Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003 | 9:59 a.m.
As dusk swiftly turned to pitch black Wednesday night just off the 18th green at Southern Highlands Golf Course, John E. Morgan sort of shivered.
It was the same setting in which he had just walked his girlfriend home from a date nine years ago. He had two more miles to walk to his own home in Bristol, three hours west of London.
The only child of a dock foreman and garden-store worker nearly didn't make it across a cricket pitch.
"It was just like this, just getting dark," said Morgan, 25. "And I got jumped by four guys I had gone to school with. They broke my nose, and I got a cut lip and black eye. I ran home like a man possessed. I was frightened to death."
Those were just a few of the boys who took pleasure in regularly terrifying Morgan, who shot an unsavory 2-over-par 74 on Wednesday afternoon in the Las Vegas Invitational at Southern Highlands Golf Course.
He became a target at 14, when a deplorable teacher made fun of his dyslexia-induced stutter before an entire classroom. The bullies took it from there.
"And he was a golfer," Morgan said of his former ignorant instructor.
To worsen his world, the woman whom he visited every other day to correct that dyslexia told his mother, Sue, that he dwelled too much on golf, that he should concentrate much more on his studies. Instead, he quit school.
"In school, I couldn't do it. I was bullied at school," he said. "I didn't want to be there. It was one of the unhappiest times in my life, which is sad to say. Many people say school was one of the happiest times in their lives.
"Not for me. The golf course was the only place I got respect from people. The only place."
Only the second golfer to qualify for both the PGA and European tours as a rookie, Morgan has earned more than $280,000 this year. He entered the LVI ranked 154th in the PGA, and he needs to finish among the top 125 this season to earn his Tour Card for 2004.
His is one of the more intriguing stories on the tour.
Morgan became afflicted with epilepsy when he was 20. In that first episode, he broke two ribs and bit off the tip of his tongue, which dangled by nerve threads and skin strands but was surgically reattached.
Morgan takes medication twice daily to curb the illness, but he never knows when it might flair. He had such a seizure during a round with Les Garland, one of MTV's founders, in Miami at the start of the summer.
"It happened on the second hole," he said. "I had no idea. I was in a daze, no memory. Then, I shot eight-under the rest of the way."
However, Garland sandbagged Morgan by claiming to be a 15 handicap. Morgan lost a bet, and that's why he has dyed blue streaks into his blonde hair for the past few months.
With his dark "mod" pants that had vertical stripes in bunches of threes, a wide black belt and black Nike casual shirt, the Manchester United fan looked positively European on Wednesday.
His coach, George Ryall, walked all 18 holes to observe Morgan and said the pro-amateur arrangement of the LVI suited Morgan very well.
"Because he likes people," said Ryall, whom Morgan flies to one of his events per month and who is scheduled to play in a tournament in Wales on Monday.
Before everyone in the foursome had attempted their second shots of the day, Morgan had made small talk with each of them.
"In the short term, yeah, he gets frustrated," said Ryall, 45. "But in the long term, he knows he has a great future."
Thanks to Ryall. Two years ago, Morgan's pent-up anger about his past and frustrations with golf greatly concerned Ryall, who was told by a physiologist friend that he should get Morgan drunk.
Then, Morgan would admit to a host of tensions and release them. Since he became epileptic, Morgan doesn't drink. But he accompanied Ryall to a Bristol bar and had a drink, then another, then another.
Ryall pressed him, and it got ugly. Morgan wanted to deck Ryall with a right hook, but he finally listened. He said he cried 15 times on the way home that night.
"And you know what?" Morgan said. "We practiced and practiced, in the cold of winter with frost on the ground. I got harder and harder, stronger and stronger. Eight months later, I had qualified for both tours.
"George has been massive for me. I've never really told him, but I should; he turned me around. I'm so blessed that he's part of my life."
If only some of his friends back home, and all of those bullies, could see him now. Those pals marvel when Morgan tells them that he just had breakfast with Jack Nicklaus or got a putting lesson from Tiger Woods.
On the driving range late Wednesday morning, he chatted with Jesper Parnevik, Sergio Garcia and Peter Jacobsen as if they had all been buddies for years.
Vijay Singh likes Morgan so much, he allows his personal trainer to tend to Morgan, and Tommy Armour III has also become a close friend.
Nary a day passes when Morgan doesn't wonder what those bully punks back in Bristol must ponder when they see his name on a PGA Tour leader board.
"This year, I must have thought about that 100 times," Morgan said. "I hope they think, 'Wow, we gave him all that and it just made him stronger and tougher.' But I'd still like to pop their heads off."