By Jared Max
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It is ironic that a game known for its manners, rules and country club dress code sits atop the sports leaderboard when it comes to being callous, thoughtless or insensitive.
It seems everyone and his brother-in-law who may, or may not, have completed one or two lessons shares an innate need to impart his golf wisdoms on unwitting, often disinterested players.
“Here, let me show you what you’re doing wrong. You see how you’re holding the club?”
Nine times out of 10, the person who tells me how I could be a better golfer does not make time to assess my level of understanding — my ability to comprehend, based on the level of my golf education. Yes, you are more golf-smart than me Congratulations. But can you communicate your knowledge in a language that qualifies your message to teach, as opposed to belittle?
Playing golf is like playing a guitar.
Six strings span no fewer than 19 frets to create a Mega Millions lotto of possibilities. As with golf, even the most accomplished players can feel insecure or inadequate when they compare themselves to select others.
Around eight years ago, I bought an acoustic and taught myself how to play. I leaned on my friend, Jay, to draw me diagrams of basic chord structures.
“Buddy, please show me again which finger I should use on the high-E string. How should I position that?”
Wanting to bring me to his playing level, Jay would say, “You know, if you barre the second fret and put your fingers like this, you can play that same A chord, but in this position. So, when you want to go from an E-minor to an A on this song, you can just…”
Whoaaaaa. Slow down. I am still learning the alphabet. I’m not ready to form sentences. Let me print the letters before we advance to penmanship.
If the most popular Rush song popped onto my car stereo, and a passenger expressed a liking to “Tom Sawyer,” I would not swap the radio for my iTunes library and say, “Here, let me play you these isolated bass and guitar tracks from parts three and four of Rush’s ‘Cygnus X-1’ suite.”
While I have become more apt to secondary and tertiary-level guitar lessons than when I first started to play, my learning approach remains. While a dictionary may define me as an autodidact — a self-taught person — to gain knowledge, I must learn from others. And, I must repeat given actions until they become ingrained in my muscle memory. Just like a golf swing.
When I reached a breaking point in frustration — limited by my seeming inability to play chords like the B, B-minor and F-sharp major, prevalent in so many songs — I called my experienced musician friend Mitch, who quickly taught me “cowboy chords” that mimic the actual ones.
My point is: If I want your help, I will ask. And I will ask, as long as I have the desire to play.
If you perceive this as being rude, I apologize. There is no intended offense — other than me taking issue with another drawing light on one of my insecurities, often under the guise of being helpful. Usually, this “let me show you” attitude is born from an opportunity to inflate one’s ego, I believe.
It is similar to when an acquaintance sees me having a cigarette and says, “You know, you really shouldn’t smoke.”
Really? So this is bad for me? You don’t say!
I know your intentions are true. I appreciate your concern. But I question your motivation.
Is the Nancy Reagan approach going to be the difference-maker that somehow conquers an omnipotent combination of highly addictive tobacco additives and deep-rooted behaviors? If those heinous, graphic TV commercials do not register, am I supposed to be swayed by “Just Say No”?
But I digress.
Golf tips are like guitar tips. They should be shared with fellow players who possess a similar working knowledge of the instrument.
I am not a fool; I know that golf tips are a critical learning tool to the millions who play. Serious golfers crave nuggets of knowledge so much so that Larry David created an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” that showed not only his character’s desire to acquire a golden golf tip, but a deep level of deception that he went through to learn it.
As a guitar player I understand this, minus the deception. In reality I have watched countless YouTube videos for basic lessons on particular songs that I yearned to play, but presented me with a course of obstacles. Sometimes I have to set songs aside for reasons beyond my control. Fat fingers, limited in reach are the usual suspects.
At a driving range Thursday, one of my oldest friends, David — a terrific athlete who recently got into golf — said to me, “I could show you a couple of things.”
With that, I told him that he had just inspired a column. This column.
Having known me since kindergarten, and then through high school, college and beyond, he’s well-versed in my personality. Dave did not push me beyond his initial offer.
I knew that he was watching my swing, as well as where I hit the balls. But he did not interrupt me. After he saw me hit several consecutive shots straight and far, he noted that I have strong hand-eye coordination and am athletic.
“That’s half the battle right there,” he positively reinforced.
As a school principal and former teacher, my friend has a likely edge as an educator, compared to most others who incessantly shower fellows with golf tips.
Are you Jordan Spieth? Hank Haney? Are you a club pro? If so, offer me anything and I will listen. But unless you are schooled in educating others about an activity that you, yourself, find so frustratingly grueling, please save your breath and your concentration for your own game.
Otherwise, you are the person who tells me that smoking is bad for me.
Among the 2,112 variables (there are probably more) that comprise the science of a perfect golf swing and shot, there may be three or four recognizable flaws seen by a friend.
“You’re not bending your knees. You should grip the club with your hands like this. You have to keep your head down. You’re not swinging your hips.”
We’re easy targets because our offensive acts are committed in no man’s land. Smokers are indefensible to the most obvious criticisms. Telling a smoker that he “really shouldn’t smoke” does not make one smarter or a better person. Generally, it reveals a lack of understanding and compassion; the messenger is often blinded by a need to one-up another. I know you mean well, but..
So here is my golf tip to golfers: Keep your golf tips to yourselves. After I figure out the basics, I will ask for your help.
In the meantime, I will take comfort in knowing that the greatest golfers in the world are playing in St Andrews, Scotland this weekend, just like the greatest rock bands. Before they perform, they practice. And practice. And practice.
And if they cannot get over a hump, they may ask another — on their level — for a golf tip.
Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.