Let’s acknowledge this: Golf is not an easy sport.
If it were, Art Snoey noted, “There wouldn’t be the big payoffs for the (professional) tournaments.”
Snoey, 69, one of the teaching professionals at Harbour Pointe Golf Club in Mukilteo, had just spent 45 minutes giving me tips that, on the surface, made this complex game of golf seem easy.
And after those 45 minutes, two things were obvious: Snoey knows golf, and he’s a gifted educator.
The former long-time teacher and coach in the Edmonds School District now conducts classes that simplify this frustrating game.
That’s what great teachers do. It’s what great coaches do. It’s why Art Snoey has young and old flocking to him in order to improve their games.
It’s also why, as Snoey recounted, a 4-year-old prodigy who was getting weekly lessons from Snoey recently said to him as they walked the course at Harbour Pointe, “Coach Snoey, I love you.”
One can’t help but love coach Snoey and his approach to teaching golf. His passion for the sport, his ability to explain the technical side of the game in simple terms, and his understanding of the cerebral part of the game (after all, he taught advanced math for 33 years) all contribute to his effectiveness.
As he took me through my lesson and then guided me through the first five holes of my round at Harbour Pointe, Snoey kept explaining every aspect in ways I could grasp. For instance, he explained my golf swing just like one would break down the nuances of shooting a free throw.
But more than golf, Art Snoey talked about things that really mattered. He talked about what made his 23-year love affair with Harbour Pointe so enjoyable. He talked with fatherly pride about the fact his son, Anthony, is soon to be Director of Golf at Isleworth Country Club where Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Ken Griffey Jr, and Shaquille O’Neal are members. He talked about the demanding times for both he and his wife, back when he was busy coaching football, basketball and baseball at Edmonds High School.
Coach Snoey talked about life.
Eventually, coach Snoey had to leave me for another lesson and I still had 13 holes ahead of me on a course that many people consider one of the toughest in Western Washington.
And this is where golf can become intoxicating. While I scored a dismal 56 on the front nine — leaving my ego wounded — I was not defeated.
As I ventured through the tunnel that separates the front nine from the back nine at Harbour Pointe, I was struggling. Then I was greeted by a sign emphasizing that “golfers assume responsibility for any damage.” To say I approached the back nine with its high-priced houses lining the fairly narrow fairways with a little trepidation is an understatement.
Then when my tee shot on No. 10 ended up just yards from a home worth more than my life insurance policy, I resolved to stop over-analyzing my swing and simply enjoy this beautiful course. With that resolution, the transformation occurred.
And what a transformation it was.
On the picturesque 11th hole, with its spectacular view of the southern tip of Whidbey Island tempting my gaze like the irresistible song of the mythological Sirens and yet miles away, I listened to my playing partner’s advice to play it safe and settle for a conservative first shot in order to place the second shot within reach of the green. Throw in a lucky kick out of the trees on my second shot and I was staring at an easy pitching wedge for a makeable 12-foot putt. The putt dropped and I had my first par of the day.
And with that began the best eight holes of golf I have ever played.
Three straight pars, all with 12-foot-plus putts, gave me the kind of confidence usually associated with Donald Trump. Consider that only about 53 percent of putts attempted by professionals on the PGA Tour drop in from 10 feet or more out — and I had just drained three in a row.
A couple bogeys followed the three pars. At this point, I felt invincible having played bogey-golf through six holes on the back nine.
An unfortunate mishap on No. 16, a deceptive 134-yard par-3 that I played well except for my ball just barely rolling into a tough sandtrap, put a six on my scorecard. I finished with double-bogey on No. 17 and then came within three inches of scoring a par on No. 18 to finish my round for the day.
And for the first time ever playing golf, I felt legitimate.
I guess I love coach Snoey, too. Just like all of his students who find some success on the course.