They were in college in Florida when a friend told Kathy McDonald she knew a gorgeous guy just dying to go out with her. The friend also told Kelly Childs there was this beautiful girl dying to go out with him. As it happens, Kathy and Kelly had never seen each other until that blind date arranged so cleverly. Married six years now, they begin today a life he's dreamed of a life she once never heard of.
Kelly Childs, 28, is a golf professional. Until the end of May, when he quit his job at Pine Crest Country Club outside Birmingham, Ala., Childs had been a club pro, selling balls and giving lessons. And waiting for a chance to go on tour. Out there with Jack and Arnie.
By winning the Dixie Section championship of the Professional Golfers Association last December, Childs earned the right, for one year only, to go on tour. Some people would rather have bamboo shoots driven under their fingernails. A neophyte on tour doesn't move with Jack and Arnie. He qualifies on Monday (maybe) if not, he drives to the next town, where he tries to qualify). If he plays well enough to qualify for the final 36 holes of a tournament, he's automatically in the next one (if he misses the cut, it's back to work on Monday).
The expenses are enormous, maybe as much as $500 a week for entry fees, caddy fees, motels, meals, laundry, practice balls and gasoline for the car (Arnie and Jack fly: mortals drive). Besides all the aggravation and desperation of on-the-road living in as competitive a game as there is (400 touring golfers are out there trying to get into 150-man tournaments), there is this: Kelly Childs must win $5,000 in his one year or the PGA teels him he's not good enough, go find a club job. No dreaming allowed, kid.
Kathy MacDonald knew nothing about golf. She once wore high-heeled shoes to watch Kelly play and didn't know why he shouted, "No, no," as she trotted across a green.She became a seventh-grade social studies teacher with a master's degree in administration. They moved around, Kelly switching from one assistant pro's job to another, until he became the head pro at Pine Crest. A year ago, the Childs bought a house. "For the first time I felt settled," Kathy said. "I'm not an adventurer."
The Kelly won the Dixie Section championship, and his wife knew what that meant. "Even if you don't make a dollar, try it," she told her man. They sold the house three months ago. ("But I put my foot down at selling the living room and bedroom furniture," Kathy said "We're storing it.") Childs found a sponsor to help with his expenses. It was time.
The Professional Golfers Association national championship tournament here was Kelly Childs' first on tour. If Tom Watson lusted for a victory that would give him three of the four Grand Slam championships in one season, if Jack Nicklaus needed victory to remind the world he is the best, Kelly Childs' ambition stopped at a more modest level. He wanted to make the cut, to shoot the 148 or 149 for two days that would make him money here and, more important, qualify him for next week's tournament at Rye, N.Y.
At 6:42 a.m. Thursday - he would be the first man off the tee the first day - Childs was directed into a parking lot by a guard who said, "Don't worry about that other car. He won't hit you. He's a pro." As Childs rolled up his car window, he said, "And what am I? Chopped liver?"
In the chilly mist of early morning by the Pacific Ocean, Childs practiced putting for a while. A radio man interrupted him to ask what his thoughts would be as he struck the first shot of the tournament. "Keep it in the fairway," Childs said. For Nicklaus, that's a joke. For Kelly Childs, it was fervent hope.
Kathy Childs said she didn't much mind leaving her teaching job. She said administrative jobs in Alabama go to old football coaches, not women. She was sure it was the right thing to do, this adventure, because her husband was so sure. "If he'd shown the slightest hesitation, I'd be worried. But there's no doubt this is what he wants." They have no children because they're had no time to be parents, Kathy said. And now they have no home. "Our car is our address."
The PGA people had a luncheon for players' wives the other day, and Kathy Childs, beginner, sat next to Winnie Palmer, veteran. She was so nice," Kathy said. "She wanted to know everything about us, and she wished us the best of luck."
Off the first tee, Kelly Childs drove the ball into the right rough, where it came to rest atop a hidden drain lid. His second shot, ruined by the lid, hit a tree branch. On the first hole of his tour career - "I was nervous," he said later - Childs made a bogey.
At the second, he three-putted from 12 feet for another bogey, and when he made a par at the third hole, Kathy Childs, part of a gallery that numbered five, said, "Finally." At the fourth, Childs saved par with a 10-foot putt that produced a tentative smile.
In practice rounds, Childs had shot 75-75-79 on the Pebble Beach course, a beautiful demon, all cliffs and ocean. He decided the first nine holes were the most difficult. So when he shot 40, four over par, in his first real round, Childs was encouraged. "I thought I'd all right," he said later.
A bogey at the 10th didn't seem bad. From the green, looking back at the last five holes, all at ocean's edge, it seemed an accomplishment that Childs had hit only one ball into the ocean and made three pars and two bogey - for if the world had an edge, these sheer cliffs of brown rock dropping to elephantine boulders in the rushing surf would surely be it.
"This is a hole where you can't get in too much trouble," Kathy Childs said at the 11th tee, standing safe from the edge of the world. She put a hand to her mouth. "Uh-oh, I probably shouldn't say that."
At that moment, Kelly Childs hit his tee shot out of bounds. Later, he hit into a trap and skulled his escape across the green. Two putts gave his a quadruple-bogey eight. "A disaster hole," said the woman who once wore high-heeled shoes across a green.
Kathy Childs carried a program rolled up tightly. Her husband, after his eight, stood off the green and looked at her, a hundred feet away. She raised the program in salute to him and smiled. In return, the dreamer smiled. They are in this together now.
At the next hole, Childs put his approach shot in yet another sand trap. "Lawrence of Arabia," his wife said. By the 17th, he was 14 over par, and Kathy said to a woman, "He had to play well to get here."
At the 18th, another woman asked how Kelly had done. "Devastating," Kathy said. "Well, he's been initiated now. He visited the whole golf course."
He first time on tour, Kelly Childs hit his golf ball into a gopher hole, the ocean, somebody's backyard and six sand traps. he came off the course smiling "Got my feet wet," he said.
That night, Kelly and Kathy Childs went walking in downtown Carmel, window shopping arm-in-arm, and today he shot a 78, missing the cut. They caught a plane at 6 o'clock for Birmingham, where they'll pick up their car and drive to New York.