Pros: Invaluable basic lessons on short game and the differences between golf's swings
Cons: A little light for the advanced player
Dave Pelz has been heralded as "The Master of the Short Game," and this book is probably his most famous treatise on the subject. I just started seriously playing and studying golf in late 2010 and picked this book up shortly after that. I did much research to figure out what my first golf book would be, and I'm glad it was this one for many reasons.
First, let me say that it confirmed my suspicions that the short game is the best place to start a serious practice regimen if you want to become an above average golfer. Most people know by now that GIRs are more important to scoring than short game wizardry, but if you are a true hacker looking to get better soon, the short game, IMHO, will shave off strokes the fastest. Moreover, being a proficient full swinger will likely take you years, whether you are the Roy Hobbs of golf or just an average schmo. One year of dedicated short game practice will pay off in spades for your golf life if you just do some PM after that. It has for me.
Think about it - anyone with average coordination and a five minute lesson can become a serviceable putter after two hours of practice. You won't be Ben Crenshaw quite yet - that takes years of practice too - but you can avoid looking like a total fool out there at least. Even the worst hackers I've played with who have a fair amount of athletic ability can usually get the ball to 100 yards from the pin on a par 4 in three or four shots. To be guy who hits 50% or more GIRs per round, though, it's gonna take quite a while. The short game can be the chance to really make up ground if you get good enough.
The first 3 chapters of this book talk about Pelz's backround as a NASA employee and college golfer, about his early days as a golf instrucotr, and how he had an epiphany about why he wanted to stay focused on the short game. It's pretty interesting if you dont want a quick how-to book.
The middle 8 chapters are the meat of the book. One of the best features is Pelz's 3x4 system; for Pelz, 4 wedges belong in the bag, with 3 near-perfect swings of different distances for each. That gives one 12 shots from 100 or so yards in to reach a pin and have a chance of holing putt 1, or at worst not three putting. If all of us could go from 100 yards in two or three strokes on every hole, it would sure help the scores. Because most people only carry a PW (which is really a glorified 9 iron these days) and a sand wedge, 2 extra wedges will help most people have a better chance of dialing in their distances from under 100 yards to within a few feet. The difference between a 2 and 3 iron, for most people, isn't much, and because no one can hit them that straight anyway (don;t give me the hybrid line either - I know you can't hit your 3 and 4 hybrids much different from each other), why not eschew the 2 iron for a new wedge? Pelz calls the 3 swings 7:30, 9:00, and 10:30 - in reference to how your left arm corresponds to the hand on a clock. The 7:30 is like a pitch, while the 10:30 is the fullest swing you'll take on a short game shot.
Pelz also talks about a "dead hands finesse swing." He claims that adrenaline makes a short game swing too unreliable if it relies on the muscles of the hands and wrists for accuracy. A simple, repeatable finesse swing with a neutral grip is better than a strong grip designed for max power like a full shot.
Each Chapter from 6 on goes through full wedge, pitch, chip, bunker, and other more advanced shots. The last few chapters discuss equipment, practice routines, and "the future" of golf. After reading this book, you should have a fundamental knowledge of all short game shots and how to tackle them in a simple, repeatable way. It would do 99.5% of us well to spend a year practicing Pelz's techniques.
After reading and studying golf for a few years now, I've found that most of what Pelz has said still works for me. However, I think this book is best for beginning/intermediate golfers (I feel like I'm graduating toward the advanced level now, though I'm not there yet!). For example, he says it's an absolute no-no to ever play a short game shot in the front of your stance. The ball should always be either in the exact middle or back of your stance, especially for chip shots. I've found myriad good evidence, and experience, that shows me a ball played forward can be good for flop shots, certain bunker shots, etc.
He's also light on geometry. I've become really big recently on seeing exact angles of backswing planes, impact zone shaft agnles, wrist angles, etc. There's really none of that in this book except the customary Hoganesque golf swing plane discussion. For Pelz, it is rightly more upright for wedge shots. Advanced golfers might want a bit more on the theory, but many won;t need that level of detail.
In summary, this is an excellent first-time foray into the world of the short game and golf in general. Enjoy!