New Moe Norman biography examines the genius behind the straightest hitter who ever lived
Having long admired the work of Lorne Rubenstein, Canada's preeminent golf writer, I was pleased to receive a review copy of his latest book, Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius.
Moe & Me by Lorne Rubenstein. ECW Press. 200 pages. $19.95 CDN / US. Click to order.If you've followed golf with any regularity over the years, you have heard stories of Moe Norman's legendary ability to strike a golf ball. So prolific was Moe that his yearly appearance on the range at the Canadian Open would makeelite touring professionals take pause to watch him hit ball after ball with a head shaking lack of dispersion.
According to none other than Tiger Woods, Moe Norman is one of only two men who who truly owned their swing. The other? Ben Hogan. Pretty solid company for a man born in Kitchener, Ontario and was dubbed 'the clown prince of golf', among other less than flattering monikers.
Moe & Me looks at why, despite his undeniable talent with a golf club in hand, Moe Norman was never able to play at golf's highest levels with any regularity or success. Moe's odd appearance, off-kilter mannerisms and quirky personality traits were interpreted as anti-social by some and unacceptable by others, helping foster within Moe an overwhelming barrier of social expectation that extended beyond the 'simple' act of playing golf.
Rubenstein was once told by a fellow scribe that Norman would be the most sensitive golfer he'd ever encounter and to be careful what he wrote, but Rubenstein won Norman's trust and forged a friendship that would last 40 years.
Thanks to this friendship, Rubenstein is able to present his subject in both a kind yet honest manner, helping you quickly build empathy for Moe, allowing you to become fully invested in his story.
Throughout the Moe & Me Rubenstein explores a variety of possible explanations for why Moe was the way he was. Was he autistic? Did he have Asperger Syndrome? Did a tobogganing accident at the age of five leave him with permanent brain damage? Was it some sort of combination?
At a certain point in their friendship, the author realizes that the why of Moe must simply give way to the who, that it was more important to allow Moe to simply be who he was, and do what he loved to do.
For the swing geek in all of us, Moe & Me also takes a close look at the golf genius that was Moe Norman. Rubenstein, with the help of others, dissects each and every element of his swing, perhaps in an effort to help us all unlock a specific key that surely must lie within. Moe employed a palm grip eliminate 'fast fingers', an extra wide stance to create a solid base, and setup that saw the club rest 14 inches behind the ball at address, all but eliminating any trouble the takeaway can cause. Rubenstein examines every element, but makes it clear that Moe was more than about the mechanics.
Like most golfers, I have a good number of instruction and golf psychology books on my shelf, but I have a feeling I'll be going back to Moe & Me more of then than most of the others. To remind myself through Moe, to be myself. Perhaps that's the mystery behind Moe's genius, and the rest of us are simply too concerned with what's expected of us on the golf course rather than allowing ourselves, to be ourselves.
As a write most every day, I cannot recall the last time I truly immersed myself in the pages of a book, but this was the case with Moe & Me. An unseasonably warm, sunny March day, a patio, and two grande lattes later, it was non-stop, cover to cover.
As a fellow golfer, I'm quite sure you will be equally compelled by Lorne Rubenstein's latest.
By Lorne Rubenstein
ECW Press, April 2012, $19.95 CDN / US, 200 pages.
I grew up playing North Bay Golf and Country Club in North Bay, Ontario. (NBGCC's the original nine holeswere designed by Stanley Thompson). When I was 11 or 12 my Dad took me up to the club to attend one of Moe Norman's famous clinics.
What I remember most about that day was the sound the ball made coming off Moe's clubface. It was a sound I'd never heard before -- I remember telling my Dad that I thought they sounded like rockets. Beyond marvelling at his ball striking I clearly remember being puzzled by Moe's rather odd appearance, and the repetitive staccato with which he talked. To a boy, his speech patterns sounded more like school yard rhymes. At that age I didn't really know what to make of him, but I do remember a part of me feeling somewhat sorry for him, though I didn't know why.
When I look back on that clinic now, I can clearly see what it was that I was really missing then -- that Moe was a man who simply wanted to hit a golf ball, time after time, as straight as can be. And he just wanted to be allowed to do it, without the additional expectation others seemed compelled to add.
And there was no reason to feel sorry for that.