Masters Week

SMUS-Views-Bob

I don’t usually bring a prop along when I speak to students in Chapel, but this week I did: a golf club – an eight iron, to be specific. Bobby Jones created the Masters in the early 1930s. He had high hopes that his tournament would be one of the jewels in the crown of golf; he himself retired from game at the unlikely age of 28: after all, he was really a lawyer, and played golf only as an amateur, beating all the serious professionals of his day. He was also not in the best physical health, and in fact had taken up golf as a very young boy only as therapy — not dreaming he had a gift.

We have a good number of talented golfers in our student body, and on the flip side there are some who wouldn’t recognize a tee if they saw it. My point in this talk is first, that learning by doing is more effective than learning by listening: an explanation of the theory of how to swing a golf club is likely to leave a new player puzzled. A demonstration, with the opportunity to practice, is going to be ten times more effective. I don’t say “ten times more effective” to make my point by hyperbole; learning by doing is five to ten times more effective than learning by simply listening.

The other point I want to make in this little talk is that in becoming good at anything – golf, music, writing, doctoring, lawyering or anything else – the choice of good examples is vital. My suggested example in the realm of golf is Lydia Ko, the reigning No. 1 female golfer in the world, whose swing is easy and graceful enough for any aspiring golfer to emulate. In other spheres, one would choose other models, but one would still try to learn from the best.

You might think that the choice of golf for this lesson is frivolous, and that my mention of Bobby Jones is out of date. If so, consider this incident from the life of Bobby Jones, summarized in Wikipedia: “In the first round of the 1925 U.S. Open at the Worcester Country Club near Boston, his approach shot to the 11th hole’s elevated green fell short into the deep rough of the embankment. As he took his stance to pitch onto the green, the head of his club brushed the grass and caused a slight movement of the ball. He took the shot, then informed his playing partner Walter Hagen and the USGA official covering their match that he was calling a penalty on himself. Hagen was unable to talk him out of it, and they continued play. After the round and before he signed his scorecard, officials argued with Jones but he insisted that he had violated Rule 18, moving a ball at rest after address, and took a 77 instead of the 76 he otherwise would have carded. Jones’ self-imposed one-stroke penalty eventually cost him the win by a stroke in regulation, necessitating a playoff, which he then lost. Although praised by many sports writers for his gesture, Jones was reported to have said, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”

In all things, even in golf, there are those that pursue the true and the good.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

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