I was asked by the editorial staff of GolfWRX to write about some of the “names” I’ve played with during my 40 years in the golf industry. Initially, I declined. I was uncomfortable, because it sounded like an excuse to name drop. They told me if I wrote it they would give their review and if it didn’t sound right they wouldn’t run it.
So as I proceed, I don’t know whether this story will publish or not.
Editor’s Note: Who wouldn’t have published this? Read on.
To start, one doesn’t enter the golf equipment industry with dreams of playing a lot. I have known a few salesmen who always found time to play, and they also found jobs outside the industry. Personally speaking, for the better part of 10 years, I averaged less than 5-to-6 rounds a year. At my skill level this meant ceremonial golf, an occasional decent shot and no overall quality.
I have come up with a foursome I played with in a variety of situations over the years and they each left a lasting impression for different reasons. I’ll start with a disclaimer: I did not include Arnold Palmer, who I have played with 5-to-6 times. It’s because he is Arnold Palmer, the King of my era and my personal golf hero. I was so enthralled by the opportunity to play with him that it wasn’t really golf. All I can remember is being in his presence and that was enough.
So in alphabetical order, here it goes.
Prior to the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Florida, my good friend Jim Achenbach of Golfweek would contact me and Bob Cantin from Ping to set up a game with Bolt at Black Diamond, a 36-hole facility in Lecanto, Fla., about 90 minutes northwest of Orlando. My weak memory would place this in the late 90’s when Bolt was older than 80.
When I flash back, I always have the same memory and that was his swing. Bolt didn’t so much as swing the club back as he placed it in a perfect position at the top. There was no unnecessary movement, just this magnificent swing that produced a shot quality I could only dream about. I remember asking him if he minded my standing behind him because I just wanted to watch every detail of that swing. He was a joy to play with, told us stories… I’ll never forget that swing.
Back in the 90’s, there was a club in Titusville, Fla., called Royal Oak Golf Club and it was owned at the time by the Canadian PGA. As such, Moe had access and it became his winter headquarters. My mom lived adjacent to the 13th hole, and with Titusville being about 40 miles from Orlando I made it a point to go to the PGAM Show early (and sometimes stay) so I could hang out with her and two of my brothers who lived nearby. The driving range was a short walk from her house and there was Moe.
Moe has been described as autistic and a savant, but neither is correct. If you’re interested in his life I suggest you secure a copy of “Moe and Me” by the excellent Canadian writer Lorne Rubenstein.
I believe there are two kinds of ball strikers, related but slightly different. The first is the player on the course envisioning and hitting one shot, then moving to a completely different shot. The second is the guy on the range who hits tens, maybe hundreds of shots at a target with the same club. Obviously there is a relationship, as Moe was a great on-course player, but on the range he was otherworldly. We used to play nine holes in the late evening and he would play two balls, worst ball and break par — and he wasn’t a great putter. I say “we” played, but half the time I don’t think he realized I was there. Still, I never missed the chance.
I see his name used on the Internet as exemplifying some kind of mythical golf swing that, if emulated, would be “the answer.”
I made Moe’s clubs. If a standard swing weight is D2, his would have been F-something and the grips were jumbo plus. You see, Moe was strong and I mean freaky strong. It was as if his body was protecting the damage done in his childhood sleighing accident. He could grab you by the upper arm and with seemingly little effort take you to your knees. So for all those Moe Norman aficionados, I suggest starting with clubs four times heavier than normal and being abnormally strong.
There are a million ball-hitting stories, and I’ll give you a few.
Moe was at a different range, Jonathan’s Landing, and I happened to be there. He was hitting drivers off the deck and would announce draw or fade and how high. He always told me he played by height! Now, I’m not saying when he called for a slight draw at 40 feet it went exactly that height, but it drew and it was about twice as high as the one he called at 20 feet and this was off the deck!
When Moe hit drivers off a tee, he would literally hit a bucket and never move the tee. Like all great ball strikers, his shots had a different, quiet sound. Maybe my favorite happened one evening at Royal Oak. It was dusk and he was there alone hitting little pitches at a flag stuck in the ground (the place was not plush). I was the only other person and as he hit shots he talked to me, as he often did while hitting balls.
“I play by height,” he said. “This one 4 feet, this one 8 feet.”
He hit shots from very mediocre lies to this flagstick in the dusk. He hit maybe 30 or 40 balls and 11 hit the flag and I thought another 20 were going to. It was incredible, and I’ll never forget it.
Moe had a few great lines, and one afternoon he said one of the wisest things about practice I’ve ever heard. It was probably the mid 90’s, PGAM Show time, and I’d talked the Haney Ranch gang — all the instructors and Hank — into coming over to Titusville to watch Moe hit balls. I was the club fitter at Haney Ranch at the time.
Moe was hitting 6 irons, just one perfect shot after another, and then hit one a bit fat. He was rapid fire, so when one of the instructors, Tracy Philips, asked him about what he thought about the fat shot, it was two or three balls later. Moe stopped, took a swig of his ever present Coke and said:
“What did I think?” Moe said. “That was a bad shot. I don’t think about bad shots. I only think about good shots.”
He put down the Coke and went on with perfection.
He actually repeated himself, as was his syntax in those days, but I’ll never forget the words. How many of us get tied up analyzing our bad shots and don’t learn from the good ones.
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