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Summer Golf Reading for 2016

Golf Books

Summer Golf Reading for 2016

In April, the first major golf championship of the year was held at Augusta National in Georgia. The Masters is a tournament steeped in history, and this year’s event added to that history with a classic failure that will long be remembered. Defending champion Jordan Spieth led the tournament from the first day on Thursday to the final nine holes on Sunday. He had built a five-stroke lead as he began the back nine, but that evaporated as he went six strokes over par on the next three holes, including a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole, where he ignominiously hit two balls into Rae’s Creek, the water hazard that borders the hole. Although battling back and coming close, Spieth could not recover the strokes he had lost. Englishman Danny Willett became the first European to win the Masters since 1999.

Every golfer in America watching Spieth on Sunday afternoon shared his agony, as we know the feeling of having a great round suddenly turn bad. While we cannot hit major league pitching, block and tackle professional football players, or shoot three-pointers like NBA stars, on a number of occasions we can make difficult birdie putts just as PGA players do. And many times we have a string of wonderful golf. It may last for nine holes, 18 holes, or even a weekend or several weekends. But then disaster strikes, and you wonder where it all went. The handicap system used in golf allows weekend golfers to often post subpar scores and compare their games with great golfers. Perhaps most importantly, every golfer has suffered a collapse in their round just as Spieth did on that fateful Sunday at Augusta. That is why we understood how his game could evaporate for a few holes and then suddenly return for a final but unsuccessful challenge.

The lure of golf remains strong, although not as strong as before the financial downturn of 2008. Those were glory days for the sport as millions followed the exploits of Tiger Woods, and open parcels of land across America sprouted golf courses and residential communities. Woods is home in Florida, now 40 years old and seeking to recapture his skills. Golf courses are still closing, though not as many as in past years, and some new ones are under construction. There seems to be fewer golf books on the market, but this summer there are still interesting choices appearing in bookstores. Four wonderful titles ranging from instructional to biographical are available for those looking for vacation reading or gifts for that golfing father, graduate or friend.

One constant in golf literature is the instructional book. Its popularity is simple to understand. Golfers search for the holy grail in instructional books, videos and training aids. As a golfer, I have followed the same pattern for more than 50 years. But the search and journey have taught me that no one has the simple solution. So I often read instructional books like prospectors pan for gold. I am hoping to find even one tiny nugget of information or help that will aid my game. I still have a few books that have provided me more than small nuggets, and I often return to them when my game has hit a rough patch. When a new book comes along, I am always anxious to read it and ponder the advice of its author.

In their own way, instructional books have different methods of teaching. THE ANATOMY OF GREATNESS: Lessons from the Best Swings in Golf explores the commonalities of golf’s great swings. Brandel Chamblee spent several years on the professional golf tour, but his greatest success has come as a commentator on the Golf Channel. His book is loaded with analysis and photographs of the swings of the greatest golfers in history. From Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods, he uses the photos and personal observations to point to the important elements of grip, footwork and swing that all great golfers seem to share. Along the way, he makes pertinent observations about how modern teaching simply misses important swing fundamentals. Some instructors preach quiet footwork, but Chamblee notes that almost every great golfer in history has lifted his or her left heel on the backswing, an essential element to a smooth and powerful swing. THE ANATOMY OF GREATNESS serves as an important teaching aid for any golfer seeking to build a better swing by adding speed and consistency. Golfers will benefit from reading this book as it provides important insights and lessons from some of the greatest golfers of all time.

As a young caddy, I still recall working one day in a foursome where one of the golfers had just returned from a round of golf at Augusta National Golf Club. Listening as he recounted stories from his experience, I fervently hoped that one day I might play the course. It is a wish I still have. A round of golf at Augusta remains an elusive dream for most golfers, including myself. While many of the great courses of America are open to the golfing public, a select few remain private clubs where only members or their guests may play. I have played on courses that hosted many major tournaments, but there remain several that are not open to the general golfing public. HOW TO PLAY THE WORLD’S MOST EXCLUSIVE GOLF CLUBS: A Journey through Pine Valley, Royal Melbourne, Augusta, Muirfield, and More by John Sabino covers many courses such as Bethpage Black, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, where golfers may play as long as they are willing to fork over a hefty greens fee. But Sabino also includes private clubs such as Augusta and Shinnecock Hills, where you must be invited in order to experience a round on a historical venue.

Sabino’s suggestions as to how to get on some exclusive courses are basically common sense. He suggests networking and essentially luck. The more golfers you share experiences with, the greater the chance that you might meet a member of an exclusive club. Of course, then you must cultivate that friendship into an invitation. Respectfully, I am not optimistic about succeeding on that adventure. There are worthwhile suggestions, such as trying to get on some courses when they offer opportunities through charitable contributions and volunteering to work at the exclusive clubs when they hold tournaments. Occasionally some of these volunteers are rewarded with a round of golf. But honestly, I would not hold my breath. I have a better chance of winning the lottery than I do getting on the exclusive private courses. On the other hand, if I was lucky enough to win the jackpot, I then would be able to afford the hefty dues and could become a member.

HOW TO PLAY THE WORLD’S MOST EXCLUSIVE GOLF CLUBS also includes descriptions of those clubs as well as the public courses that Sabino considers to be great courses. There are other personal observations by the author that golfers will find enjoyable. It is an entertaining and well-written book, but after reading it, I sadly realize that I am no closer to a round at Augusta than I was when I was 14 and first heard about the magical course I had only glimpsed on a black-and-white television for a few brief hours on Saturday and Sunday in April.

A great part of the attraction for any sport comes from its history. Success, failure and inspiration all contribute to creating a part of the sports lore that adds to love and respect for the game. Every sport has it, and golf may be just a bit different because of its unique individual game. A majority of golf’s great moments occurred in full vision of thousands of spectators who, because of the nature of the game, were up close and personal. Many golfers, just from their love and experience of the sport, are familiar with a number of the stories chronicled by Lyle Slovick in his moving portrayal of some of golf’s iconic legends in TRIALS AND TRIUMPHS OF GOLF’S GREATEST CHAMPIONS: A Legacy of Hope. Slovick tells these stories with style, grace and insight. There is more to golf than changing your grip to cure a slice. Stories of the game’s great heroes and what they overcame in their lives can certainly serve as inspiration for golfers and non-golfers alike.

Slovick covers seven great inspirational golfing stories in his book. He begins with Harry Vardon, struck with tuberculosis in the prime of his career. He continued to play on, winning two more British Opens and mentoring many young players. Bobby Jones was stricken with spine disease that crippled him after retirement from competitive golf, but he continued to be an ambassador for the game he loved.

Not all of the courage comes from fighting illness. Charlie Sifford battled the most insidious disease of all: racism. As a black man in a white sport, he faced physical and mental harassment that would have sent many men to a quieter job as a club professional. Just as Jackie Robinson paved the way in baseball, Sifford paved the way for Lee Elder and Tiger Woods. This chapter alone is worth the price of this excellent work of golf literature. If you are looking for a gift for a young golfer, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF GOLF’S GREATEST CHAMPIONS is the perfect choice.

In 1992, a book appeared in the golf section that forever changed the game. It was written by a man most golfers had never heard of. His name was Harvey Penick, and when his book, HARVEY PENICK’S LITTLE RED BOOK, was published, he was 88 years old. Penick was the golf pro at the Austin Country Club for 50 years, retiring in 1973, but he continued to give lessons long after retirement. He coached the University of Texas golf team from 1931 to 1963 and numbered five members of the Golf Hall of Fame as his players and students. Throughout his golfing life, Penick would keep notebooks of his thoughts on the game. Eventually he shared these notes with Bud Shrake, and HARVEY PENICK’S LITTLE RED BOOK became and remains the best selling golf book in history. Other books followed, including three after Penick’s death in 1995. Penick passed away the week of the Augusta Masters. Ben Crenshaw, his student, flew to Austin for the funeral, returned to Augusta to play in the Masters, and incredibly, at age 43, won the tournament. Even now, when highlights of that year’s Masters are shown on television, it moves strong men to tears.

The story of Penick’s life deserves to be told, and Kevin Robbins’ HARVEY PENICK: The Life and Wisdom of the Man Who Wrote the Book on Golf is told superbly and beautifully in a fashion that is simply wonderful to read. If you have never touched a golf club, you can still gain insight from this magnificent biography.

Penick began his golfing journey at the age of eight as a caddy at the Austin Country Club. No junior golf or summer golf programs existed in the early 20th century, so Penick learned everything he could by working. He apprenticed under working golf pros, and by age 13 was the first American-born golf professional in Texas. It is an incredible story told in a poignant and heartwarming fashion by Robbins, who had the assistance of Penick’s son, Tinsley, who succeeded his father at Austin Country Club.

A great biography captures the spirit of the subject regardless of their field of endeavor. HARVEY PENICK is a joy to read. It always helps to have a wonderful life to recount, but Robbins’ effort is magnificent. Even with more than half a year to go, thisis one of my favorite books of 2016.

      --- Written by Stuart Shiffman