Harvey Penick's Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golfby Harvey Penick, Ben Shrake
Harvey Penick's life in golf began when he started caddying at the Austin, (Texas), Country Club at age eight. Eighty-one years later he is still there, still dispensing wisdom to pros and beginners alike. His stature in the golf world is reflected in the remarkable array of champions he's worked with, both men and women, including U.S. Open champion and golf's leading money winner Tom Kite, Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, and LPGA Hall of Famers Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls, and Kathy Whitworth. It is not for nothing that the Teacher of the Year Award given by the Golf Teachers Association is called the Harvey Penick Award.
Now, after sixty years of keeping notes on the things he's seen and learned and on the golfing greats he's taught, Penick is finally letting his Little Red Book (named for the red notebook he's always kept) be seen by the golf world. His simple, direct, practical wisdom pares away all the hypertechnical jargon that's grown up around the golf swing, and lets all golfers, whatever their level, play their best. He avoids negative words; when Tom Kite asked him if he should "choke down" on the club for a particular shot, Harvey told him to "grip down" instead, to keep the word "choke" from entering his mind. He advises golfers to have dinner with people who are good putters; their confidence may rub off, and it's certainly better than listening to bad putters complain. And he shows why, if you've got a bad grip, the last thing you want is a good swing.
Throughout, Penick's love of golf and, more importantly, his love of teaching shine through. He gets as much pleasure from watching a beginner get the ball in the air for the first time as he does when one of hisstudents wins the U.S. Open.
Harvey Penick's Little Red Book is an instant classic, a book to rank with Ben Hogan's Modern Fundamentals of Golf and Tommy Armour's How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time.
“The venerable sage of golf instruction.” —Chicago Tribune
“There are a million golf instruction books, but Penick’s . . . is the best—and the most widely read—book in sports. His innovation? Golfers need to keep it simple.” —Golf Digest
“America’s favorite golf teacher.” —Los Angeles Times
“Some sixty years worth of wisdom . . . from anecdotes to maxims, delivered in a pithy, down-to-earth manner. . . . His teaching offers hope that at least some of our crookedness can be made straight.” —The New York Times Magazine
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Read an Excerpt
My Little Red Book
An old pro told me that originality does not consist of saying what has never been said before; it consists of saying what you have to say that you know to be the truth.
More than sixty years ago, I began writing notes and observations in what I came to call my Little Red Book. Until recently I had never let anyone read my Little Red Book except my son, Tinsley. My wife, Helen, could have read it, of course, but a lifetime spent living with a grown-up caddie like me provided Helen with all the information about golf that she cares to know.
My intention was to pass my Little Red Book on to Tinsley, who is the head professional at Austin Country Club. Tinsley was named to that post in 1973, when I retired with the title of Head Professional Emeritus after holding the job for fifty years.
With the knowledge in this little book to use as a reference, it would be easier for Tinsley to make a good living teaching golf no matter what happens when I am gone.
Tinsley is a wonderful teacher on his own and has added insights to this book over the years. But there is only one copy of the red Scribbletex notebook that I wrote in. I kept it locked in my briefcase. Most of my club members and the players who came to me for help heard about my Little Red Book as it slowly grew into what is still a slender volume considering that all the important truths I have learned about golf are written in its pages.
Many asked to read the book. I wouldn't show it to Tommy Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Betsy Rawls, Kathy Whitworth, Betty Jameson, Sandra Palmer or any of the others, no matter how much I loved them.
What made my Little RedBook special was not that what was written in it had never been said before. It was that what it says about playing golf has stood the test of time.
I see things written about the golf swing that I can't believe will work except by accident. But whether it is for beginners, medium players, experts or children, anything I say in my book has been tried and tested with Success.
One morning last spring I was sitting in my golf cart under the trees on the grass near the veranda at Austin Country Club. I was with my nurse, Penny, a patient young woman who drives us in my golf cart a few blocks from home to the club on days when I feel well enough for the journey.
I don't stay more than an hour or two on each visit, and I don't go more than three or four times a week because I don't want the members to think of me as a ghost that refuses to go away.
I don't want to cut into the teaching time of any of our fine club professionals, either. I can see Jackson Bradley out teaching on the practice line, and there are moments when I might want to make a suggestion, but I don't do it.
However, I can't refuse to help when my old friend Tommy Kite, the leading money winner in the history of the game, walks over to my golf cart and asks if I will watch him putt for a while. Tommy asks almost shyly, as if afraid I might not feel strong enough. His request makes my heart leap with joy.
I spend nights staring at the ceiling, thinking of what I have seen Tommy doing in tournaments on television, and praying that he will come see me. If Tommy wants, I will break my rule that I never visit the club on weekends, and will have Penny drive me to the putting green to meet with Tommy on Saturday and Sunday morning, as well as on Thursday and Friday. I know it exasperates Penny that I would rather watch Tommy putt than eat the lunch she has to force on me.
Or I may be sitting in my cart in the shade enjoying the spring breeze and the rolling greenery of our beautiful golf course, with the blue water of Lake Austin sparkling below, as good and peaceful a place as I know on this earth, and the young touring pro Cindy Figg-Currier may stop and say hello and eventually work up the nerve to ask if I will look at her putting stroke.
Certainly I will. I get as much pleasure out of helping a rising young pro like Cindy as I do a celebrated hero like Tommy.
Don Massengale of the Senior Tour had phoned me at home the night before for a long-distance putting lesson. I can't hear very well on the phone, and Helen had to interpret, shouting back and forth as I tried to straighten out Don's grip.
Earlier my old friend Ben Crenshaw, the Masters champion who had grown up with Tommy Kite in the group of boys that I taught at the old Austin Country Club across town, dropped by our home for a visit and brought his wife and daughter to see Helen and me. Ben is one of the greatest players of all time, a natural. When he was a boy I wouldn't let him practice too much for fear that he might find out how to do something wrong. Ben has his own course, designed by Ben and his partner, at the Barton Creek Country Club layout, a ten-minute drive away from us. It pleases me deeply when Ben drops by to sit on the couch or when he phones me from some tournament.
Ben hasn't been gone long before the doorbell rings and it's one of our members, Gil Kuykendall, who brings Air Force General Robin Olds into the living room and asks if I will give the general a lesson on the rug from my wheelchair. They are entered in a tournament, and the general has played golf only a few times. Can I teach him? In the living room? In half an hour?
General Olds is a jolly good fellow, thick through the chest. He was a football star at West Point. He has those big muscles that, as Bobby Jones said, can bend a bar but are no use in swinging a golf club.
I fit the general with a strong grip and teach him a very short swing. Just about waist high to waist high. This man is too muscle-bound to make a full swing, but he is strong enough to advance the ball decently with a short swing. He won't break 100 in the tournament, but he will make it around the golf course.
When the member and the general leave, Helen and Penny scold me. I am wearing myself out, they say. They remind me that before Ben dropped by, a girl who is hoping to make the University of Texas team had come to talk to me about her progress, and I had asked questions for an hour.
It's true that I have grown tired as the day became evening. But my mind is excited. My heart is thrilled. I have been teaching. Nothing has ever given me greater pleasure than teaching. I received as much joy from coaxing a first-time pupil, a woman from Paris, into hitting the ball into the air so that she could go back to France and play golf with her husband as I did from watching the development of all the fine players I have been lucky enough to know.
When one of my less talented pupils would, under my guidance, hit a first-class shot, I would say, "I hope that gives you as much pleasure as it does me." I would get goose pimples on my arms and a prickly feeling on my neck from the joy of being able to help.
Every time I found something about the swing or the stance or the mental approach that proved to be consistently successful, I wrote it down in my Little Red Book.
Occasionally I added impressions of champions I have known, from Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones to Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead to Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to Kite and Crenshaw, as well as Rawls, Whitworth, Jameson, Mickey Wright, Sandra Palmer and many other distinguished players.
I prefer to teach with images, parables and metaphors that plant in the mind the seeds of shotmaking. These, too, went into the notebook -- if they proved successful.
Many professional writers inquired during my long career as a teacher if they might write a book for me on how to play golf.
I always politely declined. For one thing, I never regarded myself as any kind of genius. I was a humble student and teacher of the game. What I was learning was not for the purpose of promoting myself in the public eye. I was never interested in money. What I was learning
Meet the Author
Harvey Penick was a renowned golf pro who began his career at the Austin (Texas) Country Club as a caddie. Though he coached golf at the University of Texas for thirty years, and worked with the likes of Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, and Betsy Rawls, he never left the country club, where he continued to teach until his death in 1995. Bud Shrake, an avid golfer and the coauthor of all of Penick’s books, died in 2009.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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A classic book on the game of golf.
Definitely worth reading! I recently have taken up golf & this book was suggested by my hairdresser, I'm so glad she told me about this book.
MY PARTNER AND I HAVE LOWERED OUR HANDICAPS BY 4 STROKES EACH. NORB AND MYSELF YANNI RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO EVERYONE. YANNI BARNEY
I have know people who have become almost scratch golfers by reading this book it is better than taking lessons for the below ave. golfer all the person needs to do is to follow Harvey's ideas and teachings and he or she will be on the road to learning the game of golf
This is one of the greatest instructional books i have ever read. It makes everything about the game of golf seem so easy. I read the book and it improved my golf game tremedosly.
You can read book after book on the game of golf, or you can save your time and money, buy this book and go play. Every person that enjoys golf should have this book in their library.
I began to play golf on the open grasses of North Dakota when I was five years old. I now am thirty five years older and teach special education for children of wealthy professionals. Reviewers of Harvey Penick's writings on the sport of golf have missed the incredible value of his wisdom for anyone that teaches in a one-to-one format. They have also missed his grand but subtle sense of humor. They were not teachers or golfers, nor a very, very wise older gentleman. Read Harvey Penick's work to improve your golf but more importantly read Harvey Penick's Little Red Book to improve your perspective on life.
This book has inspired me more than i could have ever imagined. Harvey Penick's simple point of view of the game brought me to realize in order to win at the the game you must truely love the game. To anyone who has ever played the game or wishes to play it this book is a neccesity. It will make you laugh, cry, and bring you to an understanding of the game you never thought possible. I enjoyed this book so much because it makes the most complex seem/become easy. This is a book every golfer should own.