Mr. Eastwood’s Balls

Published: February 13, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Responses to my commentary It’s Confirmation Bias Time in America, about the political spinsmanship regarding Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl ad, were all over the political map.

From, “I Love Clint Eastwood” to “The message was the same: American Exceptionalism;” from, “We are going to Politically Correct ourselves out of existence,” to “It was disturbing to me and completely contrived.”

However, one reader, Major John N. Baldwin (Ret.), a vascular surgeon and friend added a little something extra – a personal story about Clint:

“I watched that ad and put absolutely no political meaning into it. The fact that Clint and I were rather close before either of us became famous, playing golf, and dining, had nothing to do with it either, as we never sought to know where either of us stood on politicians.

“The year was 1970, and I had been back from Viet Nam having been a surgeon at the fabulous 24th Evac. Hospital in Long Binh; a drafted doctor, age 35 pulled out of a career in heart surgery at UCSF Med Center. I was semi-nuts, having seen so much death and parts of people blown away, and then, suddenly in 20 hours, back in ‘The World’.

“The two-year combat experience had changed me and my life forever. I had just come to Monterey/Carmel as a new, unknown vascular, chest and general surgeon. My marriage and family had become a killed-in-action phenomenon of the situation. I was A kid. 35. Still living in ‘the zone’.

“My ‘room-mate’ that year of marital exile, was a golf professional, a kid my age, the wonderful Patrick Larkin who was head pro at Laguna Seca, a new venue in Monterey. He understood me. When I told my mom I was living with Pat, she said, ‘How can you shack up with some girl!’

“I explained, ‘Mom, it is Patrick and he is a wonderful real man and a guy!’ Pat and I shared a rental house in Carmel for a year or more. He kindly tried to teach me how to play golf at age 36, but the failure was my fault and my wrist-snap deficiency. For me, a complete perfectionist, the best score for 18 would always be 18. So, golf was not my game, but I persisted, never wanting to be a loser.

“About that time, he introduced me to another ‘kid’ named Clint Eastwood, who, like me, was early in his career and, again, like me, certainly not a man destined for golf greatness.

“Clint Eastwood in 1971 and 1972 was pretty much ‘just another guy,’ having been on TV westerns, but not having achieved the great accomplishments such as Bridges of Madison County, High Plains Drifter, mayor of Carmel, and all the rest which were still ahead of him. And I, a rookie surgeon in a big name town, was even more, ‘just another guy’ in those early days.

“Playing for a charity tournament, Clint and I were teamed at the new Rancho Canada in Carmel Valley, a double 18-hole course along the gorgeous Carmel River as it flowed to the sea, developed by the great Nick Lombardo, a genius in real estate and, particularly, golf course management.

“The day was a deep blue sky, October beauty with big sycamores dropping their TIME magazine-sized leaves on the green carpet of the fairways and greens. I greeted Mr. Eastwood, he said something like, ‘I’m not very good yet.’ Then added, ‘this game drives me crazy!’

“About hole five, I had lost three balls, going somewhere, nobody really knew where …possibly straight, but possibly outer-world or hiding under the gigantic sycamore leaves, right down the middle, perfect. I turned to Clint and said, ‘I only have six extra balls.’

“He smiled that kindly, smirky, ‘I’m-going-to-kill-you look,’ and said, ‘J.B., I have more balls than you will ever have. Just don’t sweat it.’

“I was hooked. He was something special right then, early on.

“We finished 18 and at the 19th – at the bar at Rancho Canada in Carmel Valley – Clint turned to me and said, ‘It is so much fun to play with a guy who isn’t better than I am, and who looks at the perfect score as 18.’

“He and I both became famous, each in our own way; he WAY MORE, obviously. To this day, my several games with Mr. Eastwood remind me of what an honest individual he was, and, (if I can still say this) what a ‘man’s man’ he was, and how intrinsically HONEST he was, even in a sport which defines honesty: GOLF, one of several four-letter words in the English language which drive people nuts.

“In all humility and honesty,

Dr. John N. Baldwin, Twain Harte, CA.”

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