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The Kingdom of Shivas Ironsby Michael Murphy
On the road Hole at St. Andrew's Old Course, Costantino Rocca's ball rested on pavement near the green. Lying two, Rocca needed a four and then a birdie on the eighteenth hole to tie John Daly in the final round of the 1995 British Open. He chose a putter for his shot. Watching on television from my home in California, I sensed the first tremors of the uncanny. In ways I couldn't predict, the Old Course was about to make itself known as a theater of the occult.
In my office on the floor below, the fax machine was ringing. Rocca putted, and his ball bounced off the pavement and rolled over a path and grass-covered rise to within four feet of the hole. With wonder in his voice, Jack Nicklaus asked the television audience if Rocca could do it again in ten or a hundred tries. A telephone sounded in the kitchen. As commentators noted the long odds against his tying Daly, Rocca sank his putt.
During a commercial, I went downstairs, found two messages in my fax machine's receptor tray, and carried them back to the television. Rocca had driven, and excitement was building at the Old Course. I looked at one of the messages. It was from a friend in Vancouver, British Columbia. "Are you watching the Open?" it read. "Something's going to happen!" Rocca had reached his ball now and was appraising his shot calmly. From his slightly bemused expression and jaunty carriage, it was hard to tell what demons raced through him. As he took his practice swings, I looked at the second fax. It was from Buck Hannigan in Edinburgh. "Watch the Open. We have a visitation. There's been another Shivas sighting."
Startled, I looked at the screen again. Since 1987, Hannigan and I had studied moments like this when hints of the uncanny appear in sport, but the word "visitation" had a meaning for him beyond suggestions of telepathy or mind over matter. I knew he would send me another message. There was a hush in the gallery. Would Rocca play a bump and run, or pitch onto the putting surface? Reading Hannigan's fax, I hadn't heard the commentators say what club he was using. The silence deepened. Millions watched. How would the energies of their attention affect him?
A shadow slowly crossed the green, or was it my imagination? An image arose of the Masters that year. On the last few holes at Augusta there had been something like this, some presence I couldn't quite see, and in the days that followed, there had been stories that some of the players had felt the ghost of their mentor, Harvey Penick. As I pictured Crenshaw's emotional victory, Rocca stubbed his shot.
His ball rolled into the Valley of Sin, a treacherous swale in front of the green, and a groan passed through the crowd. With uninhibited anguish, Rocca looked skyward as if asking for help. My kitchen phone was ringing, but I didn't answer it. The camera was panning across St. Andrew's famous eighteenth green, and I thought of my own visitation on the last hole at Burningbush. Did Hannigan have reason to think that something like that was happening now?
Rocca regathered himself. He could still tie Daly to force a playoff, but faced an uphill shot that would have to roll out of the swale and across some seventy feet of slick and undulating putting surface. One commentator said that the best players sometimes flubbed their shots, and another reminded the audience that Rocca had missed a short putt to cost Europe the Ryder Cup. The Old Course was charged with silent expectancy. Like a supersaturated solution, the atmosphere around the eighteenth green might crystallize into something extraordinary.
The Italian player stroked his ball, and it rolled swiftly from the Valley of Sin over a rise and across the huge green into the cup. The crowd exploded, and Rocca went down on his face, pounding the ground with both fists. Like his shot on the previous hole, this one had defied enormous odds. The game's best players would have trouble duplicating it in a hundred or a thousand tries. It would be talked about for years. It would live in golf's history books. Italy's best player had won a place in our hearts.
But had there been a visitation? Some barely tangible presence, like a shadow, had crossed the green, but I hadn't sensed more than that. For the third time during the last fifteen minutes, the phone in the kitchen rang. Not wanting to get trapped in conversation, I waited until it stopped then picked up my voice mail. Three friends had left messages urging me to watch the tournament. The last was from Steve Cohen, founder of the Shivas Irons Society, reminding me that the eighteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet represented holiness and the goodness of life. Remember, his recorded voice said with soft insistence, golf courses had 18 holes because the Old Course had 18 when the Royal and Ancient set the game's standards. And this eighteenth hole was built on a grave. Rocca had died and been reborn.
Resolving to disregard further calls, I watched Daly win the playoff. But nothing either of the players did gave evidence of the occult, and no one reported inexplicable sightings. Yet I couldn't stop thinking about Hannigan's fax. In the last few months, several people in the Kingdom of Fife had experienced visitations related to Shivas Irons, and now Buck was reporting another. Was this strange phenomenon going public? Was it pressing to be recognized in the world at large? At that moment, holding Buck Hannigan's enigmatic message, I decided to write this book. Our findings were too important to keep to ourselves. Since 1972, the year that Golf in the Kingdom was published, more and more people had told me about their mystical experiences in golf. Their reports had convinced me that the game was more than it appeared to be, and provided reason enough to write a second account of Shivas Irons, the mysterious golf professional I'd met in 1956.
But there was more reason than that for a second book. For eight years, Hannigan and I had collected data in several countries from religious scholars, research librarians, anthropologists, and other people that, when assembled like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, suggested that Shivas Irons and his teacher, Seamus MacDuff, were involved in a momentous transformation. Our language is poor in describing this. Taken as a whole, our findings indicated that the two men might be realizing a new condition of body and soul, an unexpected power and beatitude that points the way to a greater life for those of us willing to follow. It was time to tell the world about our discoveries.
"Where is Shivas Irons?" The familiar question echoed off the cliffs above me. "Is he down there?" Looking up, I saw a man some thirty feet above me on the fairway that borders the beach. "Do you want a line to the flag?" he shouted.
"It's okay!" I yelled back. "I can see it!"
"Good luck!" he yelled, disappearing beyond the cliff edge.
The incident was a little odd, but not as strange as some of my meetings with people who wanted to know the whereabouts of Shivas Irons. It was 1987 now, and they'd been asking for fifteen years.
Where is Shivas Irons? It was hard to imagine him here. Though he'd called Pebble Beach one of the world's greatest golf courses, it seemed too glamorous a place for his ascetic, solitude-loving nature. He belonged in Scotland, in a town like Burningbush that was swept by winds from the North Sea and wrapped in long winter nights. . . .
We'd met there in 1956, played a mind-altering round of golf, enjoyed a memorable supper with some of his friends, searched at midnight for his mysterious teacher, and spent the next day in conversation before I left abruptly. Later I would realize that my sudden departure was driven in part by fear of the things he had revealed to me, but at the time I told myself that a longer stay would be a diversion. I was headed for India to study philosophy and practice meditation. Though Shivas Irons was giving me the very things I sought, I was conditioned to think they couldn't come from a golf professional. That belief was strengthened at my ashram retreat where golf was held to be a frivolous activity. I remember telling a friend that my trip to Scotland had an illusory quality induced perhaps by the large quantity of whiskey I'd drunk. Today, I can see that this shift of attitude permitted a deep relaxation. My adventures in Burningbush had produced a shock I wasn't prepared for, whereas the slow pace of India provided relief and comfort. Ironically, the protection from threatening change I found in my contemplative community provided a largely unconscious defense against the transformative consequences of a relationship with Shivas Irons. I was no longer challenged by memories of the man. Questions about his teacher faded. A firebreak against recollections of Burningbush was established in my subconscious mind.
Then in 1962, on a piece of family land on California's Big Sur coast, I started an institute with my college classmate Richard Price. This enterprise, which joined laypeople and experts in many fields to explore the human potential, was sometimes contradictory to the transformations I'd looked for in India. In the late 1960s, Big Sur was a gathering place of the counterculture, much of it serving as a campground for uniquely American experiments with Buddhism, yoga, and shamanism heavily flavored with sex and drugs.
In these, the most tumultuous days of our institute, I began to think about the remarkable golf professional I'd met in Scotland. His glowing presence suggested a balance between the austerity I'd experienced in India and the drunken mysticism now prevalent in Big Sur. The fire that began in 1956 hadn't been fully extinguished. It had gone underground, and it flamed up again when I revisited Burningbush in 1970. Shivas Irons was gone, but I was flooded by memories of our day together. Recalling our magical golf round and spirited conversations, I marveled at my failure to recognize the extraordinary gifts he had offered me. It was depressing to think what my life might have been if I'd accepted his invitation to study with him. I left Burningbush with a sadness that did not lift until I decided to write about my Scottish mentor. A book, perhaps, would summon his presence and bring me closer to the joyous freedom he embodied.
In 1972, following the publication of Golf in the Kingdom, readers started to tell me about their own extraordinary golf experiences. To my astonishment, some of their reports called up further memories of Burningbush. When, for example, a New York lawyer wrote to tell me that from the tee of a four-par hole he'd seen a ball marker the size of a dime on the green some four hundred yards away, I recalled my frightening visual acuity after glimpsing a figure I later took to be Shivas's teacher, Seamus MacDuff. Recalling the incident, I saw that I had suppressed my new perceptual ability because it threatened to reveal the terrifying nature of the thing I'd seen. And when a woman correspondent described a round in which her surroundings became transparent, as if they were "God's silken robe," I remembered my similar perception. Everything had become diaphanous as I played the eighteenth hole at Burningbush, to such an extent that it seemed I could pass through solid objects. I'd repressed the memory all these years: For fifteen minutes or more, everything around me--the fairways, my body, each blade of grass--had seemed to be nothing more than a radiant pattern.
These restorations of memory were both exhilarating and disturbing. That I had suppressed, overlooked, or simply forgotten so much made me wonder what else I was blind to. For several years, I'd been writing a book that involved research into areas of human functioning that were as strange as my experiences in 1956, but this hadn't revealed failures of memory comparable to those I'd experienced in relation to Shivas Irons. Why had my adventure with him triggered so many of my psychological defenses? To answer this question, as well as to overcome my lapses of consciousness, I started to record certain striking discoveries related to my day in Burningbush. By 1987, these had cohered into a pattern which suggested that Shivas Irons was engaged in an experiment with implications far beyond golf. And like the man on the cliff, more and more people were asking: "Where is Shivas Irons?" It was time, I decided, to begin a systematic search for him. In June of that year, I went back to Scotland looking for leads to his whereabouts, and there met the spirited, skeptical, and adventurous Buck Hannigan.
It was one of those long June days that lovers of Scotland treasure, when Burningbush alternates between sunlight and fog-shrouded mystery. Though I had been there only twice before, the town seemed deeply familiar. With its winding streets, cathedral ruins, and stone houses built in centuries past, it cast an immediate spell upon me, and I enjoyed a leisurely walk from the train station reminiscing about my previous visits. On my way to the inn where I would stay, I stopped at a store recommended by a friend to look for golf memorabilia. The owner, a lively, sweet-faced lady in her seventies, was disappointed that she didn't have a photograph I wanted of Bernard Darwin as a member of the 1922 Walker Cup team, the first to visit America. He was her favorite golf writer. Did I know that he was the grandson of Charles Darwin?
"Yes," I replied. "Have you read his Links of Eiderdown?"
"Isn't it beautiful!" she said, looking over her horn-rimmed glasses. "More people should read it. And do you know The Mystery of Golf by Arnold Haultain?" When I said that I did, she seemed impressed. "Do you enjoy philosophy?" she asked. I said I'd written a book about golf that had some philosophy in it.
"Oh!" she said brightly. "What's it called?"
"Golf in the Kingdom. But it was published fifteen years ago. You wouldn't have heard about it."
"Now Mr. Murphy!" she scolded. "It's set here in Burningbush. Of course I've heard about it." I was flattered, but afraid to ask if she had any copies for sale. "Have you read it?" I asked. She said that she had, and I asked if she'd known Shivas Irons.
"No," she sighed. "I moved here after he left. What an extraordinary man he must have been. Was he everything you said he was?"
"As the years go by, he seems even more amazing. I'm looking for clues to his whereabouts."
"So you think he's still alive?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. When I was here last, in 1970, no one knew where he was. He'd be in his late sixties or early seventies now."
"Well," she said, "I might have a lead for you. A gentleman from Edinburgh, a Mr. Hannigan, comes here for books from Mr. Irons's collection. I have his address."
Startled, I asked how such books came into the store's possession.
"People have them. Every now and then we get one. Each has that special mark."
"Didn't you see it? That insignia? Didn't you describe it in your book?"
"No. I didn't know his books were marked." I was amazed at
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