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Rain may soak my clothes, but not my golf

Just before 10, the rain barged in absent any drizzly preliminaries. By noon, almost 2 inches had fallen, and the sky was wearing a second coat of what the paint store might call Sunken Battleship Gray.

But the calendar still said holiday, and I was supposed to play golf.

Brian, my golf partner, called at 12:30, dubious. With reason: From Atlanta northward, the radar showed nothing but tie-dyed bursts of yellows, reds and greens. I responded rationally. "Let's go on over and see if we can get in a few holes."

You see, we were supposed to play golf.

People who know me know I can be a touch anal-retentive. In "I am Sam," Sean Penn and his mentally challenged buds ate chicken every Wednesday at the same restaurant for the simple reason that Wednesday was chicken day.

I am Michael and I see nothing wrong with that. I eat chicken almost every Wednesday. This was Memorial Day, and on Memorial Day, I was supposed to play golf.

At 1:30, I pulled into the empty parking lot of the Fort Mill Golf Club. Brian parked alongside. We grabbed our umbrellas, shouldered our bags and started walking to the pro shop.

We never made it. "Golf course is closed," Vince told us from the clubhouse terrace, peering up at the sky. "Maybe in an hour if it doesn't start raining again."

It already was raining again. After 10 minutes on the practice green Brian picked up his bag and walked to his car. I walked into the pro shop. Vince sat staring at the radar, which looked like a remake of the '60s sci-fi cheeseball, "Green Slime."

"Ok, if you want to go, go," he said after a little prodding. "Just be very careful."

I found a piece of higher ground on the first tee and took aim beyond the standing water in the fairway. The ball went off surprisingly well. The splashdown had everything but the chute.

By now, the sky had opened up again. Not "Caddy Shack" hard, perhaps. But even the geese in the lake in front of the second green had taken cover. My umbrella came out. The rain gloves went on. My shots were rooster-tailing when they touched ground, but I parred the first hole.

Maybe I really was supposed to play.

I have these friends in northern Ohio who play the game with far more fervor than grace. Yet every shot has money riding on it, and they play under almost any condition. I call their guiding principles "The Toledo Rules," and on this day I did my best to abide.

By now, impromptu creeks veined many of the fairway. The sand in the traps, the parts not under water, were packed as if by a high tide.

Still my rain gloves made it possible to swing the club. (First tip of the day: When playing in a monsoon, switch to an interlocking grip). And I'd discovered that a saturated University of Alabama driver cover makes a great umbrella weight. Something about the elephant's trunk, I believe.

I pushed past the early escape clause of the sixth hole, which comes back to the clubhouse. When I took the turn at nine, Marcia from the pro shop looked down from the terrace and told me I was insane. At the shack by the 13th tee, I got a text from Brian. "Did you get your six holes in?"

On the backside, I thought about nine holes my brothers and I played long ago after a deluge. While searching for a ball, we discovered that the spillway of a water hazard had been breached by the heavy rain. The mini-flash flood had sent hundreds of bream overland, leaving them face down in the grass as the water receded. We put our golf bags on dry ground and spent the next hour rescuing as many as we could grab.

Back then, the golf course was a big, green and irresistible game board filled with the unexpected, and as kids, we weren't bogged down by swing thoughts and performance anxiety. We played simply to get the ball in the hole.

Sloshing shot to shot, hitting the ball kid distances again, I found that I'd fallen back to that approach. Funny, how free it all seems when the only expectation is doing your best.

By the time I reached my tee shot in the 18th fairway, the rain had backed off to a mist. Up on the hillside beyond the green, Marcia was locking up. A pair of purple martins twirled overhead, and the only sound was the rush of water beneath a fairway drain.

I closed my umbrella, then smacked a 6-iron just right of the flag. Only then did I notice the blue breaking through on the horizon.

I was beyond soaked. My score wasn't very good. But a good walk had not been spoiled.

More than ever, I felt like I was supposed to have played.