On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: The Learning Must Continue

Strange world we live in these days. I have run across a number of writers lately that think they have this all down, that they know what they are doing, and they are happy with their sales.

And some of them should be, I grant that. But thinking they know what they are doing just sort of makes me laugh.

The one thing that is an absolute in publishing and the art of storytelling is that the learning never stops. It’s not even a rule. It’s just a fact.

So for a post here, I thought I would tell a story about myself and my golf days that will illustrate this point completely. Take what you want out of the story. It’s all true, every word of it. Sadly for me, and yet luckily for me.

One fine day way back in 1972, a young man (me) drove up to a golf course just outside of Palm Springs, California. I was driving a 914 Porsche and I was dressed like a golf professional of the time, even though I had not yet turned professional. (I had no money, was homeless, and was sleeping in that car, but that’s another story.)

I was looking for a golf professional’s job at a course so I could turn professional and then make a run at the different tours. Yes, I thought I was that good.

The wonderful head professional at that course saw something in me and hired me as his assistant professional.  I didn’t know until later this man had been a major national player in his time, before World War II. (I was a little rusty at that point on the history of golf, but soon got that fixed, thanks to his help.)

So this wonderful man (who died three years later, and I will not give his name so please don’t ask) sort of laughed at a number of things I said about my game as we got to know each other.

I was practicing fairly hard and taking it around our club a few under each time and thinking that was pretty good.

Now, to be honest, I thought I was one of the best and I was going to take golf by storm. I was twenty-two. So what did I know? But it also seemed I had an attitude that seemed to say to my boss that I didn’t think I had much left to learn.

(I must have been a real ass with an attitude those first months.)

But my boss still saw something in me and one fine day a guy showed up at the course. I’ll just call him Jack. He was an old friend of my boss.

Now understand, my boss was in his late sixties at this point and half blind and didn’t play anymore. This friend was also that old, and very short, and kind of walked with a limp.

My boss wanted me to play a round with this guy. Knowing I didn’t have a lot of money, my boss said he would cover my losses. The guy (in 1972) liked to play for a hundred front, hundred back, and hundred for the eighteen.

Now I remember being slightly insulted by my boss’s offer. I planned on mopping up the fairways with this short old guy. (Yeah, I thought I knew it all. I was convinced no old guy could beat me. Convinced.)

So the old guy gets up on the first tee, hits a big slice out over some houses along the first fairway. His ball curves and ends up coming back and landing in the middle of the fairway about two hundred yards away.

My first drive was still climbing when it went past his ball. I knew, just knew, I was going to make some money that afternoon.

We were also playing with two members of the club who seemed to be smiling at the young assistant professional’s attitude. They knew who they were playing with. And I think my boss had warned them to keep their mouths shut and see if I could learn something.

So after eight holes, I was two under par and two holes down. (We were playing match play, which means each hole was either won, lost, or tied.) I had not won a hole and lost two. This old guy with a big slice was kicking my ass.

But being cocky and not really understanding yet, what exactly was happening, I pressed him for the front nine, meaning we were playing the ninth hole for $100.00.

I lost it. I rimmed out a birdie putt to tie him.

At that point, as we grabbed something to drink from the clubhouse, I went in and asked my boss who I was playing with and what had just happened. I was two under par and two hundred dollars down.

My boss laughed and made me promise to not press a bet again and sent me back out for the back nine.

I ended up five under par for eighteen, a very nice 67 thank-you-very-much, and this guy just ate my lunch.

With a bad slice and a drive that didn’t seem to go anywhere, he fired a course record 60 (12 under par) and I paid him $400, every penny I had managed to get together after being flat broke two months earlier. (I was too proud to let my boss pay.)

So after the guy was gone, my money in his pocket and his clubs in the back of his big Caddy, I went to my boss.

The first words out of my mouth were, “I have a lot to learn, don’t I?”

He laughed and said that was the best $400 I would ever spend on lessons.

Turns out the old guy used to travel with Ben Hogan and they would hustle games at country clubs and take money from rich members who thought they might be able to beat a guy with a bad slice and a limp. My boss had been friends with him and Ben and asked him to stop by to teach a young assistant pro a few lessons in how much there really was to learn about the game of golf.

Two nights later, I was hitting golf balls in the headlights of my bosses Caddy while he sat in a lawn chair close enough to see me and make suggestions. If I was willing to learn, he was willing to teach me.

We did that all winter and into the spring. Fond memories of being able to spend time and work with one of the greats of the game of golf in his last years.

What had happened in that round was that my eyes had been opened and I could see how much there was to learn. And instead of being angry and letting my ego win, I suddenly got hungry to learn as much as I could as fast as I could.

Writing for me now has that hunger. I want to keep learning, to keep practicing, even late at night by the headlights of a car.

So when I hear some comment from some young writer that sounds like they know for sure that they have this business nailed, that they know all about writing, that they don’t need to take any silly class, or go to any silly writing seminar, I remember myself back when I was 22.

And I remember that round of golf that humbled me and showed me how little I really knew about golf. And about life.

My old boss was right. That $400 was the best money I ever spent for a lesson.

A life lesson.


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