Tell me about your introduction to golf - what inspired you to try it, when and where did you learn, and who taught you?
I started playing golf when I was about thirteen years old. I bought myself a few golf clubs and one of my Dayton Daily newspaper route customers took me to Kitty Hawk Golf Course to get me started. I really liked playing sports of all types, so in some ways, this was just another one to try, but it was watching Jack Nicklaus playing on TV that provided the real spark. Jack was the longest hitter on tour, but his ability to hit long irons was especially exciting. Probably because I wanted to “be like Jack”, I’m pretty good at hitting a 3-iron, unlike most men my age that have four or five woods in their bag to avoid the longer irons. Two of my original clubs were Jack Nicklaus signatures, including the wedge I still use, having had it re-shafted and regripped numerous times. Not many people have a fifty-three-year-old club in their bag.
Most of what I learned about golf came from those TV broadcasts and the rest by playing lots of rounds over the years. There are a lot of rules to golf from who hits first to where you can and can’t ground your club to different types of hazards. You also learn that searching for your ball next to a pond in Florida can lead to an unexpected encounter with an alligator. Fortunately, the gator was not looking to eat at that moment.
I taught myself the mechanics of the swing from where I wanted to place the ball in my stance based on the club I was using and how I wanted to hit a shot. Being the analytical type, I figured out that the golf ball doesn’t know that I want to hit a low ball or that it knows I’m keeping my elbow tucked in. The golf ball only responds to the clubhead and as it’s striking the ball it has a direction, velocity, and acceleration along all three axes, and a spot on the clubface where it contacts the ball. Knowing how to manipulate those ten variables teaches you what you need to hit a high fade or low ball into a wind, not that actually doing those things is easy, but it’s better trying to convince your golf ball verbally. Learning to hit shots from a sand trap took a while, mainly because Kitty Hawk had bunkers filled with heavy and packed brown sand, and the only way to hit the ball was chipping it. When I started playing courses with light and fluffy sand, chipping failed miserably. I learned on TV that the proper sand shot did not involve hitting the ball, instead, you hit the sand and the sand propels the ball up and forward. You enter the sand two inches behind the ball and make a full golf swing, adjusting how hard you swing to get the distance you need. I now refer to green-side bunkers as “my happy place”, I’m that confident that I’ll put the ball somewhere near the hole.
I’ve been fortunate to play a number of gorgeous golf courses including Pinehurst, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Wailea in Maui, Firestone in Akron, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass, and Innisbrook in Florida, and Valhalla in Kentucky. But playing Pebble Beach stands out as my favorite with its epic views of the Pacific Ocean trying to distract you from focusing on your next shot. I get to relive that experience yearly when the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is broadcast, remembering the good shots, the ones that ended up over a cliff, and the birdie I made at the par-5 fifteenth.