7:45 p.m., June 29
Advice to a beginning golfer
My good friend J-B wants to take up golf.
My first reaction: DON'T!!!
Hunt rattlers with a toothpick. Camp out in a morgue. You'll have more peace of mind. I've played many sports. None can tease or torment like this one. Not even close.
J-B says he's heard all that, even about the dreams where you tee up a ball and the earth quakes, or the fairway does a Picasso triple-warp, or the green levitates like the mother ship in Close Encounters and aliens wave good-bye with forlorn sneers.
J-B says he's cool with that, even with what happens during Masters Week, when the faithful zombie around and see the world through green-tinted lenses - not to mention risking life and limb (as I did in my wild and, hindsight reveals, frivolous youth) by sneaking on Augusta National to play the 12th hole with a 7 iron and a Titleist one.
J-B says a fanatic must do what a fanatic must do.
Maybe he's right for the game after all.
So my advice:
1. Leave the course better than you found it.
2. Always accelerate through the ball.
3. Take lessons if you can afford them.
4. Take lessons if you can't.
5. Read Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf and Paul Runyan's The Short Way to Lower Scoring.
6. Play one ball only.
7. Do the work, as Hogan says, "in the dirt" - i.e. practice.
8. Don't be afraid of making mistakes (if you do, no one will watch you for long).
9. Choose gurus wisely.
10. Figure it out for yourself.
Hogan's book came out in 1957. Today pundits quibble about this or that: he likes the Vs on the grip to point toward the right eye; most today say the right shoulder; he may want the left wrist too supinated - convex - at impact.
You probably notice how technical, even picky, the criticisms are. But that's one of the book's virtues. Hogan respected his reader's intelligence and eagerness to learn. He's unafraid to state things even in fractions of inches.
"By continuing to practice and apply these fundamentals, the golfer will continue to improve - quite often, far beyond his fondest dreams. I do genuinely believe this: THE AVERAGE GOLFER IS ENTIRELY CAPABLE OF BUILDING A REPEATING SWING AND BREAKING 80."
When he returned from Vietnam, 21-year-old Larry Nelson decided to take up golf. He read Hogan's book, and no other, won three major championships and is in the PGA Hall of Fame.
As an instruction book, Five Lessons is a perfect storm: Hogan talking, Herbert Warren Wind writing, and Anthony Ravielli drawing with such precision the images - like the glass swing plane and the forearms wrapped together - make lasting impressions.
The writing's always knocked me out. Wind is the Dean of American golf writers. But when you read him you're never aware of an author. Or that you're reading. His prose is crystal clear. It even passes the ultimate test: read to see how he does it, read to hear the writer; a sentence or two in and you forget the notion and the topic pulls you along.
Five Lessons has been so popular some paperback editions got printed upside-down and others have missing pages - like the one I lent to J-B.
Next time: What happened to Runyan's The Short Way to Lower Scoring is another kettle of tuna.