Chas woke up three times during the night, his body temperature sky-rocketing, then plummeting moments later. And when he finally woke up with the alarm clock, he was shivering with a cold sweat, but his forehead was hot with fever.
"Infection," the doctor said on the phone when Chas called him moments later. "Come in and I'll do what I can."
So he did. He snuck out the back, away from the few press members waiting around to hound him, and he took a cab to the hospital and went straight to his doctor's office.
"I told you that you shouldn't have played yesterday," the doctor said as he took a look at the cut. "Just be glad we caught this early. You could've gotten blood poisoning."
"But I can still play today, right?"
The doctor gave Chas a stern look. "You're running a fever, you're weak, you're exhausted, you're stressed, and you're injured, and you still want to play?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
"In my professional opinion-"
Chas sighed. "Listen, I know your professional opinion. I know I shouldn't play today. What I'm asking you is if we can put any major treatment or bed rest off for one more day. One day is all I need."
The doctor stared at Chas for a few moments, and then he shrugged. "Well, you're not going to drop dead out there or anything-"
"That's all I needed to know."
When Chas arrived at the course, he did his best to mask any weakness, but it was apparent to everyone there that yesterday had zapped most of his strength. His hand felt like it was on fire, his head was throbbing, and he was having dizzy spells that made him go weak at the knees.
"You okay, kiddo? You don't look so good," Mike said as Chas walked into the locker room and started getting ready.
"I'm alright. Just tired."
"Well, you take it easy, alright? Give us old men a chance to catch up."
Chas laughed and nodded, and Mike walked to the door before looking over his shoulder at Chas.
"…You shoot a 66 today, and you'll break the club two round record."
Chas laughed again and shook his head. "I'll give it my best shot, but don't go making any bets on it."
"Too late, kid. All the rest of us guys went out late last night, got more drunk, and put quite a bit of money in the pot on you," Mike said with a grin and a wink before walking out the door.
Chas finished getting ready (which included spending a lot of time on his knees in the bathroom stall), and by the time he headed out to the tee even he wasn't sure he'd hold up. And on the walk to the first tee box, he saw something that didn't help his mood.
John Constantine, standing there, chatting up a storm with Chas's caddie.
He simply scowled at John, walking past him to his golf bag and tugging his driver out of it. He wasn't about to start another fight right before a round of golf.
"Chas…I wanted to apo-"
"Not now, John."
Despite the shock at John Constantine approaching him in public to apologize, Chas was having none of it.
John sighed. "Then I guess you wouldn't want to know that Dextera made par on the front nine and one under par around the back."
"Thanks for the info. Now get back in the gallery."
John stepped around Chas to look him in the eye. "Chas…you look like shit."
"So I've heard."
"Would you stop the act and just talk to me here, for one second?" John hissed quietly, so the crowd couldn't hear. "You're not gonna make it another eighteen holes. This is ridiculous."
Chas gave John a weak glare. "Look, I've made my choice, okay? I'm playing today. I'm gonna finish this round."
John sighed heavily, and then he ruffled Chas's hair. "Well, kid, you can go ahead and stay mad at me, but I'm gonna be here for you every step today, got it?"
Chas eyed John warily. "What's it for, huh? The bets?"
"I don't care about the bets, Chas. I just want you to make it through this."
After the first five holes, Chas was tempted to just throw in the towel and hand the tournament to Dextera on a silver platter.
3 pars, two bogeys. The course record was out of the question, and one more errant shot would likely put him out of the running for the tournament as well.
His gallery had begun to shrink from his first bad shot, and he could hear the whispered prophecies of his ultimate demise. 'It's too much for such a young guy', they were saying, 'he's reached the end of what he can manage. He was just a fluke'.
Maybe they're right, Chas thought. Maybe I'm just not cut out for competitive golf. Hell, I've botched my first tournament in every way possible.
Chas looked up, and he met John's gaze. Chas was tired, exhausted, at the end of his line, and it was noticeable. Another step seemed like too much.
John took a drag off his cigarette, and then gestured to the other side of the gallery. Chas followed the gesture to find that Dextera and his manager had joined the small crowd following Chas along the course.
Don't even know why he's here, Chas thought as he pulled out his driver. The title's as good as his.
Word had begun to spread that the 'young mustang' of golf had been stumbling on the first holes, and obviously Mr.Burton had caught wind of this and come to check up on his latest project. His expression was grim.
Everyone in that crowd, except John, thought that he was going to buckle and lose.
Things had come full circle.
Go back to the start, Chas. This has all come too far, and it's taken your game with it. Remember those rounds you played back on your home course, with Damon, the ones where you were just playing a game that you loved? Those rounds where you could laugh at yourself, have an easy time of this?
Everything had gone too fast. And before Chas even realized he'd fallen, his caddie had leapt forward to grab him before he could hit the ground.
The course officials granted Chas fifteen minutes to get out of the sun and recover before they declared him a drop-out. So now, Chas was laying on a picnic table in the shade of a tent, only his caddy and John present, along with a doctor who'd been on hand.
"You really need to take a few days off, Mr. Kramer," the course doctor said. "Your body isn't keeping up with your mind.
"Not leavin' this course till I've played 18," Chas muttered stubbornly, his mind elsewhere.
"No use trying to convince him otherwise," John said nonchalantly, putting out his cigarette.
Chas had stopped hearing them by this point. He was practically in a trance, trying to remember, just trying to feel the way his swing worked in one fluid motion back before all this happened. Back when he was playing golf because it was fun, not because of the money, not for John's little revenge trip, not for any dreams of a future career.
One shot at a time, Chas, get lost in the game. You've done it before, you can do it again.
"Mr. Kramer? It's time. Are you able to continue?" An official said from the doorway of the tent, and Chas sat up, a new spark in his eye and an almost-smile on his face.
"I'm coming," he said, standing up, hardly feeling the ground beneath his feet. Everything seemed distant- until he stepped out of the tent and back onto the course. Every blade of grass seemed sharpened, the flag was like a beacon, a kind of tunnel vision overcoming him. He reached the tee box, hardly noticing the applause and cheers that he was back on his feet, and when he caddie handed him his driver it was like someone had handed him back an arm or a leg.
Setup, practice swing, step forward, set up, backswing, downswing, clip off the grass, follow through. All like a well rehearsed dance move.
There was a beat of silence then applause as the ball shot straight down the fairway- Chas didn't hear it. He was already walking, already envisioning the next shot, barely hearing himself request his seven iron from his caddie.
The rest of the holes, up until the seventeenth, were much the same. Chas only had to get two birdies, one under par on each hole, to take the tournament outright. A birdie and a par would force a play-off, another day of golfing straight that his body likely wouldn't take well.
The seventeenth hole went like a dream. On the green in one, dropped a nine-footer for the birdie he needed.
One more time. Just one more time.
Chas got on the green in two on the eighteenth par four. All he had to do was sink this eighteen foot putt, and he'd win. He could practically feel Dextera's eyes drilling into him, and he could tell the man wasn't happy- but he didn't care. This putt reminded him of one that he'd ended up with on his home course, when he was playing against Damon in friendly competition.
He'd made it then, easy, beating Damon by a stroke. He knew he could do it again.
Check the line, practice swing, set up, swipe back and forward, and the ball was rolling.
Straight downhill at first, then a slight break to the right, maybe too much…
There was that beautiful sound, that hollow clatter as the ball dropped into the hole, disappearing from the turf. And when the crowd erupted around him, it was the first time that Chas broke out of the haze he'd been in.
Chas practically fell over as the crowd swooped in on him, congratulating, slapping him on the back, throwing out offer after offer for the unexpected 'rising star'. Chas could see Burton grinning like the Cheshire cat, Dextera speaking in hushed, angry tones with his manager, and…
And John. Standing back from the crowd, smoking a cigarette, a slight smile on his face.
Somehow, it made the victory a little less sweet.
Chas wasn't sure how he made it through the awards dinner and presentation that afternoon. He wasn't even sure how many people he'd talked to, and how many interviews he set up. He did remember canceling the Q-School invitation with Burton, however.
Which was why he was shocked when he came back from an evening jog to his apartment three days later, and everything he owned was packed up, and John and Matthew Burton were standing amongst the boxes chatting.
"Hey…hey, what's going on?" He said, still a bit out of breath.
"The truck will be here any minute to pick up your stuff, kid. Welcome to the most prestigious Q-School in California," Burton said with a smile, and then his cell phone rang, and he left the room to get better reception outside.
Chas stared at John for a moment, glanced at the boxes, and finally it clicked.
John smiled. "I told you, kid…I'm just looking out for you. And you, staying here in a dead end job…I'm not going to be the cause of that."
Chas could feel his throat tightening. "But I said I could work for it, John! I can help you!"
"You don't have the sight, Chas. Trying to do what I do, or even help without sight is like trying to become a pro golfer without a right arm. It's not gonna happen. And I'm not going to let you waste your life trying."
Chas looked around helplessly at the boxes, angrily swiping tears from his eyes.
"I don't wanna leave you."
John didn't answer in words. Instead he stepped forward and pulled Chas into a tight hug, one hand tangled in Chas's hair.
"I'm not what you need right now, kid. But…after you've gotten where you need to be, when you're on your own two feet…come back. I'll be waiting, I promise."
So the boxes were packed into a truck, Chas's golf clubs given a place of honor in the front of the truck, and Mr. Burton's stretch Lincoln served as a miniature limo to take Chas upstate in. Not another word, not another touch was shared between John and Chas- but right before stepping in the back of the car, Chas glanced back and gave John a smile.
And as the car pulled away, John pulled something out of his pocket.
A golf ball.
Chas Kramer was a household name within a year.
At the age of 17, Chas graduated from Q-School at the top of his class and was inducted with honors into the PGA tour.
At the age of 18, he became the youngest winner of the US Open, and came in an astounding third at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.
At 19, he traveled overseas and placed 2nd in the howling winds of the British Open. He once again participated in the Masters Tournament, this time shattering through the competition, winning with a three stroke lead. He came in 2nd at the US Open that year, mostly due to a strained shoulder muscle.
At 20, he once again vied for England's top title at the British Open, and this time edged his way into first. He completed the double slam by winning the US Open again, holding both titles at once. Chas Kramer, to put it simply, would never have to worry about money again.
And so the trend continued. America was in love with the humble, sweet boy from the wrong side of the tracks, the boy who played every game with an ease and enjoyment rarely seen on such a professional level. The only enigma in the boy's simplistic personality was how a young man of such charm hadn't found himself a nice girl to settle down with- but people hardly cared. Only one man had anything bad to say about him, and no one listened to that man anyway, unless they were paid well to do so.
At 21, Chas Kramer announced that he was taking a three month break from the tour to go home before coming back in time to defend his title at the Masters.
John was waiting for him.