Sometime 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).