The Man Everyone Wants To Hit with James Hey

Written by Story Impact Media, LLC

On a sleepy Sunday at the Oconee driving range, two players mindlessly chip toward the 100-yard marker. They’ve retreated to the tee as much for therapy as for practice. They think about the stray approach shots that cost them a personal best during a morning round. The unspoken aggravation begins to bubble.

And then the engine starts.
You know the sound and the sight. The caged cart chugs onto the range and begins to pick up balls that have been dribbled, sliced and sprayed about. Just doing its job. And what comes next is predictable. The guys on the tee perk up. They shift their stances and their focus. Two more players mysteriously appear with clubs and bad intentions.

The cart, known as “the picker,” is primarily a moving target. Players will deny this fact and act as if they don’t see the picker, even as they stop lobbing wedges toward the pin and start ripping low liners at the picker’s doors.

“People quietly make bets on who can get the most clean hits on the picker,” says one golf-cart attendant, who then admits to participating in such contests himself.

Let me tell you what it’s like from inside the cage. I’ve innocently come to train as one of 10 cart attendants on the Oconee staff. Before I can place a scorecard onto a steering wheel or pull Gatorade bottles from the crevices of a dashboard, James Hey, the assistant golf professional, ushers me toward the dusty, gnarly cart that looks like a range-ball combine. “How old is this thing?” I ask James.

“Two years old. It takes a beating.” And with that, the creaky cage door slams shut, with me at the wheel. “The bunkers can sneak up on you,” says James. “So go slow.”

That’s like telling a deer not to run during hunting season. But I obey the boss because nearly 2,000 balls need to be picked, some of which are now screaming past the Plexiglass windshield. You have no idea how fast a skulled three-iron travels until it’s traveling toward your face. Some of the guys who drive the picker listen to audiobooks to occupy themselves during the barrage. I have no such distraction. Every time a ball strikes, I cower. My ears start to ring from the noise.

“I once saw two ladies hit the picker at the exact same time,” says James. “They claimed it was an accident.”

During my 20-minute training ride, the picker is struck 19 times. Take this as a compliment, folks: No golfer can hit a moving target so frequently without a fair amount of skill — and a lot of effort. I look up occasionally to see a predictable sight: players privately celebrating.

Accident. Yeah, right.

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