019: A Mile in His Moccasins with Tom Coyne – Part 2

Actually they’re FootJoys, but a walk on the golf course with Tom Coyne is like walking a mile in his moccasins.   You won’t just know him, you’ll feel him; his pain, his joy and his sense of adventure. Much like his journey to find the secret to golf in Scotland, he does about the same in his home country.  His next book: A Course Called America is a journey worth taking with Tom shepherding the way.

Full Podcast Transcript

[00:00:11] Recorded live from the Sweet Tea Studios in Wellesley Massachusetts. You’re listening to the podcast, Why I Read Nonfiction. Hosted by broadcaster and author of The Perfect Catch and Follow the Dog Home. Here’s Kevin Walsh.

[00:00:29] (Kevin) Hello. Welcome back to the program or to part two of our conversation with Tom Coyne, a golf writer in Philadelphia. He has written A Gentlemen’s Game, Paper Tiger, A Course Called Ireland and A Course Called Scotland. He’s also an English professor at St. Joseph’s University. A pretty good stick at that. And one of the better storytellers that I know, Tom. Good to have you on again. How you doing, man?

[00:00:51] (Tom) I’m doing great. Yeah. Thanks for having me back. Good to chat with you.

[00:00:53] (Kevin) Hey, I got to tell you, I got to tell you.  I’m gonna stroke your ego a little bit. Not that you need it.  (Tom) Good.  I do. (Kevin) Don’t we all, right? So I was playing my course the other day at a small nine-hole course, which I believe is the oldest nine-hole course in America in Wellesley, Massachusetts, called Nehoiden Golf Club. And the starter there was reading A Course Called Ireland. That’s going to bump up the ego a little bit, doesn’t it?

[00:01:18] (Tom) Well, that’s pretty cool. You’re obviously it’s a great golf course with very intelligent staff and with great taste in golf literature, very special place indeed. That’s cool, man.  Very cool.

[00:01:30] (Kevin) Well, you got to come up and play because this is like, I know you’re a soul golfer.  And a Course Called Ireland,  You walk the whole place.  Some places were better than others.

[00:01:39] But really, what it comes down to is your love of the game, your love of taking a walk, your love of people. And that is what Nehoiden is because there is no pro shop. Well, there’s like a shack. All right? (Tom) Yeah?  (Kevin) There’s no carts. There’s no facilities. There’s no vending machines. There’s nothing. You just show up and you play.  You carry your own clubs.  (Tom) I love that.  That’s for me man. And how do you spell it?  Nehoiden?

[00:02:04] (Kevin) Nehoiden.  It’s named after Chief Nehoiden.  Chief Maugus and Chief Nehoiden way back when before the settlers came over from Europe. And it was the Native Americans that were here. So it’s named after Chief Nehoiden.

[00:02:18] (Tom) Awesome. All right. I’m coming, man.

[00:02:20] (Kevin) Ok. You’re coming. You will be my guest. And we will have a good time. I enjoyed talking to you about A Course Called Scotland the last time.  I wouldn’t mind talking about it a little bit more. So when did you publish that?  And is it still going strong? I know you’re working on something else and we’ll get to that, but let’s just talk about Scotland and playing in the U.K. How’s that going?

[00:02:41] (Tom) Yes. So Scotland came out, let’s see.  Hardback 2018Paperback just came out, June of 2019. So it’s going well.

[00:02:53] I mean, it was a New York Times bestseller, you know, kind of right off the bat, which is wonderful.

[00:02:59] And, you know, you know, it’s what’s great about these books and the Ireland book as well is that they tend to be a little bit evergreen for as golf stories that guys every year that were or women as well, that are planning a golf trip to Ireland or Scotland will, will look for a Golf and Scotland book or whatever. And so they tend to keep selling, which is a wonderful situation to circumstance to have for sure. So they’re doing great. The experience with it and the response has been fantastic. And I’ve heard from a lot of Scots who thought I did it, did it well, which is always, you know, you’re the most anxious about writing about someone else’s country and hoping that you get it right. So all I’ve heard is good feedback from Scots, which is always the best, the best for sure.

[00:03:53] (Kevin) The thing that I liked about A Course Called Scotland, I like your descriptions of the different places, the people that you met along the way, the total strangers that we talked about in the last broadcast are now dear friends of yours and probably will be for life and that’s the beautiful thing about our game. What I liked more than anything is I just felt like I got more of you.

[00:04:15] I felt like you let us inside your head and your heart. You talked about your struggles with drinking and then quitting drinking. The one thing that I thought about and really identified with was, I don’t know that you called it the asshole factor, but that’s how I took it. Like when you were playing a round of golf with your dad and you were annoyed with the weather, you were annoyed with how you were playing, and then you sort of snapped out of it. And you almost said yourself, “What the hell is my problem? You know, why can’t I enjoy this for what this is?” Tell me about that and how at times golf can be an unbelievable tonic, but it can also be a dangerous mix.

[00:04:56] (Tom) Yeah, it’s in one round it tends to be sort of both for me, especially when I’m doing these projects. You know, Scotland, I’m doing America now and I’m playing so much golf because I’m trying to get to so many places to talk about them for the book, for my readers to take them places maybe they haven’t been. And so I set myself is pretty unwieldy, unreasonable itineraries. And along the way I can get, I can absolutely forget that I am the luckiest damn person in the world. You know, for any number of reasons for my health, my sobriety and all that. And then for the chance at the places, I get to go and the people I get to be with. And then I still get to golf with my dad and that, you know, where I can get really focused on the score or how I’m playing, where I can start to define myself by how good I am at this. That’s dangerous because golf is gonna beat you. You know, you’re gonna struggle. And when you tie up how well you’re playing with like how you’re thinking and feeling about yourself, which I can’t help but do sometimes, you can come off feeling really lousy and forget. So, So there are those moments in the story where I do have to wake up and snap out of it and be present and look at where I am. I look at where I’ve come from. Look at where I am now. Look at who I am with. And just feel like that gratitude. That to me is one of the secrets to my best golf is to be in the moment and be grateful for where I am.

[00:06:28] (Kevin) The present.  (Tom) The present.  I think that’s essential.  (Kevin) Not just for golf, but for life. And I played nine holes before we started recording these podcasts.  I was playing with a co-worker and we were talking about not just our struggles with golf, but also our struggles with about with life and with work and then trying to squeeze golf and around that. And he said the same thing. He said, “you need to be present where you are.”  And sometimes you need to when you see that looking back at you, when you see the written word looking back at you, it just validates what was spoken to you, or what your thoughts might be. So I finished up A Course Called Scotland just a couple of days ago. And that was after I finished Zorba the Greek and also The Power of Story by Jim Loehr which said about the same thing.  Wherever you are, be where you are. If you’re eating, just be eating. Focus on your eating. Be present. That’s a good lesson for everybody, isn’t it?

[00:07:27] (Tom) It is. It is and it’s and it takes practice. It’s something I still practice that I go backward and forwards with, you know, where I regress and progress, you know. But that notion of being mindful and being where you are and just being available to your present circumstances, I mean, that is just a wonderful, peaceful way to live. You know, feeling like. OK, I’m here. The world is what it is right now, it’s exactly how it’s supposed to be right now. I’m not in charge of it. You know, these are all things that bring me a lot of happiness and peace. It’s amazing how quickly I can discard them for trying to, you know, arrange everything in my life and think about how all the things I have to do and where else I have to be, especially when I’m moving around so much, you know. But so you have to practice it. And it doesn’t, I don’t think it’s a natural state of mind fo most of us to live at a pretty fast pace.

[00:08:26] But and maybe that’s what I do love about what I do. I finish the research and the travel and I get to sit down and write the book.

[00:08:35] I love the golf, but that’s probably my favorite part of it is sitting here at this desk for six months because I am totally present. I am literally lost in what I’m doing in the moment and time disappears and I feel productive and I feel like I’ve made the most of that day. And I was there for every minute of it, even if I was lost in a story about something else.

[00:09:03] (Kevin) Well we live in a day and age of multitasking. The iPhone changed everything. You have people there checking their email on their phone, they’re text messaging, they’re looking on the Internet, they’re doing all this stuff and they may think they’re being productive. But the reality is, is they’re being inefficient. And whatever it is that they’re doing, they’re not enjoying it as much. They’re not giving it their best effort because they’re not giving it their best focus. And then it just feels like you’ve got a bunch of balls in the air. And if you’ve ever tried to juggle a bunch of things, at some point you just get exhausted from the hustling around.  (Tom) Oh, yeah.

[00:09:36] There’s a huge difference between being busy and being productive. When I’m writing, I feel like I’m being productive. I’m at the end of the day, there’s pages there. There’s words that weren’t there before. When I’m busy I’m answering emails, answering social media messages, taking/doing conference calls, stuff like that. And when you look back on those kinds of days, you’re like, OK, I basically I kept the ball moving forward or I kept my thumb in the like. I don’t know what you know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what I have to show for it. But I had things to do and I got them done. And that’s certainly less satisfying than a day where you actually produced something, for sure. No doubt about it.

[00:10:18] (Kevin) Our guest today is Tom Coyne. He is the author of A Gentlemen’s Game, Paper Tiger, A Course Called Ireland, A Course Called Scotland. And he’s working on A Course called America, which we’ll get into in just a moment. But first, a big thanks to Nirvana on beautiful Cape Cod. If you’re looking for a vacation rental getaway right on the elbow, right on a beautiful kettle pond with great fishing. Check out Nirvana. All the information about that and the books that I talked about with Tom and our other past guests are available on https://whyireadnonfiction.com.

[00:10:49] So you’re knee-deep, chest-deep, neck deep with A Course Called America. What is it? Where are you?  And how busy is your life Tom?

[00:10:59] (Tom) Yeah. No, I’m I’m well underwater man.  I’m in the throes of it. I’m actually home for two days because, well, what I’m doing is I know I did Scotland and Ireland got to know golf over there really well. I got to know the people and came to sort of realize that I don’t know my country and the golf of my country and probably as well as I do Ireland and Scotland, because, you know, all the research I had to do in the travel had to do to write those books that said, you know, I need to do this in the place that I live because I’m sort of too quick to discount places or states or parts of the country and assume that I know what life or golf is like in Mississippi, or in Colorado, I’ve no idea. I’ve never been there. I’ve never played there. I’ve never met anybody there, you know. So I said, this is something I want to do, I need to do. I always have to get to that point with a book project where it feels like not just something like, ooooh, this is a good idea that would sell books. It has to be something that I feel like a personal, I have to feel compelled like I have to,

[00:12:04] I have to do this because it takes so much time.  And it takes so much energy effort, costs, all that stuff. So with this, it’s I’m visiting all 50 states this summer into actually through the fall into December, golfing every course that ever hosted, a U.S. Open,  golfing a lot of public courses, municipal tracks, 9 hollers trying to sort of get a full-scale view of golf in America. It’s basically the search for the great American golf course, which puts forth two questions to me: What is a great golf course? So I’m trying to figure out what that means. And I’m also, I want to say a great American. What is American in 2019, 2020 years? You know, as I’m doing this trip. So and that’s a huge question. I mean, it’s obviously a very interesting time in our country and a very divided time. But the first tee is always, for me, been sort of a space of universal accord. I can play golf with anybody I’ve already played with a couple of months into the trip, played over 100 rounds already.  And in some interesting places and where I’ve never been before.

[00:13:17] And I’ve played with people of all sorts of means, backgrounds, political persuasions, etc.. And it’s been it’s really been enlightening. It’s been good for my soul, too.

[00:13:30] I think if you sit around and just watch the news, whatever channel you choose to get your news from, because that sort of defines your viewpoint, whatever. And you just get out there and be among like American people. People are good.  On a one to one basis, we’re really we’re good people.

[00:13:51] (Kevin) That’s the thing. And politically speaking, I think if we can get more people on a golf course, I think we’d be a lot better. (Tom) Absolutely. (Kevin) And when we talk about politics and we see it with this president, but it’s not just President Trump, it’s been pretty much every president. Maybe take Jimmy Carter out of the mix. And I’ve always been uncomfortable when people would complain about, “Oh, he’s golfing again! As if it is somehow a waste of time and they’re being unproductive because as you and I know, having caddied before, having played a lot of golf before, a lot of business can get done on the golf course. And a lot of pressure and tension can be diffused because of the walk, the camaraderie of who you’re playing with, maybe a little bit of competition. Wouldn’t we all be better if more people played golf?

[00:14:42] (Tom) Oh there’s no doubt about it.

[00:14:43] I’ll never be one to criticize any president or anyone for playing too much golf. If you can play, you know, do it. I mean, gosh, the amount of golf that I play where I feel like I’m being productive, though, because I’m meeting people and making connections, I’m finding stories. And that’s what I do for my job is to find stories. You know, golf allows me to do that in abundance. So, and like you said, I mean, there are so many productive things that can happen in the course of a round of golf. And it is generally just a place where you think you really get to know who the people are. And you get to connect with, you know, sharing that four hours of the struggles of a round of golf bonds you with someone.  Whether, you know, consider them a great friend or not, you know, you’ve been out there together and suffered the trials and errors of golf. And it’s just it’s a good way to connect with people.  (Kevin) No question. (Tom) We’d all probably get along a lot better if we played more golf together.  (Kevin) It reveals character.

[00:15:47] I’m a big believer in that, because if you’re playing with somebody that is a hothead, is throwing clubs, is bumping the ball in the rough, has trouble counting. You want to do a business deal with that person? (Tom) Probably not.  (Kevin) I don’t think so. And the other thing, when it comes to golfing presidents. If our president ever said, “Hey, you know what, I’m having some health problems, I want to lose some weight. I want to be more physically fit because I think that would make me a healthier person, a more effective leader. I think I need to go to the gym for four hours a day. Wouldn’t people just say, hey, right on man!  You go!  That’s right. You do whatever you have to do. What’s the difference? You know, as long as you’re better for the effort, right?

[00:16:26] (Tom) Absolutely. He just needs to walk.  Get out of that golf cart. You know what I’m saying? Because it is great exercise. I you know, I’ve got I’ve already dropped 15 pounds and I walk every time whenever I play. And so it’s golfing 36 holes a day. I’m essentially walking like 15 miles a day with clubs on my back. It’s the only exercise I do. The only exercise I get. And so I got to keep doing these projects to stay in shape, because otherwise when I sit around to write the book, I get fat again.  (Kevin) The spirit of our podcast.

[00:16:57] Tom, in so many ways is just a love of reading. You’ve had it pretty much from the beginning, from when you could read. Do you have time to read right now, considering you’re raising a young family? You’re an English professor at St. Joe’s University and you’re working on this is book number. What? (Tom) Five.  (Kevin) Are you having a chance to? Are you able to read for pleasure?

[00:17:21] (Tom) Reading for pleasure? It’s elusive. I read a lot. I have a stack of books, right that I’m eyeing right now. It’s a very tall stack about the history of golf in America, golf designers, history of the U.S. Open, all those fun things that I’m doing reading for my book. And then when I’m teaching, I’m reading the books that I’m teaching or reading my students work or their theses or stuff like that. So reading for pleasure is, man, I do miss it.  When I’m on vacation I’ll always grab a novel, usually something in the airport that looks interesting or digestible that that will be that will remind me like the fun of reading, because reading often right now is a little bit of work. Not that I don’t enjoy it, but I read for a purpose versus just reading to get lost in stories. So I don’t have as much of an opportunity to do that as I would like to. But most mostly it happens in airports and on planes. And, well, lucky for me, I’m in one of those very often.

[00:18:27] So I do get to I do get to do it a little bit of pleasure reading. But, you know, never as much as I’d like to for sure.

[00:18:34] (Kevin) Are we reading enough as a country?  (Tom) No way.

[00:18:38] No, no, we’re not. I mean, I think it’s you know, I see it. I have great students, but God bless them. They’re busy and they have so many distractions.

[00:18:49] (Kevin) What are they busy with, Tom? I know they’re busy, but I don’t necessarily understand what they’re busy with other than school.

[00:18:56] (Tom) Well, they’re busy with their phones.  They’re busy with their… I mean, they have constant, constant distraction. So, you know, once they go into their phone or into their laptop, they can get lost there. As we all can. But this generation of younger folks, they’ve been doing this for, you know, since, you know, they were much younger.  When I would have been, or you would have been reading books, you know, they were being introduced to technology in a different way. So, you know, technology is a huge distraction there.

[00:19:30]I think young people are just generally have more,

[00:19:35] we think they should be doing more things, more sports, more activities, more this, that and the other. You know, so when I look at my student’s schedules or they talk to me about the things that they’re doing there, they’re after it.

[00:19:49] You know, they’re there. They’re building the resumes. They’re working, they’re interning or doing this, that and other. So they’re busy. We just we have a very busy, distracted culture. And if we I just think if we did read more.

[00:20:01] The thing that reading books gives you aside obviously from just knowledge, intelligence, which are valuable things, it gives you empathy.

[00:20:11] You know, we learn to understand.  We come to understand other people, other experiences, we come to experience, other cultures, etc., mostly through books. I think that reading does the same thing that travel does. Not everyone can travel, but it’s in novels where I think you really learn to care and understand and have empathy for other people and man, If I look at our culture, we are having a darn, let’s say a damn hard time putting ourselves in the shoes of other people. Books do that. And so, I mean, I just you can see the deterioration of reading in our country. You can see it translating into our culture and our politics and our way of life. I think pretty much on a daily basis.

[00:20:57] (Kevin) Yeah, well, we can see people like looking down at something in their hands, whereas before that might have been a book. Unfortunately, now it’s a phone. So A Course Called America. When’s it coming out? And how can we get it? What’s next for you?

[00:21:11] (Tom) Yeah.  So I’ll finish writing the book, hopefully, this spring, we’ll finish the travels in December and write it up in spring. And then it takes a year, you know, to do the editing and the marketing. So that means spring 2021. So I’ve finished the book in 2020, have it out on shelves 2021 from Avid Reader Press, which is a new imprint at Simon and Schuster, which I’m excited to be with.

[00:21:33] And it’s gonna be great I hope.  It’s, you know, they’ve been wonderful to work with. And, you know, allow me to live this great adventure for which I am really thankful. So excited to get the book out there. And anyone can follow the adventure while I’m out there along the way traveling or even I’m asking people to come meet up with me and play and be a part of the story, be a part of the book. You can follow me at @coynewriter that’s C-o-y-n-e on Instagram or Twitter and see where I am. And hopefully, if I’m passing through your neighborhood, come out and join me.

[00:22:05] (Kevin) All right. Or you come through my neighborhood and we’ll play in avoiding golf. And we’ll we’ll get that starter who is reading A Course Called Ireland. And we’ll we’ll get him tuned on to A Course Called American. Tom, it’s always great to catch up with you. And when when the new book comes, comes out, we’ll have you back on again. OK, buddy?  (Tom) Kevin, thanks so much. Great talking with you. (Kevin) All right. Tom, always good to talk to you. For Tom Coyne, I’m Kevin Walsh.

[00:22:27] Thank you so much for listening to https://whyireadnonfiction.com More information about his books:  A Gentlemen’s Game, Paper Tiger, A Course Called Ireland, A Course Called Scotland. Soon to be a course called America. Log on to https://whyireadnonfiction.com. Thank you to Nirvana on Beautiful Cape Cod for sponsoring. We’ll see you again next time on the podcast.

 

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