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"Golf's Holy War" by Brett Cyrgalis

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From something I posted in response to a podcast with the author:

I have the book on order (Amazon usually ships so they arrive on release date, but mine comes tomorrow for some reason), so I haven’t read it yet, but I was a bit surprised at some of the comments on the podcast.

As briefly as I can make them…

“Science” ≠ “technical” ≠ “mechanical” ≠ “feels”

The D-Plane takes about four minutes to understand. Leitz didn’t know any more than 200+ other guys and gals.

The Golfing Machine is not at all relevant today, and it was never “scientific.” “Faux-engineering” maybe…
I don’t know, and I’m nearly sure I’ll be wrong after reading the book, but the podcast just felt… weird. Not from the interviewer's side - I thought the questions were good and he went where Brett took him, but from Brett’s side… huh? I hope I’m wrong about the book.

From the excerpt on Amazon:


The world of golf is at a crossroads.


As tech­nological innovations displace traditional philosophies, the golfing community has splintered into two deeply combative factions: the old-school teachers and players who believe in feel, artistry, and imagination, and the technical minded who want to remake the game around data.

I disagree that this has happened.


In  Golf’s Holy War , Brett Cyrgalis takes readers inside the heated battle playing out from weekend hackers to PGA Tour pros.

Heated? C’mon.

Have I been in “heated” Facebook group discussions? Yeah. But hell, half the time (or more) it’s between two “scientific” people arguing about which model means what, or something like that. And those same “scientific” teachers then go out on a lesson tee and don’t talk about any of the science, but teach entirely by “feels” to a student.


And yet what does it say that Tiger Woods has orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in sports history without the aid of a formal coach?

Wow, so screw you, Chris Como.  (Chris put in a lot of time with Tiger talking about his back, did a ton of research, saw a ton of specialists, etc. I won’t speak for Chris, but… this is misleading at best. Heck, it disparages even Hank and Foley. It’s not like Tiger forgot all he learned from those guys.)

Basically, this “feels like” (and the podcast did little to dissuade me from believing this is the case) that Brett has somewhat artificially created these two boxes and then seeks to pit them against each other.

That’s not how the golf world is. I’m sure that’s how it is for some people some of the time, but the vast majority of active and good instructors live in the middle. They understand the science. They teach with feels, games, drills, creative aids, etc.

It goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyway, but please don’t take the above as negative toward Brett or even NLU. I like hearing opposing views, stuff that makes you think, etc. Maybe the book will be that. Disagreement is not necessarily “dislike.” And again, I haven’t read the book yet. I might be coming back on here to say “yeah, the above, never mind. That’s not what happens in this book.”

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“Two books are paramount to understanding the state of modern golf, and most golfers haven’t heard of either.”

Then, of course, TGM is listed as the side ostensibly supporting the “science” side.

I’m almost “out” on this before it even really begins. TGM, again, is NOT the “science” side of golf. Hard disagree there.

But I’m going to keep going.

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I was initially excited about the book when I heard it as well, but you are right @iacas the podcast felt off.  I didn't expect it to go that way with Brett's answers.  I am going to hold off on the book to see if it is in fact different from that above then maybe I will give it a shot.


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I'm taking notes and plan to post my thoughts here. I'm finding it tough to pick it up and keep reading. Maybe it gets better here soon as the threads hopefully become a bit more intertwined.

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First two chapters talk about Ben Doyle, Homer Kelly, the Golfing machine, Michael Murphy and the Salem Institute.

Third chapter is just a poor man’s biography of Tiger Woods during which the author attempts to tenuously tie Tiger’s changes or progress in the game over time to science (primarily through the use of trackman and vaguely through the instructors he uses over time). He’s said in podcasts that it shows Tiger’s increasing interest in tech, but Trackman wasn’t really around in 1997.

Chapter four, James Leitz biography. No mention of Jorgensen. And, honestly, 200+ people knew what Leitz knew at the time. Hell, this is from the same year: https://thesandtrap.com/forums/topic/53977-golf-evolution-d-plane-video-a-b-c-d-plane/. And, there was no mention of where the term the “D-Plane” came from: The Physics of Golf by Theodore P. Jorgensen. Heck, this book would have been a better choice than The Golfing Machine, and this book isn’t even the best book to talk about the “science” of the golf swing. A screenshot and a link to the book appear at the bottom.

Chapter five, role of teachers from Babe Ruth compatriot Sam Byrd to Ballard and onward.

Six is TPI, Trackman, Strokes Gained. This would have been a pretty natural fit before or after the James Leitz chapter, given the D-Plane tie-in, but instead we got it after a chapter on teachers that feels out of order when you finish chapter six.

Seven is about architecture and I’m not sure what the point was. It doesn’t really touch on science or the “art” side of golf. I thought it was going to talk about the “artistry” inherent in building a golf course, but it was basically just a quick history of golf in the U.S., touching on a few famous course architects.

Eight is about sports psychology.

Nine is called “On Learning: The Essential Disconnect” but — and I’m sure it’s partly because I was so distracted by what this book could have been — I didn’t know what that disconnect was the instant I finished the chapter. It talks about Mike Hebron almost exclusively, and Mike switched at one point from being a mechanically based more technical teacher to being one who uses ping pong paddles to teach kids about club face control… but the chapter spends more time describing his cluttered office with rare and old books about teaching than it does exploring the subtitle of the book.

Ten is about Ben Hogan and focuses mostly on his secret. I’d say “focuses” because the chapter is only about twelve pages long, and yet the author spends two good-sized paragraphs describing the office buildings that now occupy the home where Hogan’s father shot himself, and later, several paragraphs talking about Ben’s 1-iron from Merion. The chapter concludes with what seems to be the only on-topic part: Bobby Jones selected Hogan in 1971 as the golfer he’d most likely pick to win an event because he had “the intangible assets — the spiritual.” Thud.

Chapter 11 is technically the Epilogue. We’re taken back to the Shivas Irons Society at Bandon, but it’s not really about that. It’s mostly about a late-evening round played at The Preserve. It includes the line “The moon hung like a scythe.” How does a scythe hang, you ask? I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t doubt that the shape of the moon looked like a scythe, but…? The next three pages or so talk about string theory, the strings that make up the fabric of space-time. You get about as much into string theory as you can in three pages.

I disliked this book tremendously. I didn’t hate it by any stretch - it’s still a book about golf. But I disliked how utterly it failed to live up to its promise. To the subtitle. It’s not that the author doesn’t seem to come down on one side or the other (honestly he probably feels both have an important role in golf, if I had to answer). It’s that the topic is almost never actually discussed. You get quick biographies, quick stories interrupted by off-topic or irrelevant stuff. And that’s why I dislike it so much - it promised something interesting, something alluring, and with every turn of the page, only managed to waste my time in waiting for that topic to be discussed. I dislike the book because the time I spent reading it could have been spent much better doing something else.

I felt like it would be this way going in, so if you want to tell yourself I made my mind up before I even started, go ahead. I hoped so badly that I was wrong… But I kept being reminded that, after listening to the podcasts with the author, I was worried that the author truly was going to use The Golfing Machine as “the text” which represented the “science” side of the game. And, in that sense, I'm actually glad how little the topic was discussed, because at least then I didn't have to hear and read about how a 50-year-old book has any role in the modern "science" of the game.

I’m glad I'm now done spending time on this book.

P.S. This is just my opinion of course. I have nothing against anyone here who disagrees with me, the author, TGM (I have multiple editions two feet from me), mysticism, etc. And I very well could be an idiot about the whole thing, completely missing the point in some obscene way. But the above is how I feel right now, and have felt throughout reading the book.

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