20 for 20: 20 lessons I learned from my first year in golf media

first year dustin johnson players

One year in golf media and all I got was this accidental photo with Dustin Johnson and a series of lessons I'll carry with me forever.

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As 2020 comes to a close and we turn the page to 2021, GOLF staffers are taking a minute to reflect on … whatever they want. Welcome to 20 for 20.

Here we are, approaching the end of 2020, the longest year in recorded history. It’s been roughly 7,000 days since this ill-fated year began — 4,000 of which were in March, the longest month in recorded history.

Like many others, this year has been a roundhouse kick to the nether regions. I’ve spent the overwhelming majority of the last nine months managing bouts of existential dread and sitting through Zoom calls in my childhood bedroom (if you’ve noticed the twin-sized bed looming in the background of my camera shot, that’s mine, and thanks for not saying anything). My mom is my chief videographer, though her degree is in business administration and she’s still learning the finer points of smartphones. My dad is my closest coworker, though I’m certain he’s never looked at the Official World Golf Ranking. My mailman and I are on a first-name basis, undoubtedly because of my concerning volume of online shopping. Oh, and did I mention I’ve now easily worked more of my career from my living room than my office?

These weren’t the early 20s I’d pictured. And yet, with just a few days left in this raging hellscape year, I’m fairly convinced I’m the luckiest bastard alive.

I’m 23 years old and living out my childhood dream of being a sportswriter. I’ve spent the last nine months in my room, but 9-year-old James would have spent the next nine YEARS doing this if it meant landing a job like the one I have at GOLF.

My 2020, much like your 2020, has not been what I planned. But don’t pity me. I’ve met people I grew up idolizing, collected my first magazine byline and yes, even attended the world’s most memorable Chainsmokers concert.

These are the lessons from my first year in my dream job.

20 lessons from my first year in golf media

1. DON’T wear a suit on the first day

For years, I’d lived under the LIE that it’s impossible to be overdressed. Well, on my first day at GOLF, I was overdressed. I walked into the office for the first time in a crisp suit and tie and haven’t stopped receiving playful taunts from my coworkers since.

2. Trust your intuition, don’t trust your copy

You know what a good story feels like. When you sense that, keep digging. That said, you might not always remember Tyrrell Hatton’s name has two R’s. Read closely.

3. Work on your game

One of the perks of being a golf writer is (shocker!) playing golf. Getting the most out of those opportunities requires being a half-decent player.

4. Work on your work

The people around you are probably better writers/reporters/editors than you are. That doesn’t mean you stink, at least, not when you’re 20 minutes removed from college. But here’s a secret: good writing doesn’t exist. Good rewriting, however, is what separates good writers from great ones. Pay attention to what you do and how you do it, ask questions of those around you even if it might annoy them (sorry, Josh), and listen when people share criticism.

5. Ask and you shall receive

Speaking of criticism, ask for it! And if you have something you want to do, somewhere you’d like to go, or someone you’d like to meet, ask! To paraphrase Michael Scott paraphrasing Paulina Gretzky’s father, if you’re not willing to ask the question, the answer is always no.

6. Your coworkers are your friends

Even when the work is fun, it helps to be around fun people. Especially when those people indulge you and your fellow 20-something coworker in naming your section of the office (Blue Collar Corner forever).

7. Your coworkers are also superheroes

Their connections, insight and advice save you from making an idiot out of yourself roughly twice a week.

My beleaguered teammate Zephyr Melton (left) and I are smiling in this photo, but deep down we’re dying to avenge our losses to coworkers.

8. For the love of god, don’t lose to your coworkers in golf

You’ll never live it down, and then they’ll leave the state to avoid a rematch (Zak, you know where to find me).

9. When chaos happens, do your job

Jay Monahan Press Conference Fans
Players Championship fans frustrated, concerned in wake of spectator ban
By: James Colgan

The ill-fated Players Championship in March was my first golf tournament as a member of the media (or at least, was supposed to be my first). I was on the grounds as the PGA Tour moved from playing the tournament as scheduled to postponing the entire season in the span of 24 hours.

I realized pretty quickly into Thursday that I’d ceased covering a golf tournament, at least for the time being. It was chaotic. The entire tenor of the situation seemed to shift every few minutes. At one point, I looked down at my phone to find my hands shaking too much to type out a text.

Then something funny happened. Everything slowed down. I started conducting interviews and collecting quotes. When it finally came time to file, I did my best to capture the moment. The result was a story I’m incredibly proud of to this day, and an eerily foreboding clue for the events that followed.

10. Perspective is key

The day after the PGA Tour postponed the season, I found myself on a plane home to New York in a state of shock. I’d spent weeks prepping for the Players only to be sent home before the weekend. Now it seemed the rest of the golf season hung in the balance. And as I would soon learn, there were plenty of people in far worse shape. A golf tournament was hardly a big deal.

11. Under the threat of potential contagion, skip the Chainsmokers concert

No, it doesn’t matter that the concert is outside. And no, it most certainly does not matter that it’s free. Seriously. Just skip it. They have like, two good songs.

12. It’s (usually) not THAT serious

Life is serious, covering golf is not. Don’t treat the first thing the same way you treat the second.

There are already enough people who cover golf as if it’s responsible for keeping the earth on its axis. They’re better at it than you, and that’s a good thing. Be serious about your work, but have fun. You AND your audience will enjoy it more that way.

13. Cool people are still people

Professional golfers? Semi-famous writers? Golf media members? Coaches? Agents? They’re human beings. Treat them as such, because anything else does no favors for you or them.

14. Tell stories about people

Doesn’t matter if you’re talking to Tiger Woods or Joe Exotic. People read stories about people.

15. People see EVERYTHING you do

E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Don’t lose yourself to the malaise of nonstop writing, editing and video creation. Every story deserves your complete attention. You never know who’s watching or, for that matter, when you’re going to wake up half your house at 6 a.m. because the Masters’ official Twitter account shared your story.

16. Laugh at yourself

It’s time to admit something embarrassing: I am a meme. An unfortunate screenshot taken at an unfortunate moment during a staff video call led to the creation of the “Jimmy Meme,” a running joke between myself and the GOLF edit squad. I’ve been placed on TIME’s Person of the Year cover, plastered across the faces of 20-plus Masters winners, and even given a green jacket.

Such is the life of the newbie, I suppose. (But in all seriousness, the memes are in good fun, and come as well-deserved payback to MONTHS of photoshop taunting on my part.)

Luke Kerr-Dineen

17. Embrace mistakes, but only once

It’s okay to screw up! It’s the most human thing you do. Just try not to screw up the same way twice.

bethpage black 18th tee
Bethpage Black vs. The Fool: How I tried to devour (yet another) high-handicap hacker
By: Bethpage Black

18. Golf courses are characters

Maybe I’m just saying this because I wrote a story about Bethpage Black from the perspective of Bethpage Black — actually, that’s exactly why I’m saying this. Courses have personalities, and make for great characters in stories.

19. Your golf game is worse than you think

Don’t tell your coworker (who happens to be GOLF’s director of game improvement) that you’re confident you could break 90 if you put your mind to it for a month straight. And why should you not do this?

Because your coworker will create a 30-day challenge for you to break 90 in the span of only one month, and you will consequently invest a concerning amount of emotional and physical energy into your ability to write an 89 next to your name. Of course, all with the threat of public embarrassment should you fail.

20. When cool things happen, take a minute

Or two minutes. Enjoy the highs. Don’t dwell. Appreciate. This IS your dream job, after all, and you only go around once.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.