The Asperger’s Theory About Moe

The article initially published March 29, 2012 BY

Here is a story from GNN.  You can view the article here:

Moe & Me, Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius was written by Lorne Rubenstein (ECW Press). Rubenstein, a renowned author and Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member, and ECW Press have granted GNN the right to publish excerpts from the book prior to its release in April.

Moe and Me

In 2001, I collaborated with filmmakers Michael Savoie and Anne Pick to do a one-hour documentary on Moe called The King of Swing for CBC’s Life and Times series. We filmed Moe on the playing field near his boyhood home, where he hit balls. He showed us where he’d buried his golf clubs in front of his home because he thought his father didn’t approve of him playing golf and didn’t want them in the house. We filmed Moe in his motel room and at golf clubs where he felt comfortable. We spoke with his boyhood chums. One scene in particular lodged in my mind and remains there. Moe was playing cards with some of his friends. At one point, he started talking about his father in a sneering voice. I shuddered. Had he carried this bitterness with him all his life? There were so many questions about Moe; they only intensified for me after his death.

In 2011, I decided to follow up with Dr. Keefe again; only this time I wouldn’t be subjecting Moe to any laboratory experiments, but perhaps I could provide Dr. Keefe with enough evidence that he could give me a qualified diagnosis. I asked him if he would view the CBC documentary and offer a diagnosis of Moe based on what he saw. I realized this would be his opinion and his opinion only, not the same as a diagnosis based on testing. But maybe, I’d learn more about Moe.

Keefe reviewed the tape and got back to me quickly. He sent me a list of Moe’s behaviors that he’d noticed along with some accompanying questions. He observed that Moe talked only about golf, nothing else; that he said everything two or three times. That he didn’t understand the social context of a situation; that there was a noticeable injury to the left side of his face (but did his odd behavior start after the accident?). That he didn’t look people in the eye. That he didn’t say goodbye to people when leaving them. That he became a big fan of self-help tapes, which seem to have helped him and that he’d said, “I tell my little robot what I think.”

“I am becoming increasingly convinced that Moe had Asperger’s syndrome,” Keefe told me. “It is in the spectrum of autism but has some of the specific features that Moe demonstrated. With many of these brain disorders, it is not a black-and-white thing but has many shades of gray because of the complexity of how our genes interact with the rest of us, including complex personal histories, culture and other genes. The accident he had could have exacerbated the expression of his Asperger’s, or it also could have been (as we see all the time with schizophrenia) that family members attempt to point to a specific event as a catalyst.”

Symptoms of Asperger’s can include repetitive speech patterns and an intense focus on one area with little interest in other areas. It was impossible, for example, to imagine Moe reading a paper or watching a news show. Somebody with Asperger’s might also demonstrate repetitive motor mannerisms, which Moe indeed exhibited; his golf swing was the most obvious example. There was also the symptom known as “walking dictionary syndrome.” in which the person will come up with a non-stop flood of words about his obsession. Moe’s golf talk was usually a torrent. Once Moe started, he kept going and going. I was at events where he got locked into a ritualized speech, almost as if his brain had settled into a groove from which he couldn’t escape until he exhausted himself. His statements were frequently broken records; a needle stuck in an old long-playing record. If you heard him speak once at a function, well, you’d likely hear the same speech the next time.

People with Asperger’s are typically inappropriate in social situations. They get locked into ways of behaving that allow them to feel in control but that surprise other people or make them feel uneasy. It’s a reflexive but inaccurate step to believe that a person with Asperger’s is mean. I thought of that moment in the CBC film when Moe got up from the card table and walked out of the room, sputtering bitterly about his father. I also thought, and continue to believe, that Moe wasn’t mean. He was alone, utterly alone, except for golf, his friend — and his tormentor — for life.


5 comments on “The Asperger’s Theory About Moe”
  1. Dave Kempema says:

    I own the book Moe & Me and have re- read it several times. I am always facinated by what type of individual he was. When you listen to Moe on the fireside chat with Jack Kuykendall, you can hear exactly what is described by how he can get stuck on a train of words to describe something. (administration, orientation, imagination, left brain, right brain) the list goes on and on. I can’t help but take pity on him on what kind of internal frustration he may have experianced trying to be articulate and his rear wheels begin spinning as he is trying hard to move forward with his statement. Could this be why he avoided victory speeches or left a conversation without saying goodbye? Could he have been totaly exhausted verbalizing explanations? I did not have the privalege of knowing him so I may be wrong.
    If you ever seen the movie The Aviator where Leonardo DiCaprio plays the charector of Howard Hughes, you can see some simularities. Although Hughes main obsession was extreame sanitation, there is a scene at the end where he is talking about the future of jet engine technology. He gets hung up on the phrase “the way of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future” and goes on and on. He becomes extreamly frustrated. I don’t know if Moe experianced this to that degree but I feel very sorry for him if that was one of the struggles he had to deal with his whole life.


  2. Todd, with all that Moe had to deal with in his life, and the difficulty he had in establishing solid relationships with others, I think it’s impressive and a blessing that you and he were able to connect as you did. That couldn’t have happened without the kind of respect and patience you showed. A credit to you, and how awesome that Moe overcame so much to be the golf genius that he was.


  3. Bruce Kelso says:

    It’s really unfortunate that we don’t recognize people for what they can do rather than for what they cannot. I know that he wore like 3 watches and always had two golf balls in the front pocket of his “high water” pants. and this probably made some people uncomfortable. It doesn’t appear that his home life contributed very much positive influence or interest in what he did; and it appears he spent a lot of time alone. The old nature vs. nurture plays an important role in everyone’s existence and it seems like he got the short end of nurture. I think I also remember that he was pretty kind to kids; probably because they accepted him and were not as judgmental as adults. The older I get the more I am aware of the benefit of including people in our lives, our clubs, our foursomes, rather than excluding them. It’s likely that we didn’t see more of him because his behavior wasn’t “acceptable” or didn’t conform to television or Tour expectations. What a shame that he was denied a big part of living that so many take for granted; being with other people. When I watch the tapes of Moe with Todd in them, I can see Todd’s admiration for the hard work Moe put in and a sincerity to understand not only what Moe said, but what he meant. I’m sure Moe felt that too. High marks for Todd! I’m glad he had a few good friends.


    1. Dave Kempema says:

      Great comments Bruce. I hope your not discounting the admiration that I have for Moe from my comments above. My only point was that along with the acheivments of his success, he struggled with social anxiety among other things and acheived his pursuit of excellance against the odds.
      Again I don’t claim to have known him but only what I read and see on video.


  4. Bruce Kelso says:

    Not at all, Dave! Your comments reveal the same admiration and respect shared by many. Golf brings a variety of people together, which I find pretty interesting.


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