My generation remembers when a four-man pop music group calling themselves The Beatles burst upon America's rock-and-roll scene in the early 1960's. Today's generation watches comedian David Letterman's late night talk show, hosted from the very same stage of The Ed Sullivan Theater. Hard to believe that it's been nearly half a century ago, on a Sunday evening, since the real Ed Sullivan hosted The Beatles there on his variety show.
Today's world is a different one, indeed, but amazing as today may seem, The Beatles brought real magic with them from England. The music world changed the night John, Paul, George and Ringo showed up in New York City.
Years later the drummer, Ringo Starr, was featured singing "It Don't Come Easy," a song about laying the groundwork and preparing properly for things to come. And the lyric says:
"You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues, and you know it don't come easy."
You know, even as the world changes, some things remain constant. If you want to make it in the world today, you still have to pay your dues. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the way you "got to pay your dues" has changed in many, many ways. But the bottom line remains that if you want to catch some magic, you have to pay the price, pure and simple.
And, no, it don't come easy.
This brings me, after laborious preface, to the subject of today's ramble: Taylor Smith, a senior over at Eastside High, a youngster who knows about paying dues. The young man has been found on golf courses for more than half of his 17 years, chasing his dream to play college golf and to eventually join the PGA as a tour professional.
Last week found Smith at the River Cut Golf Club in Springfield, Mo., playing in the Bass Pro Shop/Payne Stewart American Junior Golf Championship tournament. It's the most prestigious tourney hosted by the American Junior Golf Association; participation is limited to those who have qualified through other tournaments. Taylor ventured out there hoping to cap a great summer of golf with a championship.
But at that rarified level, you see, everybody's good. And any tiny difference at all can be the determining factor making the critical distinction between who wins a hole, or the tournament, and who goes home and wonders what went wrong.
And, no, it don't come easy.
Taylor Smith has learned, similarly, that the hoops you have to jump through and the dues you have to pay in order to chase your dream are corporately etched in stone in the world of golf. His love for the game, his desire to play at the highest level he can attain, and the fact that he's blessed with a supportive and loving family all have combined to take him this far this soon.
Taylor Smith has been playing golf very nearly his whole life. He played his first tournament at the age of eight, when most kids are just getting around to using two-syllable words.
As in the world of music, in order to move forward in golf you need a professional instructor. For years, Smith's tutor has been Ray Cutright, certified by the PGA as a master professional, and based out of Macon's Idle Hour Learning Center. That amounts to a lot of travel time to Macon over the years, but then again, paying dues is never easy.
Paying those dues this summer alone found Smith playing in six junior tournaments, one U. S. junior qualifier tournament, one state amateur qualifier tournament, and the AJGA championship tourney in Missouri.
Taylor's consistent performance on the links has caused Southern Mississippi to express interest in having him hit 'em long and straight in Hattiesburg. And although Smith's dad, Johnny, once kicked footballs for Georgia Tech, there's no heat on Taylor to play his collegiate golf as a Yellow Jacket.
But speaking of heat, last week in Missouri Smith had to battle not only the best of his peers on the golf course, but also record-breaking temperatures. The PGA Championship, won by Tiger Woods, was held less than an hour away at the Southern Hills Club, and the heat was so bad that the PGA allowed caddies to work sans their identifying bibs, to try and help them deal with the heat.
"I couldn't believe the pros were complaining," said Smith. "I mean, they don't even carry their own clubs!"
Smith loves amateur golf, and has designs on playing in the Public Links Amateur and the U. S. Amateur Championships. The reason: the winner gets to play in The Masters on Augusta National. And that's something this small town boy would absolutely love to do, and to share with his family.
Smith's parents, Johnny and Judy, and his younger sister, Maggie, have been his near-constant companions at most of the dues-paying stations he's visited over the years.
"And it's funny, that over the years, I've met maybe two other guys who I'd consider almost normal," said Smith. "But one is a member at Augusta National and the other at Pine Valley."
"As for me?" he asked with a smile, "I belong to the Monroe Golf and Country Club. All the other kids go to exclusive schools, and we're like the only middle class family at the tourneys."
And so it goes. The young man follows his dream, passionate about getting to the highest level he can attain. And he knows well the difference between paying your dues to climb that ladder versus standing pat with the hand you're dealt.
"Well, I can go out to The Oaks and shoot 69 any day, but in a tournament there are no mulligans or re-do's," he said. "If I make a bogey in high school, I can make two birdies and still win. But in tournament play, if I make a bogey I just gave roughly 200 kids a chance to finish ahead of me."
Smith's summer-long gauntlet of tournaments left him pleased with what he'd done, but a little down following Missouri.
"I had a really good summer, overall," he said. "I played those eight tournaments, and did really well in seven. Normally if you have only one bad tourney, it's OK. But I just hate that my one bad outing was the last one, in the Junior Championship."
Taylor has some advice for youngsters who want to reach the highest level of golf.
"Practice hard, and play as many tournaments as you can."
Taylor Smith has found that in the world of competitive golf, you have no friends out there on the tour. Every golfer has to go it alone - and there is no quarter, no mercy given.
And when you're paying dues to try and catch the dream, you know it don't come easy.