William Rose, Teacher of Golf


When I started this blog, I had in mind what could pan out with mindful attention to golf. Would it improve my life? Would it make me a better man? Would my golf get better? One of the first people I turned to in this endeavor was Mr. William Rose, the emeritus golf professional at the Wakonda Club, and a quick sitdown with him was one of the last things I did at Wakonda before I took off for Ohio.

Born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota, Mr. Rose learned to play golf there and after he was demobilized from the Korean War, he joined the professional staff at the Evanston Country Club headed by the recently retired Johnny Revolta. Johnny Revolta, winner of the 1935 PGA Championship along with 25 other titles as a touring pro. Mr. Rose earned his craft from this great teacher and moved to Iowa, taking the position of head golf professional at the Wakonda Club in 1960.

Since that time, Mr. Rose tells me, the club has changed much and not at all. He remembers the club in a very different time when Wakonda was the sun around which everyone’s social and recreational orbits were centered. The pinnacle of that time was when Wakonda Club hosted the US Amateur tournament in 1963, the one where Deane Beman, future PGA Commisioner (the one who Jerry Pate tossed into the water hazard after winning the TPC at the TPC Sawgrass), won. The bridge from #18 tee to the fairway is called the Beman Bridge in honor of that victory.

In the tournament were Billie Joe Patten and Charlie Coe from Augusta National who noticed the work of Mr. Rose’s assistant professional, Mr. Bob Kletcke and recruited him away. Mr. Rose relayed, “They asked me if Bob would be available, I told them he’s packing his bags now.” Mr. Kletcke eventually became the head golf professional at Augusta National Golf Club in 1966. In an interview given to the blog, Carolina Golfer (link), Mr. Kletcke said this:

“I needed to improve my teaching skills so Johnny Revolta, one of the game’s best teachers at the time, got me a job at Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa, where I would study under Bill Rose,” Kletcke offered. ”That turned out to be a wise decision because I learned much from Rose.”

When I was learning piano, I had a thought. What is the lineage of my teacher? If you trace back your teachers to their teachers, could you track the roots back to Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, or Bach? For example, my basic chemistry teacher in college was Dudley Herschbach who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry soon after I finished his Intro to Chemistry course. When I teach my son about atomic valence, he should know that he is one step removed from a Nobel Prize winner. Here, with Mr. Rose is a connection to the broader world of golf beyond Wakonda Club, but I always suspected that Mr. Rose had a great mystical connection to golf.

Teachers talk about greatness to inspire their students, but the great teachers inspire greatness from their students, even from the first moments. I remember in 2005 chipping twenty footers with desultory results when Mr. Rose shouted, “point your club at the hole on the follow through.” I made the next chip into the cup and Mr. Rose shrugged and walked away with his students who were as mystified as I was. At my first lesson with Mr. Rose, he told me to use only half of my energy in swinging the club -that golf shouldn’t be so hard. Within five minutes, I was hitting pure iron shots, two of which hit the pin at 150 yards!

I wrote down whatever I could remember from those lessons, but what stuck was the point about golf not being a hard game unless you made it difficult. The same could be said about life, I suppose.

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