Mentors are the unsung heroes of our sport. Defined as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher, an influential senior sponsor or supporter, mentors have passed this game down from generation to generation. A study of golf history has recorded story after story of the champions who were mentored to greatness. Yes, they had talent and yes, they worked hard, but there is an underlying common denominator of someone who provided the words of encouragement or a model for action that was needed to inspire them to forge on.
One of Ben Hogan’s mentors was Aneila Goldthwaite. Hers is not a name known to many but she supplied Ben with encouragement, golf balls and a pitching wedge when he was a teen trying to support himself as a caddie after his father committed suicide. The pitching wedge became Hogan’s favorite club. Sports writers said he wielded his pitching wedge with “surgical precision” and eventually even named his pitching wedge “The Equalizer.” Hogan has since become an inspiration to thousands due to his strong work ethic demonstrated by countless hours of practice and for his strength in overcoming a near death traffic accident. After this accident many thought he would never walk again, but not only did he walk again, he returned to the tour to win again. Hogan personally mentored PGA Tour Professional Ken Venturi & LPGA Tour Professional Kris Tschetter. In the spirit of mentorship they continue to mentor others as well.
Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, some famous and many unknown but the influence they have packs a real punch. Retired Lance Corporal Tim Lang endured an Iraqi IED explosion in 2006. After 26 surgeries his leg was amputated below the knee. During his recovery he took up golf, a sport he had never played. Mentored by PGA Professional Jim Estes, Tim now works with Jim in the Salute Military Golf Association, reaching out to other wounded warriors and introducing them to the game of golf. Mentors have helped the champions and also countless unknown golfers that you pass during your round and thousands of weekend warriors across the land who keep the great game of golf alive and well.
Some golfers have been blessed with a mentor who brought them under their wing and offered a long term commitment to their development. For others a simple brief moment meant so very much. You never quite know when an action you take can inspire another to pursue a dream, change a bad day into a good one or simply provide the motivation to take the next step.
It has been quite awhile since I first began playing golf but the memories of the early days still remain fresh in mind. I have never forgotten returning to the golf course after taking the previous summer off only to hear a foursome of seniors reprimand me for not playing golf. “You have talent” they said “and you should not waste it.“ I was so happy and surprised to hear that they noticed my game that I didn’t explain that my appendix had burst preventing me from playing golf and proceeded to tee it up with new found confidence. My tee shot soared down the middle of the fairway and they all clapped for me reaffirming their previous comment to me. They will never know how much that meant to me and I will never forget it. One brief statement can last a lifetime; one simple act of kindness can inspire someone to new heights.
We all have a choice each day to build up, remain the same or tear down. Mentors choose the former. They choose to build up the spirit of the game of golf by their actions and words. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, has a great quote “you are responsible for the energy you bring into the room.” Take a moment right now to make a commitment to take responsibility for the energy you bring to the golf course in the spirit of mentoring to build up the great game of golf through your actions and words.
The simple act of replacing a divot, fixing a ball mark, being respectful when someone is taking their turn sets an example for others to follow. The genuine words of “nice shot,” “I enjoyed playing golf with you,” “great putt,” “good swing,” or simply “Good to see you” can make someone’s day. Words of wisdom shared in the grill room or as you wait on the 1st tee can also be inspiring when you share a story of how you overcame adversity, made an improvement or achieved an accomplishment.
For those of you with a stronger desire to help those who are following in your footsteps you might consider starting a mentor program at your club or volunteering with local junior programs. You might make it a point to play a round a golf with a new player, offer to help off-set the cost of a green fee for a deserving kid, donate slightly used golf balls, the list is endless. Just think back to the time when you first started playing and how someone helped you or how you could have been helped to enjoy the game more.
You have a gift worth sharing and someone out there needs your wisdom, encouragement and support. Each of us had a mentor who guided us along this journey and today I would like to encourage you to pay it forward in the spirit of the great game of golf.