The Pro Difference

Paul Gallico’s Take on Pro Sports

All too many of us have a view of professional sports (that we also play as amateurs) as just a better version of what we do in our simple efforts – those stars are doing the same things we are trying to do, but just have a natural talent advantage over us.

That is true, but there’s so much more to pro sports than we know, and it took famous writer, Paul Gallico, to remind me of it yesterday. Gallico is the author of the famous short story “The Snow Goose,” but most of us don’t know that before his days of writing poetical fiction, he was the most highly paid sports writer in the United States, and he wrote about everything, including pro golf as it was at the time.
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Gallico cringes as we sit in the baseball stands and scream at the bum at the plate to hit the thing for a change, knowing that if we were standing there, the brief sight of a pro fastball would have us ducking and running for shelter. Indy 500? Air racing? Hydroplane races? We’d spend those moments mentally making out our last wills and testaments. And don’t even start on boxing. Gallico went a round with Jack Dempsey to see what being knocked out feels like.

GallicoIn pro golf, perhaps it isn’t all so death-defying, but Gallico spent a fair amount of time playing with Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour and a handful of other greats, just to find out what he could learn when these stars were not engaged in high-level competition. Gallico swears up and down that nobody knows what “real” golf is until one has played in this sort of company.

The first thing Gallico, and we, can learn from Bobby and the rest is that the pro golfers don’t play the ball – they play the course (many exclamation points should be added here!!!!). They play not only the terrain, but every aspect of nature that passes over it, even momentarily. Throwing a few blades of grass in the air is not in the least mere showmanship, and while few amateurs even think about the grain of the green they are putting on, the pro knows which way each patch of grass is leaning, what kind it is, and what the elements have done to it that day. And, even if the amateur knew what the pro knew, he probably wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do about it.


The weekender generally stands on the first tee hoping that he or she can put it out there a couple hundred yards or more, and stay on the short part of the grass, with some view to the green. The amateur thinks a lot about length, and how small he can make the club for the second shot. The pro may be thinking the same thing, but is certainly more strategic. In a real sense, a pro tee shot is tailored for the second shot, to open up the green. As Gallico wandered through the 18 with Jones and Sarazen on a relaxed day, the golf conversation consisted of little else than course strategy and management, and it was talk of which Caesar or Patton would have been proud,

Most pro practitioners of any difficult profession would be unable to begin a lesson with the most erudite, sophisticated elements that have made him or her so great. They would have to revisit the ABCs through the eyes of the student. Thanks to Gallico, when I think about my own strategy for scoring low, and that of most people, the Biblical passage springs to mind – “My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts.”
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