Golf, where nothing is impossible, has healed my autism. Over the years I have learned something about the Scottish sport, which I have quietly and firmly adapted to my own uses. When everything in your life is uncertain, there’s nothing quite like the clarity and precision of a fresh tee and a tough green.
Golf can make you a better person and put life in perspective. It was the ancient and royal Scottish sport that helped me to discover that I had a mind, a voice of my own, numbers, language – a more thoughtful reflective, insightful language – and a special talent for connecting data. Golf is exciting because it is full of things I can calculate. I can use observation to predict golfers’ behavior from an otherwise incomprehensible action.
I was born and raised in a town called La Banda, Santiago del Estero, Argentina. Public schools were followed by three years of college in Buenos Aires. As an autistic person in the 1970s, I was captivated by numbers. I have what in 1943 the child psychiatrist Leo Kanner called "autistic aloneness." But I cannot on any account be sorry for myself: since childhood I had a gift for memorizing almost anything I turned my attention to. It is called photographic memory.
In the 1980s, wandering aimless in Buenos Aires, I stumbled upon a golf course. In 1988, I met Roberto De Vicenzo, the Argentine Golfer Legend, and winner of 230 golf tournaments, including the 1967 Open Championship at Hoylake. Just a year later, I began teaching History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina. In 1994, I went to work as Librarian and Museum curator at the Argentina Golf Association (A.A.G.)
Golf was not simply a game. It has developed central areas of my left brain like numbers, math and systematization: using statistical methods, giving special attention to the role played by creativity, golf taught me to always let my well-educated instinct be my guide. At the A.A.G., I became familiar with almost every important golf magazine published in America and Europe in the twentieth century. The comparison of techniques and swing-theories was appealing to my creativity. It was in the pages of Golf Digest and Golf World that I first encountered the possibility of studying a new language besides my mother tongue, Spanish. Without instruction, I outlined the basic grammar of the English language that might, at some future point, change the neurological structure of a brain built-wrong. The payoff has been immeasurable: English has given me a new life.
Although autism is diagnosed in one among eighty-eight children in America, neurologists understand almost nothing about it. They are seeking to describe only features that appear on the surface, its lack of social skills and repetitive behaviors. But difficulties in social interaction are just the tip of the iceberg. In the natural framework of autism, the left-brain appears to be inoperative.
Maybe golf so captured my mind for the very reason that it is a preeminently left-brain sport. So, too, is the golf swing: its elementary principles of grip, stance, balance and pivot were discovered by the scientific method of observation, experiment, and reasoning. The swing is not a natural movement. It is especially difficult to take on all its fundaments at once. If we incorporate images and metaphors into a teaching – that are easily relatable to the golfers' mind – we are more likely than not to learn the abstract principles of swinging a club.
Since some individuals with autism use visual mental representations and processes to function credibly in society – tasks that typically developing individuals perform verbally – I began to intuit, to deduce and elaborate a “theory” about what makes a champion. Golfers’ creativity is something other than what can be observed. It's like unlocking a language that we're trying to understand — the language of what makes champions different. What impelled me to come to America was my need to articulate and publish this theory.
Times changed. Circumstances changed. In the 200os, I decided to travel in order to create myself anew. I had a stellar career as a Golf Historian in Argentina, but I sold my apartment in Buenos Aires and moved to Hartford, CT. My willingness to cross cultural lines, and all the tensions I put myself through in doing so, may well have been shaped within the game. I wish now that golf would provide answers to questions that autistics do not know how to ask and find features that were not yet even conceived.
My story was featured in Golf Digest magazine, July 2013. Here is the link: