19th Hole

Tom Velarde
Golf Professional
Black Mesa Golf Club
La Mesilla, AZ

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Do As I Say Not As I Do

Living in a somewhat small community always will present you with challenges that are so very unique. Being a high school golf coach will only make those challenges bigger, the only thing that can take the challenge to the ultimate test of a person would be to start up a golf program from scratch.

When the local High School approached me over 12 years ago to start up the programs, I used my wealth of experience coaching. I was, after all, just coming off winning a State Championship (well the kids won but I was the championship team bus driver), so how hard could it be. My old team was at the New Mexico Military Institute, which I now know was the haven for the very well behaved.

My start up was at the local high school, at NMMI. I was greeted with yes sir, and the conversation ended with yes sir. Whasss up did not register with me at that time, but was the accepted form of hello at my new school. Now I can rap with the best of them, as long as the rap is limited to hey and yep.   

In starting these teams I was going to cover all the bases, why I would just make sure they knew everything they would ever need to know about golf. If they could not shoot 68, by golly, they could understand 68.

We started the process with me explaining proper ball position and its effects on launch, angle and trajectory. Some crickets from another part of the building chirped questions. Blank stares from my future US Open winners made me realize that I needed to get more basic.

Okay, let’s talk about the basic variations on grips, we have Vardon, Overlap, Ten Finger, Turned, Aft, and the ever winner Neutral. The crickets had given way to a small line of ants, none of which seemed to even care that I had taken great care to make sure the grip of the club was held in the proper part of the hand. They were set on the few grains of sugar spilled by the coffee pot.   

Okay, even more basic. This is a golf ball and some are the same label and number. One youngster, who I was certain was sleeping, looked out the window but with the cap being worn sideways I thought he was looking at me and asked a question. Why are they the same? Euphorically I plunged into the answer of ball manufacturers and numbering of balls and the importance of making your own mark on your golf ball. From the front row, the young man who had sneered at my entire presentation on grip said, “You mean like tagging?” I did sense that we were moving towards thin ice but wanted to keep the discussion moving and I answered, “A little like tagging, yes”. I know all the USGA blue shirts and ties were running to the air raid shelters, but I was finally reaching them.

As time passed, we started the process of hitting balls, learning about the different clubs, and putting and chipping. We covered the rules that I knew would be needed and worked ever towards the ultimate goal…the first round.

My team had not forgotten about the “tagging” of their golf balls, and I reinforced before the first ever qualifying for the first ever tournament. The day of reckoning was set and groups would be announced. I wanted them to experience a true tournament so I would announce each player to the first tee just like the Masters, it would be that mystical experience that would transform them to visions that would make Gene Littler or Tom Weiskopf jealous.

With everyone in attendance at the first tee that beautiful Saturday mid-day, our first group made it to the tee exactly 10 minutes before tee time. They counted clubs, made sure that they had tees and coins to mark their balls on the greens. I called the first group together, made everyone introduce themselves to each other, exchange scorecards and then the ever fateful…identify your golf balls.

Friends there will be times in life when you realize that what you said and what you meant to say are oil and water. My three players pulled out the balls and the first said, “I am playing a Big Ballers Doog Pound”. The next said his was an Animo (I am sure I have no future in learning that acronym), and the last said his was a Lucky Bastard. You see, I had never told them they had to play golf balls. My team had taken my new range balls and “tagged” them. These balls still are in my trophy case in my office. They sit right next to the Sectional Championship and the pictures of those State Championships. Of all the awards I have been blessed to either win or be a part of, these golf balls will forever sit as my reminder that starting the process is winning.

Visit your local PGA professional, engage them in conversation and you will be amazed at the life experiences they can share with you! The person behind that counter has unlimited experiences that can easily be accessed with the magic words “Whass up Pro?”

Tom Velarde is the Director of Golf at Black Mesa Golf Club in Espanola, New Mexico, just northwest of Santa Fe. For more information or to reach Tom, email tvelarde@blackmesagolfclub.com.