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John Cuneo

Our day on the golf course starts with a fight.

It’s a glorious day, with temperatures hovering in the 70s and a tee time of 9:15 a.m., assuring the guys 18 holes before the worst of the Texas heat. Mojo is regaling me with tales of his 30 years on the BBQ golf circuit. The name rolls off his tongue with an exaggerated twang: “Yes, ma’am, the bee bee quuuu circuit!” The circuit is informal, with amateur golfers traveling to legit weekend tournaments and making side bets on their games. It’s called BBQ because, well, the local golfers usually barbecue a deer or a pig they’ve just shot.

Back in the day, Mojo (we changed the names to protect the innocent) made a nice bundle each year on the BBQ circuit, tricking the local golfers in places like the Piney Woods, Sulphur Springs, Ozona or Alpine into thinking he wasn’t so good with a driver. He’d roll into town as the unknown, pull out his bag of clubs made by Ben Hogan’s guy over in Fort Worth and play a decent round of golf on Saturday, not showing his really good stuff, you know, then come roaring back on Sunday to win the Calcutta purse (that’s the side betting pool, where the real money is).

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“It’s basically getting out, having a good weekend out of town and playing golf for money,” says Mojo as he loads his golf bag on the cart. He remembers the 1980s and ’90s, when a guy could come home with a nice roll of cash from playing these tournaments. In ’91, he played 26 of ’em and won 22. Most he ever made on a weekend? $4,000. Worst? $120 after expenses. The last time he hit the BBQ circuit, things weren’t so good. Alas, the betting environment just isn’t as rich as it used to be. Mojo and his partner made $303 each — “eatin’ money,” he says dismissively. At 60, Mojo has other woes, too — an achy back and major knee surgery. (On the back nine, he turns down a beer but pulls out hydrocodone pills. The guys gobble a couple.)

His pal Slappy used to tag along with Mojo on the BBQ circuit for the three-man ?scrambles. In a scramble, you basically play the best drive, which means low scores, fast play and room for cheating. “In a scramble, you can move your ball a club length in any direction, except closer to the hole,” Slappy says. “But I’ve seen guys move the ball 30 yards! If there’s a tree between you and the green, these guys will move it out 15 to 20 yards so they don’t have to deal with the tree.” You have to be alert for the cheaters, he says. To get a better lie, some players put a white or green Life Saver under their balls. One guy even tripped — on purpose — and hit an opponent with the flag just as the guy was making a putt. (He made the putt and won anyway.)

If you’re too successful, as Mojo was, the BBQ circuit can be a tad treacherous. On Saturday nights, after the first round of golf, players get their handicaps from organizers at the, ahem, “business meeting” and barbecue. “They auction off teams for the Sunday round,” Mojo explains. That’s the Calcutta gambling pool. Need we add that the Professional Golf Association frowns on betting? “They get around the betting by calling it a ‘business meeting,’ ” Mojo says.

Sandbagging your game on Saturday, purposely doing worse, is beneath most players, but Mojo figures 10 percent of any field is hustling for a better payout by playing less than their best on day one. “Then on the money day, they go out and just clock everybody,” Slappy says. The locals have been known to get testy when Mojo and his partner win a tournament repeatedly — like six times in a row. “They’ve been handed the check and told ‘Congratulations, boys. Don’t ever come back again.’ They’ve literally been chased out of towns,” Slappy says with a chuckle.

As we pull up to the first tee, Mojo cuts in front of a six-some taking their sweet time. He gets his drive off before the golf marshal notices and comes roaring over in his cart. Soon, the marshal and Mojo are arguing over who can play the 18 holes faster. “Let’s bet on it!” Mojo says, enjoying himself. The marshal finally backs off and Mojo, gloating, hops in his cart, a grin on his face. “Yes, sir, it’s a ?bee-u-ti-ful day for golf!” With Mojo around, you can bet on it.