Golf stories

I never played golf till I was out of college though I became fascinated with it when I was ten years old and came across the deVicenzo story reading the sports section in Newsday during the '68 Masters. The guy actually won, I remember thinking, except he didn't? I only understood that something adult and tragic was going on in the sports pages where it didn't seem to belong. The famously exclusionary country club down the road from my grandparents' Hamptons summer place stuck in my imagination, too. If I wanted to be the first Jew to play there I'd have to learn how, except visits to the driving range produced nothing but sore hands and sweaty, bitter humiliation. 

Too cheap to afford golf lessons I was too stupid to realize I needed, I started reading magazines and books -- Golf My Way, and then everything by and about Ben Hogan, which put me onto the scent of "The Secret." A year out of college, visiting Vegas with my old man on one of his frequent junkets, we took a cab to the old Desert Inn on a sunny Friday morning in January, where I got a bucket of balls and borrowed a driver from the pro shop. I coolly took a station alongside a compact, strong-looking, black golfer hammering 300-yard tee shots at a measured pace. His intensely controlled shoulder turn and wristcock would unspring with terrifying fury. More alarming yet was the flight path: there wasn't any arc. Instead, the ball came off the low-profile head -- this was 1981, and the golfer, I realized many years later, was Jim Thorpe -- drilling through the air like a tiny missile eight feet above the ground.  
 
Watch and learn, I thought. My research had uncovered dozens of Secrets and I was close to getting to the big one. I understood it was important to look confident, so as I planted my feet I wore a look of calm, deliberate concentration, then methodically wound up and unloaded unholy shanks and ugly overspinning clover-snipes.  My stoic expression conveyed that I was deliberately "working the ball" into the golf carts all the way off the right hand side of the fairway, or skipping dangerously close to a handful of waterfowl clustered around a sprinkler-head puddle about 75 yards ahead of me. My father had removed his shirt and was sunning himself on a nearby bench.  "Watch out for the ducks!" he yelled.  Feigning deafness, I shrugged at Thorpe as though to say, When did they start letting in these old Jews?
 
Two minutes later, all activity on the range had ceased and the club pro was trying to help a mallard hopping around in a circle, flailing a slightly bent wing. "I was afraid something like this was going to happen!" Next morning he was giving me my first golf lesson.
 

Professional Golf

  • Trevino in Repose

    Never easy to approach, Trevino is a complex man who seemed to thrive on taunting his own demons. His is one of the great American golf stories. (1994)

  • Mind Game

    Couples, Elkington, Floyd, and Ballesteros delivered some nice quotes for this Golf Illustrated story from many years ago. It starts out being about whether great players are in charge of their emotions or let themselves be fueled by what they're feeling, but thanks to some keen insights from Hale Irwin, delves into the psychology of experience and being prepared -- sort of "Blink," but a millionth as long. Now it could be a handbook for them $1000/hour sports psychologists.

  • Caddie Tales

    Delectable bits of caddie gossip... with mustard. I am especially proud of this Tour feature, which actually was supposed to come out in Golf Digest, except my editor sat on it for two years. From Golf Magazine (May, 1994).

  • Weiskopf Gets His Due

    Notes on Tom Weiskopf's moving victory at the '95 US Senior Open Championship

New York City

Pages

Golf Instruction

  1. Choose the right short iron

    It's windy, you've got a shot to an uphill green, and the ball's below your feet. HELP! A handbook on club selection, originally published in USGS Player.

  2. "Over the Top -- Of Your Head?": A Glossary of Swing Terms

    What do those stuck up golf pros and teachers mean? A primer on the basics of the swing lingo, or "swingo."

  3. Term Limits: The Language of Golf Instruction

    The vocabulary and usage of golf instruction can be perplexing. This guide aims to clear up some of the confusion surrounding terms like "over the top," "strong grip," and "release."

Commentary and People

Golf Travel

Golf and the Environment

  • Course and Effects

    In 1991 I got interested in the subject of how golf courses interact with the environment, and with the support of Al Barkow, the editor of Golf Illustrated, started a column. I didn't much care that both golfers and the golf industry tend to be extremely conservative -- I wanted to do what I could to feel good about golf courses, and raise the level of awareness about chemicals and water usage.

  • Organic GC

    Peter Luff was one of the most fascinating, impassioned people I ever knew. He worked hard to maintain the Sagamore Golf Club in New Hampshire according to responsible environmental practices -- his son Richard has done a wonderful job of building upon his dad's work -- delighted in working outdoors in nature, enjoyed keeping his intellect engaged. There was nothing you could pigeonhole about him: his opinions were cranky and idiosyncratic, and borne of a passionate and relentless curiosity, and a visionary striving for truth and a life he could live with. Peter died in 1998. He and Richard have created a great example of what golf courses should and can be.