Brian McGrory

Golfer goes off course

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / August 5, 2011

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For just a moment, please put aside all your prejudices about golfers and the places where they play. Instead, think about a course called the Thorny Lea Golf Club on the west side of Brockton, a place unlike any other.

There are no Nantucket reds there, no whale belts, no trust fund managers on speed dial. The members are lawyers and plumbers, stockbrokers and masons, cops and teachers, but on their stunning course they are all the same thing: golfers, collectively, the best in the state. They practice until their hands are blistered. They grind through every shot of every round. Later, they religiously gather over - wink, wink - refreshments to relive every fairway, every gust of wind, every gnarly lie.

For this reason, their three-day member-guest golf tournament each July is one of the toughest invites in the golfing world. Nowhere else is fun taken so seriously. Guests come from all over New England, all across the country, to play too much golf, imbibe too many drinks, and hear too many stories about the putt that broke the wrong way.

Greg O’Neill is one of those who arrived from afar, in his case, Florida, late last Wednesday night. His brother, Brian, the Thorny Lea member, reminded him of the directions to his house in Easton, told him he would leave the garage door open, and to crash in the basement where he typically slept.

Greg’s driver pulled down Brian’s street. They found the open garage door, and Greg lugged his golf clubs and bags inside. The night was dark, and maybe I’m telling tales out of school, but I suspect Greg wasn’t drinking Diet Sprite on the plane.

When Greg went into the basement, he remembered being surprised that Brian had gutted it right down to the cement walls. But nobody’s ever going to accuse Greg of overthinking things, so he simply struggled up two flights of stairs to the second floor, found an open bedroom, and fell into a deep and blissful slumber.

Greg awoke the next morning in need of many things, the foremost being the facilities, so he trudged down the hall in a state of partial dress with his hair sticking up. Along the way, though, he came across a bright-eyed young girl he didn’t recognize.

“Hi,’’ he said to her. His mind suddenly kicking into overdrive, he asked, “Are you Tina’s friend?’’ Tina, for the record, is Greg’s young niece.

The girl confirmed that she was Tina’s friend. So Greg mindlessly completed his mission and headed back to bed. He had just about arrived at his room when a woman screamed and a man came racing toward him, shouting, “Who the hell are you?’’

“Who are you?’’ Greg responded.

Wrong answer. The unfamiliar gentleman, henceforth known as “the homeowner,’’ seethed, “You’ve got exactly five seconds to tell me who you are.’’

Greg needed about half that to give his full name, and the other half to ask, “Where’s my brother?’’

Which is when the homeowner put it all together - O’Neill, as in Brian O’Neill next door. Greg was in the wrong house. The homeowner marched Greg out the door, across the lawn, and into the right house. Brian came downstairs to find his neighbor and his disheveled brother standing in his kitchen, neither particularly pleased.

“I’m taking care of your brother,’’ the homeowner said.

Brian, a sharp guy, was at first bewildered about why his brother and neighbor were together at dawn’s early light, and said, “Um, thanks.’’ Then the homeowner explained.

“One last thing,’’ Greg told the homeowner as he was leaving. “My luggage is at your house.’’

Somewhere, there’s a moral to this story, maybe something to do with the virtues of restraint, as in, without it, Greg could have spent the weekend lying in repose rather than lying in the rough.

But let’s settle for this: Always keep your garage doors closed. It’s safer that way.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at