Ben Kern convinced me golf could be fun. Wow! Who knew?

Trend speak drives me crazy. No one tells stories anymore. Now everything is a ‘narrative.’ Rather than delve into an issue, we ‘unpack’ it.

Ugh.

Another trendy word is ‘disruptor,’ which is generally trotted out these days to describe intrepid entrepreneurs who swoop down like super heroes and carry us to enlightened consumer nirvana.

Actually, I like disruptor, although a substitute could be shit-disturber. Sometimes it’s dangerous to be a disruptor—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, for example.

Disruptors often come off as strange, awkward and eccentric; they operate from a different rulebook.

But we need disruptors. They help us to look at things differently, leading to breakthroughs or changes that may not have been possible otherwise.

Steve Jobs was a disruptor. So was Billy Beane. Elvis Presley. In golf, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and recently Bryson DeChambeau.

Ben Kern.

For dozens of golf professionals around North America, Ben was a model, a mentor and an inspiration. Ben died of cancer in 2002, but his legacy and influence lives on through dozens of top Canadian teachers and professionals such as Sean Foley, Martin Chuck, Danny King and Tom Jackson who had the chance to work with or be taught by him.

A former PGA Tour player and a tremendous teacher, Ben was the consummate golf professional, and held the top job at the National and Devil’s Pulpit, two of Toronto’s most prestigious clubs.

But Ben was no khaki-clad-vanilla golf pro. He was a different cat. He cared deeply about the environment, the under-privileged and for the people he taught and led. It seemed to take Ben about 20 minutes to order lunch with his substitutions and instructions; he was super health conscious.

While writing about golf in the 1990s, I was fortunate to work with Ben on some great projects, including creating the Future Links junior instruction program that is still the foundation of Golf Canada’s grassroots development program. Many of Ben’s PGA of Canada colleagues weren’t happy with Future Links because it was a RCGA (now Golf Canada) initiative, but Ben believed it needed to be done.

I was taken by his easy grace, his slow way of talking, almost like a drawl. Ben had the aura of a wise and caring elder, but he was also very funny.

As I got to know him, Ben surprised me with his playful attitude toward golf. To me, golf was a serious enterprise, and thus I was always working on my game.  I thought you had to grind on a range for hours to get any good.

But on the course and on a range, Ben was forever trying different shots, experimenting with swings, shot shapes and trajectories.

One of Ben’s favourite holes at links-style Devil’s Paintbrush was No. 11, a medium-length par-five reachable in two. A good drive left you perched on a hill that tumbled down to a green tucked behind a mound punctuated with a few bunkers.

The only way to keep the ball on the green with a long second shot was to land the ball short and run it up and over the mound between the bunkers. Ben said some members thought the bunkers were unfair; that it was more a matter of chance than skill to skirt the bunkers.

He thought the hole was brilliant. He gleefully described how he loved to hit his second shot, “and watch what happens. It’s so much fun.”

Sometimes, his ball went between the bunkers on the green; other times it got swallowed up, and that was ok.

When he told me that story, I was jarred by Ben’s emphasis on how much “fun” the  shot was.

Fun? Honestly, I don’t think I ever considered that a golf shot could be fun. I liked having fun with friends on the course, but the idea that a golf shot could be fun was foreign to me.

When I hit a shot, I judged whether it was either good, mediocre or bad. And my response was further dictated by how I thought it would affect my score.

Looking back now, my name should have been Earnest Grinder. I was so serious and invested in how my game reflected on me, and whether I had enough talent, skill and had worked hard enough. And I was a paralysis-by-analysis basket case.

He knew that. When we played together, he played with a sense of fun and freedom. Perhaps he was modeling a light, non-judgmental approach for me, but I’m thinking this was Ben’s main objective–to have fun.

Besides, isn’t that the object of the exercise?

As I evolved as a player and later as a coach, Ben played a major role in convincing me that by playing with a sense of fun and freedom, you not only have a better time, you also play better. Most everyone thinks that you must play great golf to feel good. It’s actually backward–you have a better chance of playing well if you go into it determined to enjoy yourself.

I’ve been blessed in my life to meet amazing people such as Ben Kern. He had an overwhelming positive influence on me and many, many people. He was a friend, a leader and one hell of a disruptor.

If you’re interested in stepping more into the golf and life that you really want to lead, I would love to empower you. I encourage you to contact me about a complimentary 45-minute private coaching session.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and life coach, an award-winning writer, Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team and Mental Performance Coach at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey. He is author of the newly released second edition of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He is co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and a leader in training in the ManKind Project. He gets all excited when he helps people tap into their brilliance.

Comments

  1. Hi Tim,

    You described my brother to a “tee.”

    When Ben was playing competitively, I recall him playing a long Par 5 that required a big drive and 3 wood to reach the green with very little possibility one could land it on the green in those days. So he played it the fun way, a low bounding 2nd shot that would need to bounce its way through the bunker. When I asked why he didn’t lay-up, he said half the time the ball will find its way on the green and the other half in the bunker. Either way, to Ben the eagle putt or the challenge of getting the bunker shot close enough to have a tap in the birdie was equally as much fun.

    Greg Kern

    • Greg:
      Thx for the nice note and the anecdote. He was so smart and had an amazing attitude toward the game—and life. One of the wisest people that I have ever met. It was a nice experience to think about Ben again in writing this piece. All the best to you and your family. I miss him still.

  2. I love the 2 F’s – fun and freedom and how they lead to performance. Thanks for sharing your story about quality time spent with Ben Kern

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