Golf mentoring relationships are invaluable. Mine was with a bi-talented writer/golfer champion whose life intertwined with mine in a way that went well beyond any typewriter or golf course.
But this post is about three generations of mentoring, his with his mentor, Tommy Armour, his with me and his observations about Todd Graves with Moe Norman.
As for me and John (Jack) R. Burrill, our story might best be summed up with the first few lines of the painful eulogy I wrote when he passed in 2006.
Writing about my friend and mentor Jack is like trying to cook with Julia Childs. I just know he’s shaking his head already.
Jack Burrill was afflicted with passions. Passions for literature, exemplary jazz, and golf. Many enjoyed JRB’s golfing prowess. Many enjoyed his beautifully sculpted phrases.
He was at his best in combination—writing about golf.
Here’s one of his biographical excerpts that attended to his observations about Moe and Todd in Golf Reform Is At Hand the book we worked on together in the late ‘90’s.
“You’re too smart to be a golf professional. There’s only one smart golf professional, and I’m it.
With that flattering but exaggerated pontifical pronouncement, delivered in his very personal jocularly abusive voice, world-renowned player and teacher of golf Thomas Dickson Armour changed my young life’s direction away from naïve PGA Tour ambition toward academic education.
It was late September 1946, the final year of Armour’s three-summer season contract as head professional at the Rockledge Country Club in West Hartford, Connecticut, then, as now, the per capita income capital of America, which implies to some extent how the celebrated Armour, comfortably a millionaire himself, winner of the 1927 U.S. Open, the 1931 British Open, the 1933 P.G.A. championship, and head professional at posh Boca Raton in Florida, then well-established as the winter mecca for golf’s elite, came to be in little, golf-unsung Connecticut at all.
At Boca in the early forties, Armour had met and become quite friendly with W.W. “Mike” Sherman, Connecticut industrialist, philanthropist, sportsman and owner of Rockledge , to which for some years Sherman had brought leading golfers of the day for exhibitions, free to the public, including Britain’s Joyce Wethered, Gene Sarazen, 1935 U.S. Open winner Sam Parks and runner-up Jimmy Thompson, the John Daly of that time, Wilson’s Sam Snead and Patty Berg, Walter Hagen, and 194l Masters and U.S. Open champion Craig Wood, among others.
Thus it was no great surprise to Connecticut’s closer watchers of such matters that the charming, self-lubricating Sherman had, over multiple Dewars and Beefeaters, no doubt, persuaded the lofty and equally self-lubricating Armour to spend some spring, summer, and fall time benefiting Connecticut golf.
An indispensable condition of Armour’s contract at Rockledge required him to give a weekly clinic during July and August, at 6 P.M. Wednesdays, open to the public at no charge. In addition to caddying for him from time to time (he had a regular caddie who was not in the best of everyday health, and Armour played every day), I got to work his lessons and the clinics, which invariably were like dramatic Greek rituals, alternately tragic and comic, depending upon how his fortunes at golf and gin rummy had gone that afternoon, and how many post-golf regimens of gin buck, shot of bourbon (never scotch), and swallow or two of Black Horse ale had been consumed.
Thus by listening and observing and memorizing, I learned the games of golf and life, not all that unlike Todd Graves with Moe Norman, literally at the knee of a master mentor, a wise and trusted counselor who just happened to know and play very, very well what we loved most, golf.
Although it is tempting to try to compare Todd’s mentoring experience with Moe and mine with the auld master, such an exercise probably would be unfair and uncertain: Todd’s with Moe was, I believe, active, intellectually and practically, whereas mine with Armour was almost entirely passive, as an eye and ear witness. (I did get to play one round with him, almost; but that’s another story for another place.)
I can say this with some certainty because some years back I got to spend some time with Moe, mostly on the practice tee at Peggy Kirk Bell’s Pine Needles in Southern Pines, North Carolina, through the auspices of friend Peter Fox, co-author of this book and creator/producer of videos of Moe in action, for whom I was revising for clarity and syntactical integrity the original textbook of Natural Golf, the swing system that is Moe’s way. And I was most fortunate to have been present after dinner that evening when Peter staged a kind of fireside chat starring Moe that became a virtual soliloquy as the usually vocally reticent star garrulously and most interestingly expounded on his personal and, up to that point, quite private philosophy of life.
Despite the absence of a series of absolute parallels in our mentoring relationships, Todd Graves and I enjoyed the commonality of having had a precious and productive life-shaping experience with singular spiritual advisors and now beginning the back nine of superannuation I treasure mine, but admittedly envy his, because, happily, he’s still very much in the game that Moe Norman and Tommy Armour lived for.
Much later my pen, pad and tape recorder accompanied me to an interview with Moe in which he cemented his admiration for Todd’s knowledge of his swing and extension of his legacy by saying:
“Todd is the only one who knows it [my swing]. Other guys just think they do.”