When you chat with a fellow who’s a super star in the field of horse racing, you don’t expect to hear him tell you about the world that opened for him because he plays golf. But that’s just what retired jockey Jerry Bailey is happy to share.
“My dad was a dentist so he played golf. He taught me the game when I was 7 years old. That was before those automatic ball retrieval machines so I had to shag the balls my dad hit on the driving range. He’d pay me a quarter a bag” Bailey recalls.
“By the time I was 11 I quit the game. It wasn’t fast enough for me and I was tired of chasing golf balls.”
But as Bailey explains, learning the game when you’re young makes it much easier to pick up years later. Your muscles remember how to hit that little white ball.
It would be 25 years before he picked up a club again when friends invited him to play in 1999.
“I must have shot 120 but I had a great time.” And so he was hooked.
Well on his way to becoming a hall of fame jockey, he’d found an oasis in his pressure cooker world.
“I came home from playing golf that day” Bailey tells me ” and I told my wife, Suzie, I didn’t think of horses, once during the 4 hours it took to play”.
Now, the slowness of the game was delightful. It was time to meet new people, to compete with himself, to be judged only by his play. Despite his fame, no one wanted anything from him while on the course, just his company for 18 holes. As Bailey sees it, golf’s a game where you challenge yourself, every shot, every day you play. That challenge continues, even now that he’s got his handicap down to 5 and it stokes his competitiveness now that he’s retired from racing.
But don’t think the game easily to him despite his athleticism. He had to practice diligently to be successful. It’s a point he hopes young people recognize: nothing good or worthwhile comes without commitment.
I ask about his favorite part of the game and like all good players he tells me “The short game” explaining ” I’m not a big guy so generally, I only drive the ball about 230 yards, but I will chip in at least once a round.”
Nowadays Bailey plays golf near his home in Florida or near his home in Saratoga, NY. It’s playing locally at Saratoga National that he forged a friendship with former head football coach Bill Parcells. And that has Bailey making another point about playing golf: it introduces you to people you would never get to meet otherwise and opens doors for business opportunities you might not have expected to walk through.
Before we say goodbye I ask if he taught the game to his son, like his dad did with him.
I can hear the chuckle in his voice as he tells me “Yes, my wife and I encouraged him to take lessons over the years but, like me, the game wasn’t fast enough when he was young. Then, recently, college pals invited him out and he went. The game came back easily and now he’s hooked, too.”
WHY PLAY GOLF?
Jerry Bailey, Hall of Fame Jockey says:
It teaches you patience and dedication
It opens doors to worlds you didn’t know about or expect you’d be able to enter
you always meet friendly people
it’s a great way to challenge yourself