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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.
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 coud 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 noticeable injury to the left side of his face (but did his odd behavior really 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 certainly 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 speeches 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 being 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 think, that Moe wasn’t mean. He was alone, utterly alone, except for golf, his friend — and his tormentor — for life.