Throughout the remainder of the holiday season, we will provide a look back at some of the best content from our writers at Global Golf Post Plus. This article originally published on July, 30. Enjoy.
It does not really matter whether you think Dan Jenkins is a better golf writer than Charlie Price or that Herbert Warren Wind and his elegant essays would beat either on the 16th green. Nor is it important that no one could write such lyrical prose as Pat Ward Thomas of The Guardian or you remember Henry Longhurst as that somewhat plummy-voiced British commentator on television rather than a man who wrote a golf column in The Sunday Times every week for 25 years.
There is pretty much universal agreement that Bernard Darwin – who was the unbylined golf correspondent of The Times from 1907 to 1953, is the author of 30 books and, by the way, the grandson of Charles Darwin the naturalist – set a high bar with his writings about golf. And David Normoyle, a Californian and former employee of the USGA and now one of the game’s leading historians, knows more about Darwin than you, me and everyone else combined.
Why? Because Normoyle has written a thesis about Darwin and as a result was awarded his master’s degree by Cambridge University when he was studying there 15 years ago. I have a copy of it by my side as I write. Underneath the title Bernard Darwin and the Development of Golf Literature is Normoyle’s name and beneath that the following: “A Thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Philosophy in Historical Studies at the University of Cambridge.” It was dated June 2006. The opening sentence of the introduction puts it all into perspective. “Bernard Darwin was to golf what Samuel Johnson was to the English language.”
Richard Fisher, vice president of the Royal Historical Society and also of Royal St David’s Golf Club at Harlech in mid Wales, was one of two men chosen to examine this thesis. “It was quite a strange thing for a young American graduate to think of doing, to pursue the career of a British golf correspondent of the Edwardian period and all that goes with it,” Fisher said. “I gave him 67 percent for his master’s, a grade good enough to enable him to stay on to undertake a doctorate. David is very bright and very good at communicating. In my examiner’s report I think I said that occasionally (in his thesis) you had the sense that the UK was being explained for the benefit of American readership, which is fine, and that is true.”
“David has the attributes that you’d want in a good historian – the ability to ask the right questions, the willingness to dig deeply to find the right information, the agility to switch thinking when research turns up the unexpected, and the ability to synthesize a lot of information into meaningful learnings.” – Dr Rand Jerris
Having got his master’s degree and done further doctoral research, Normoyle would have needed three to six months more to complete the thesis and submit it for a PhD. By any standards this was a daunting prospect. Nevertheless, Fisher was one of those who urged him to attempt it. “Come on David,” he said. “You haven’t got very much more to do to it. If you did it, you’d be Dr Normoyle, PhD, Cantab, and you’d have that for the rest of your life.”
There is no doubt it was a task well within his grasp. Normoyle had been a USGA Fellow, supporting the USGA grants programme and foundation. “Collectively, the USGA fellows were a really impressive group, all recent university graduates with interests in non-profit administration and many with a deep passion for golf,” Dr Rand Jerris, senior managing director of public service at the USGA, wrote in an e-mail. “David was typical of the group – bright, engaged, engaging – the type of person who wanted to make a difference in the world and one quickly got the sense that someday and in some way he would deliver on that promise.”
After his fellowship at the USGA and his time at Cambridge, Normoyle re-joined the USGA working in its golf museum, much to the pleasure of Jerris. In that same email Jerris wrote: “David has the attributes that you’d want in a good historian – the ability to ask the right questions, the willingness to dig deeply to find the right information, the agility to switch thinking when research turns up the unexpected, and the ability to synthesize a lot of information into meaningful learnings. Importantly, he also has people skills and that can be rare in an academic … when you are with him, David has a way of making you feel like you are the most important person in the world and maybe even the only person in the world. He is 100 percent present and 100 percent connected.”
What Normoyle didn’t have was the time or the inclination to stay in England and try for a PhD. “In David’s mind in those days getting a Blue was very much part of his Cambridge mission,” Fisher said. “He achieved that. He kept saying he would do it one day but the further you get away from it the harder it gets to do. It is unlikely it will ever happen now. Not impossible but unlikely.”
In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters to the rest of the golfing world that Normoyle never did his PhD. He remains the expert on Darwin. He has a thriving consultancy business, a world of friends and he has just given us a vivid and excellent account of his 40-day journey around the country of his birth. That should be enough to be getting on with.
For a story on David Normoyle’s 40-day, coast-to-coast odyssey, click HERE.
Top: Bernard Darwin holds the President’s Putter at the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society tournament in 1932. Photo: Hulton Archive, Getty Images
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