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Getting Your Golf Fix In Two Feet of Snow: Stash the Clubs and Open a Book

Jan. 22, 2009     By     Comments (7)

Have a look at a few standouts I recently knocked off my reading list.

Thrash TalkSometime during the past week, immersed in the post-holiday languor, I revisited one of my favorite golf books from the past decade.

I am not a great fan of David Leadbetter. His accent and 17 Trion-Z accessories (they ought to come out with an "ionic" band for his inane hat) generally annoy me. However, it must be acknowledged that the man knows his stuff, both with respect to helping an individual improve and to poseessing an acute understanding of the historical development of the golf swing.

Leadbetter's The Fundamentals of Hogan may best be read as a companion to Ben Hogan's classic Five Lessons, but really the book is significant as a standalone achievement in golf writing. This isn't to dismiss Hogan's book, clearly it stands as the most influential treatise on the golf swing ever composed. However, Leadbetter has the competitive advantage of viewing both photo and video of Hogan's swing, the wisdom of time, and a level of objectivity which Hogan - in making descriptive claims about his own swing - could never have possessed.

In short, Leadbetter is able to modernize the text and make it more relevant to a contemporary audience. Even so, as Bill Ott states in his Booklist review of Leadbetter's text, "many readers will find themselves wishing Hogan had an opportunity to answer back." This is true. Many readers also wish Hogan could had a look at his swing with, say, CBS SwingVision technology. To make a somewhat blasphemous analogy, in same way that the Talmud is a commentary on Torah, The Fundamentals of Hogan is a necessary counterpart to Five Lessons. One component stands out as the reason for Leadbetter's success. Read on, also, for the top five golf books I've read recently.

Structure and Revision
Leadbetter structures his book in essentially the same manner as Hogan's Five Lessons. This initial logistical decision reflects Leadbetter's desire to help the reader "understand Hogan's principles along with some alternative approaches that we have learned about the golf swing in the last few decades." Additionally, in place of Anthony Ravielli's drawings in the Hogan original, Leadbetter includes a number of previously unseen photographs which are both interesting in their own right and important for seeing exactly what the golfer sought to demonstrate in conjunction with his instruction. As a side note, I think it was James Dobson, the Hogan biographer, who pointed that Ben Hogan had the distinction of looking dramatically better in black and white photography, rather than the color variety. The reader will surely come away from The Fundamentals with the same impression.

Leadbetter's chapter layouts are also excellent. He begins each section with an outline of Hogan's central tenents (with regard to the grip, the stance, the backswing and the downswing, respectively) and after this initial review of Bantam Ben's thought, he includes a section entitled "My View," thus distilling his larger agenda into each of the chapters. For example, Leadbetter often explains that Hogan's fundamentals need to be tailored to individuals who are less athletic, have less strength in their wrists (Hogan had notoriously strong wrists), and have smaller, weaker hands (Hogan's hands were abnormally large).

With respect to the grip, as Leadbetter discusses in his firsts chapter, the author feels that the "ultra-palmy" left hand grip which Hogan advocates is unsuitable for the average golfer. Additionally, he advocates a "longer" right thumb when gripping the club and a weakening of the left hand, beyond what Hogan would have been comfortable with, as his swing was built to avoid hooking the ball, which is the goal of many better players, but not to such an extreme degree. Most significantly, Leadbetter advocates an interlocking grip, rather than Hogan's "modified" Vardon grip. This is the easiest way to achieve the feeling of union with the club, which Hogan sought, and it is the grip favored by both Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

This structure of discussion and interpretation both illuminates Hogan's original text and tailor's it to today's golfer. There is, of course, the counter argument that Hogan's principles are eternal and shouldn't be amended, but that isn't my view. Hogan's theories are groundbreaking, but open to revision and debate, like all theories should be.

The Top Five Golf Books I've Read Recently

  1. The Inner Game of Golf by W. Timothy Gallwey
    You need to understand the distinction between "self 1" and "self 2" which Gallwey makes. If there's any secret to good golf, it's this.
  2. Tiger Virtues by Alex Tresniowski
    The author combines anecdotes from Woods life with Taoist and Buddhist princliples. Result? A must read for any fan of Tiger or the golfer with a religious/ philisophical streak.
  3. Ben Hogan: An American Life by James Dobson
    The nucleus of Dobson's book is a bold premise: the central and defining experience of Ben Hogan's life was seeing his father commit suicide. He just may be right. This is the only Hogan biography which matters.
  4. Dave Pelz's Short Game Bible by Dave Pelz
    Pelz is a clown who is probably certifiably obsessive compulsive. However, anyone who has ever struggled with their short game needs to read this book.
  5. Golf in the Kingdom by Michael Murphy
    Glowingly described as "an acidheads philisophizing of golf" in a two-star review at Amazon.com, Golf in the Kingdom is a bit contrived, but it's a book you've got to read, even if you don't believe any of that babble about the mystical possibilities of golf (or life).

Discussion

  1. Bo the golfer says:

    Just ordered Tiger Vitures off of Amazon for $4 including shipping. I enjoy books like that so thank you for bringing it to my attention. May order the Leadbetter book as well as I have just finished Hogan's book and already feel like a devotee.

  2. tennistransfer says:

    Started Golf in the Kingdom recently and I love it. If I didn't have so much schoolwork and real work to do I'd have read it in one sitting!

  3. Tom says:

    Simply put, I cannot agree. Leadbetter's book is devisive, disorganized, and full of his own theories that are somewhat suspect at best. His approach is critical to the point of obnoxious.

    The best part of the book is simply the wealth of photos of Mr. Hogan, albeit staged and not actually of his full swing. They were shot by Mr. Ravielli so that he could create his masterful drawings that were included in the Five Lessons.

    Watch Hogan on film. Its a good way to learn the fundamentals.

    Tom

  4. Chris says:

    Greetings from Australia.

    Thanks for the great blog. I have used your guidance to update my golfing equipment and have steadily improved my handicap over the last 12 months from 15+ to 11.7.

    Despite its reported lack of marketing success I love my 907 D2 driver and have gained much needed distance and accuracy but the greatest improvement has come from purchasing 2 volkey wedges and applying the wisdom in Dave Pelz's short game bible. Both purchases have improved my confidence and ability to hit more aggressive chips and pitches to affect up and down conversion 40-50% most games. Clown or no he's de man!

    I would love to get his book Damage Control but from here it can only be purchased through his web site and at over $100 landed, beyond reasonable pricing for a speculative buy. Any assistance/suggestions from your readers would be appreciated.

  5. Shortgame85 says:

    First, This was a well written, well thought out, enjoyable excursion that may compensate for spending a few hours off the golf course and in an armchair during these unkind winter months(well, for most of us). Second, I agree that Pelz's "Shortgame Bible" can be very useful. I have it and take pleasure in rereading sections from time to time, as the need arises. Third, I appreciate the other four recomendations and I may purchase one as a gift for a friend who is under the weather. Finally, I have one question, perhaps not as blasphemous as comparing Leadbetter to a Talmudic writer and Hogan's "Five Lessons" to the Bible(although for many of us the reverse may seem even more blasphemous) and keeping in the writer's spirit: would Gallowey's "Self 1" and Self 2" bear any resemblance to "Ich und Du?"

  6. Ben says:

    Shortgame,

    I remember learning about Buber's "I & Thou" in high school. As I recall, although valuable to any golfer, or as a general orientation towards the world (you, my golf clubs, this computer) isn't all that similar to the Self 1/ Self 2 Concept. It's essentialy a verbal/ non-verbal dichotomy or a "trying to control" vs. "letting go situation."

    As Gallway writes, "In short, I found that Self 1-the verbalizing, thought-producing self-is a lousy boss when it comes to control of the body's muscle system. When Self 2-the body itself-is allowed control, the quality of performance, the level of enjoyment and the rate of learning are all improved" (19).

    It's somewhat similar to the "Think/ Play Boxes" which the ladies of Vision54 teach, if you're familiar with that concept.

  7. Dan says:

    Great advice, one I will definitely heed in the climate I live in (Michigan).

    Another great book (if you like golf history) is The Complete Golfer by Harry Vardon.

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