephanie walked out of the room. I started to leave when I felt a tug on my shirt sleeve. I turned to see a kid with glasses, red hair, four well-placed pimples, and a big grin. “That’s Brandon Wallerstadt—heaven’s gift to this school and every girl here. Don’t worry about him. I’m Jason Carr. Welcome.”
Jason, it turned out, was a great find. He was a straight-A student who seemed to know everyone at school. For some reason, he took me under his wing. He never even teased me about my name.
Brute Force Wallerstadt did, though. Every time he saw me, he made a snide remark or said something like, “Croak for us, Frogger.”
It was about midterm when Jason started inviting me to go to church with him. I didn’t know much about churches, but I figured if Jason liked this place it must be pretty good. And it was. Three hours of church every Sunday, though, nearly wiped me out. But I kept hearing this stuff about a Savior, about priesthood, about the Book of Mormon, about testimonies. It was fascinating. We talked about angels, visions, gold plates, premortal life, three kingdoms. I’d come home every week with some new idea that spun around in my head for days.
My life with Brute Force was another matter. That is until I found out we had one thing in common: golf. With spring lurking around the corner, I told Jason I was thinking about trying out for the golf team. He rubbed his hand through his red hair and said, “Did you know Brandon Wallerstadt led the team last year as a sophomore?”
I hadn’t known until then, but that was when a plan hatched deep within my devious soul. I had been toying with the idea of asking Stephanie Hays to the junior-senior prom. Despite Brute Force Wallerstadt’s attempts to brand her his exclusive territory, we had become friends. It seemed she didn’t want to be tied to just one guy. To get free sailing for the prom, though, I needed to get Wallerstadt completely out of the way. And I was sure I could do it.
You see, I was born thinking the ninth green of the Steamsprings Municipal Golf Course—right out our back door—was our yard, and that golf balls were teething rings. My dad gave me my first set of golf clubs when I was two. My sophomore year I led the Steamsprings golf team and carried a four handicap. Before I tipped my hand at the varsity tryouts, I thought I might challenge Wallerstadt to a match for the rights to ask Stephanie to the prom.
I sat down in the lunch room at the table with Brandon and his friends and made him the proposition. The winner gets to invite Stephanie to the prom. Brute Force looked at me and laughed. “You know how to play?” he asked.
“I played for my high school last year,” I said, as nonchalantly as possible.
A glint came into his eye. “Frogger, you’re on. Friday after school we’ll play at my dad’s club. There are two lakes there, so if you get tired of golf, you can jump in with the other frogs and croak away.”
I pushed my glasses up on my nose and wondered if my knuckles could reach across the table to his perfect rows of white teeth.
I had asked Jason to be my caddie. That meant he’d drive the cart carrying my clubs and cheer me on. We arrived at the Hillsdale Country Club in my old Chevy. I wore blue and orange plaid shorts and a green and white striped shirt. I’ve always thought ugly distracted opponents.
Brandon, of course, drove up in his red convertible dressed in $400 worth of clothes. His clubs and balls were some of the finest money could buy. One of his buddies was there to caddie for him.
Brute’s father came out from the clubhouse to the tee, looked at me like I was an alien, and said, “Son, I hope you won’t disappoint me.”
For the first time I saw Brandon Wallerstadt flinch. “I won’t, Dad. I won’t.”
“If you don’t come in at 74 or better today, you’ll play two rounds on Sunday. Understand?” his dad said.
Brute suddenly didn’t look so brutish. Sheepishly he smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Dad.”
We flipped a coin and Wallerstadt won. He had honors. He teed his ball and nailed a high draw down the right side of the fairway. I had aptly named him. Brute must have hit the ball 315 yards. But it wasn’t a smart play. It meant he had to drop a delicate wedge shot over the bunker, and in front of another if he wanted a chance at birdie. Since this was a short par-four, I took out my two-wood and drove my ball down the left side of the fairway.
My second shot put me within eight feet of the cup. Brute dumped his ball in the front trap, but a brilliant shot out of the sand put him three feet from the cup. My putt for birdie rimmed out, he sank his, and we were both even-par after the first hole.
We played even until the par-five ninth hole. Again, Brute made the mistake of driving too far. His ball rolled into a fairway bunker. By the time he finished, he was one-over and I was one-under. Quite a spectacular nine for me, I thought. And a pretty darn good one for him, too. He even complimented me on a couple of my shots.
Brute’s father was waiting for him as we headed for the tenth tee. I didn’t stand too close, but when Brute told him his score you didn’t need spy gear to hear he was upset.
On the back nine, the lead seesawed until we reached the 17th tee. We were even with two holes to go. I had the honors on the little par-three. I took my seven-iron and dropped the ball within three feet of the flag. Brute overhit his shot and it rolled off the back of the green. He chipped up, but his putt slid off to the right. My birdie to his bogey put me two-up going into the last hole.
“You’ve got him,” Jason hooted as we rode to the final tee. I looked at Brute. I’d expected him to throw clubs after bad shots. He hadn’t. He didn’t make too many bad shots, either. Actually, he was somewhat of a gentleman on the course. But now I could see he was just plain despondent.
Ready to finish him off, I teed my ball, looked over at Brute, and said, “Brandon, you don’t have to answer this, but what happens if I beat you?”
“You get to ask Stephanie to the prom,” he snapped.
“No,” I said. “I mean between you and your father?”
“He’ll yell at me for not concentrating and insist I spend an hour on the driving range before I go home. But you haven’t won yet. Let’s go,” he said, looking down the fairway.
I drew back my club and hit a perfectly placed drive 250 yards down the middle of the fairway. Brandon, trying too hard, pulled his shot to the left. Still, it went about 290 yards.
I laid out my second shot, but it faded to the right. Not what I wanted, but still okay.
Brute tried to hook his second shot around a bunch of trees, but the ball flew straight, landing near mine. It looked like we were five yards apart and about 80 yards from the green. Only an absolute disaster would keep me from winning now.
As I surveyed my shot, there was Brandon’s father casting a huge shadow behind the 18th green. He stood there with his legs spread and arms folded across his chest as he watched.
“Brandon, do you like golf?” I asked.
“I hate it,” he said bitterly.
“You’re very good,” I said. “Why do you hate it?”
“Him,” Brandon said, nodding toward his father. “He wants me to be a golf pro. It’s his dream and I can’t say no. All I have to do is play golf and he gives me anything money can buy. Would you walk away from that?”
“Let’s get this over with, Ferger,” he said. I was stunned. It may have been the first time he didn’t call me Frog or Frogger.
Looking at Brute, I remembered what Jason’s Sunday School teacher had said once: “It was never the Lord’s plan to make yourself taller by standing on someone else’s sore head.”
I took a practice swing. “If you par out, you’ll have a 74 and you won’t have to play on Sunday, will you?” I asked.
“Don’t worry. Even if I birdie this and finish with a 73, if you beat me I’ll get extra duty.” Then he looked me square in the eye. “Ferger, I underestimated you. You’re a fine golfer and good guy.”
“I underestimated you, too, Brandon,” I said. And I had. He was an excellent golfer, and somewhere under that jerk veneer, there seemed to be a nice guy lurking. Then I spoke in my most solemn, adult voice. If you were to win this round, would you go somewhere with Jason and me on Sunday?”
“It’s kind of a different place, but I think you could use it.”
“Okay, but I’m not worried. You’d have to shank this ball to lose.”
Which I did. And Brute beat me by one stroke, finishing with a 74 to my 75.
As Jason and I left the course, Brandon was walking with his dad, who was slapping him on the back. I called to him, “Remember, Jason and I will be by at ten Sunday morning to pick you up.”
“Okay,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“What are we doing with Wallerstadt on Sunday?” Jason asked.
Then he looked at me like I was crazy when I told him we were taking Brute Force to church with us.
It’s now two years later, and Brandon Wallerstadt—former jerk, now close friend—and I will be going on our missions in two weeks. I’m going to California and he’s been called to England. Jason will leave for Australia two weeks after that. I would have never supposed a shanked golf shot could have put two guys like Brandon and me together. Brandon’s dad wasn’t happy when he first told him he wanted to join the Mormon church and perhaps go on a mission. His dad still thinks Brandon has thrown away a great career, but he’s accepted his son’s decision.
Oh, about the prom that year. That Sunday when we picked up Brandon, he said I could ask Stephanie to the prom if I wanted to. So I did. But someone had told her about our golf game for the right to ask her and she got mad and wouldn’t speak to either one of us for months. Eventually she forgave us, and even came to both of our missionary farewells. Before we leave, Brandon and I are going over to her house to give her a Book of Mormon. The problem is, we’re having trouble trying to decide who should give it to her.
Perhaps we should play golf.