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June 10, 1977 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-06-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

72 Friday, Juae 10, 1977


How I Taught Golda Meir to Play Golf-Almost


(Editor's Note: K. Jason
Sitewell is the pen name of
Norman Cousins, editor of
the Saturday Review. The
following article appeared
in the April edition of Golf
Digest as an April Fools'

This is mostly about my
experiences as special golf
instructor to Prime Min-
ister Golda Meir of Israel.
But the beginning of this
story concerns Ben-Gurion.
In 1958, when I first be-
came involved in the Israeli
golf scene, Ben-Gurion was
the Israeli Prime Minister.
Some of Ben-Gurion's for-
eign policy advisers were
under the impression that
Israel was at a dis-
advantage in its dealings
with the U.S. because it
lacked golf capability. Eis-
enhower was then Presi-
dent of the U.S. He liked to
bring his eminent guests to
Camp David where the offi-
cial proceedings would be
interrupted at least once a
day for a round of golf.
Some of the most fruitful
discussions were held in a
golf car or in the club-
The clinching argument
for Ben-Gurion was that a
photograph of him playing
golf with Ike would confer
great prestige on Israel in
the community of nations—
almost as though Israel
were able to announce that
it had developed its own Tri-
dent submarine and Polaris
Ben-Gurion was then told
that it would be in Israel's
national interest to build a
golf course—not just as an
international status symbol
but as a tourist attraction.
Israel was putting millions
of dollars each year into
tourist advertising but kept
bumping into complaints
from travel agents who
said their customers might
be more interested in vis-
iting Biblical sites if they
were adjacent to a golf

It was at this point that
my own involvement began.
I received a telephone call
asking me to come to Israel
both for the purpose of
teaching Ben-Gurion how to
play and to help design an
18-hole course. I shall never
forget my first meeting
with the venerable Israeli
He had a large shaggy
head, into which were set
small eyes that struck
sparks every time they twin-
kled. He was blunt and
hearty and said he thought
taking up golf was a lot of
foolishness but that he
would do anything to im-

prove Israel's trade bal-
My first job, he said, was
to help design a golf
course, for which the gov-
ernment would provide land
at Caesarea, famous site of
the old Roman ruins. He
wanted me to take as much
time as required. Then I
would return to Jerusalem
to give him golf lessons,
which would be top secret
until he was ready to be put
on public exhibition.
Four months later, hav-
ing fulfilled my mission in
Caesarea, I set about the
second and more con-
sequential part of my as-
signment—teaching golf to
a 73-year-old man who
never before had even
touched a golf club. My
first five meetings with
Ben-Gurion were unforget-
table. He discoursed on his-
tory, philosophy, anthropolo-
gy, astronomy, biology, zool-
ogy and architecture. He
was the most energetic sto-
ryteller I ever met. One
way or another he con-
trived, week after week, to
defer his golf lessons.
Finally, he let the cat out
of the bag. He took me into,
his inner office, shut the
door securely, turned off
the phones, sat me down on
the couch reserved for vis-
itors of state, and shared
his big secret.
He had never intended,
he said, to go all the way.
He had agreed to the scheme
because of something he
alone knew. He had made
up his mind six months ear-
lier that he was going to re-
sign at an appropriate
time—certainly no later
than the spring of 1959.
Therefore there would be
no point in his learning to
I asked the obvious ques-
tion: Why, then, did he
agree to the scheme in the
first place?
He threw back that beauti-
ful shaggy head, then his
face broke wide open into
the most appealing grin I
had seen since I first saw a
picture of Will Rogers.
"Simple," he said. "I
knew that my successor
would be Golda Meir. I
wanted to create a prece-
dent that would be binding
on her. I would be involved
in this project just long
enough to commit my suc-
cessor as well. And every
time I think of Golda play-
inggolf, it makes me feel
good all over. It isn't easy
to feel good these days. Do
you blame me?"
"What makes you think
she'll do it?" I asked.
"She would have no way
of refusing—not when all
the advisers go to work on
her the way they did on
me. It might not even be

necessary to bring in-the ad-
visers. I think I can do it
all by myself."
He squinted at his watch.
"It is now 10:45 a.m. I tele-
phoned her yesterday and
asked her to come to -my of-
fice at 11. I want her to
meet you, just so she'll
know how serious I am."
A few minutes later, Mrs.
Meir arrived at the Prime
Minister's office. Her greet-
ing was brief, almost curt.
Ben-Gurion said he in-
tended, at the end of the
month, to announce his re-
tirement and that he would
throw all his weight behind

ing squarely at me, she
asked without the slightest
sign of any incredulity:
"When do we start?"
An easy student she was
not. -
At our first session, she
said she didn't want to do
anything except hear me
discourse on the theory and
practice of golf. This I did
for about 90 minutes, de-
scribing the dynamics of
the golf swing and drawing
little sketches to show her
the different elements in-
volved in hitting the ball ac-
curately and in a way that
was smooth and graceful.

her as his successor.
For maybe an hour they
discussed the problems of
government and the ob-
vious need to make the tran-
sition as smoothly as pos-
sible. Then, without the
slightest change of in-
flection in his voice or ex-
pression, he said he had ac-
cepted the advice of the' top
people in the government
about the considerable ad-
vantage to Israel of a
Prime Minister who could
play golf with the American
President if need be. And
that was why they had
brought me to Israel.
Then he sat back in his
seat and, with a straight
face, waited for the mes-
sage to sink in. Mrs. Meir
wasn't fazed.
"That makes good
sense," she said after only
a few seconds. Then, look-

She took notes and said
that she would prefer to
have another skull session
or two before working with
the clubs.
At our third session, she
began asking questions.
"Why do you say you
want me to concentrate on
keeping a firm left arm,
using the right arm just to
steer the club?"
"Because experiences
going back over many
years by the world's best
golfers have demonstrated
that the firm left arm is the
best way to transmit power
to the ball and keep it from
veering off line," I said.
"In that case," shhe
countered, "I could get
more power by playing
with left-handed clubs, and
hitting the ball with a firm
right arm from the right
side. Since I am right-hand-
ed, I am bound to hit more
accurately that way and I
could probably hit it far-
ther, too."
I made the mistake of
trying to refut&' the argu-
ment before thinking it
through by saying that it
was unnatural for a right-
handed player to hit the
ball with the left' side of his



body farthest . away from
the green.
"Nonsense!" she said.
"It's no more unnatural
than a right-handed tennis
player turning to his left
when hitting a back-hand
As I thought about it, I
knew she had all the logic
on her side, so I decided to
simplify the argument.
"Very well," I said, "we
will have two sets of clubs,
one lefty, the other righty. I
think you will find that
using the right-handed
clubs will be much easier."
"I dopn't think so," she
replied. "There's no point
in being extravagant. Qne
set of clubs is enough. And
if we start the correct
way—that is, using clubs
that I can hit with my right
arm—then we'll develop
good habits all the way.
"Now, what did you
mean when you said that I
had to concentrate on swing-
ing slowly?"
"Just that there was no di-
rect connection between a
fast swing and the distance
traveled by the ball," I re-
"How can you say that,"
she asked, "when Arnold
Palmer says in this book
right on the top of my desk
that you've really got to
take a good cut at the ball,
as he puts it?"
"Well:" I said, "the pro-
fessional players have been
able to groove a pretty fast
swing and they know how
to control it. -
"But that's not what you
said earlier," she said
abruptly. "You said there's
no connection between a
fast swing and distance."
"That's still correct," I
said. "The important thing
is the power that's trans-
mitted to the ball at the in-
stant of impact. That
means that legs, hips, shoul-
ders and arms all have to
be synchronized in a power
flow to the ball."
"So a fast swing is not
"Then, why are the Amer-
ican professionals turning
to lighter clubs ? My assist-
ant underlined an article
for me which said that Jack
Nicklaus was using very
light clubs because he could
generate more clubhead
I pointed out that what
was good for Jack Nicklaus
wasn't necessarily good for
beginning players.
"Oh, so you think I
should use heavy clubs?"
she asked.
I was beginning to get a
little weary. "What I mean
is," I said, "I want you to
use very light clubs so that
you can handle them more
easily than heavier clubs."
"You haven't seen me
handle any clubs. What
makes you say I can't
handle the heavier club?"
I decided to concede that
particular point. "All I'm
trying to say is that just be-
cause a professional player
does things a certain way
doesn't mean it's good for
everyone. For example, the
pros use clubs with stiff

shafts. The average player
uses a club with a whippy
"Why is that?"
"The whippy shaft gives
the average player more
distance. The stiff shaft pro-
vides more accuracy. The
professional player gets
plenty of distance and
wants the additional accu-
"Forgive me, Mr. Shite-
well," she said, "but I find
it difficult to follow your
Like most mortals, I
don't like having my .
"The name is Sitewe , I --
said. "Please tell me what
is so illogical about what I
just said."
"What would you say is
the greatest problem of the
-average player?" she
asked. "Accuracy or dis-
"Accuracy, of course."
"Then why shouldnt' the
average player use a stiff
shaft for accuracy, and
leave the whippy club to
the professional player who
ought to know how to hit a
ball straight and who can
probably use the extra dis-
tance?_ Haven't you got the
whole thing turned-
around?" I suddenly felt
"Mrs. Meir," I said, with .
as much courage as I could
summon in my dispirited
and depleted condition, "I
really think you'll do much
better without a teacher.
You've thought about this
game in far more basic
ways than many of those
who play at it for a living
or who, like me, teach it
and write about it. I have
no doubt that whatever you
do will be original and right
for you."
would appreciate your
resignation in writing," she
said. "After all, I ac-
quiesced to the urging of
my ministers only because
I wanted to do the right
thing by my country. But if
the person they selected to
teach me thinks it is in the
best interests of Israel that
I give up the game, then I
am in the clear, am I not?"
And that was the way it
ended. Only when I was in
the plane over the Atlantic
did I realize that the new
Prime Minister was a chip
off the old Ben-Gurion
block. She never had any
more intention of going
through with the scheme
than he did.
If anything, she outfoxed
the wily old Ben-Gurion by
putting herself in a pct
where she could relu
withdraw from the enter-
prise only because I gave
up on it myself, thus reliev-
ing her of any.. charge that
she was unwilling to serve
her country.
Anyway, the project
wasn't a total loss. At least
the Israeli Tourist Bureau
got a golf course out of it.
I also consoled myself
with the thought that Israel
might not ascend the
heights in golf but it would
never come out second best
in any high-level negotia- -

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