This illuminating collection features many of Hebert Warren Wind’s most famous essays, including “Jones Breaks Through,” his masterful portrait of Bobby Jones’s first major championship, won in an epic eighteen-hole playoff against Bobby Cruickshank at the 1923 US Open, and “North to the Links of Dornoch,” an evocative travelogue that established the venerable course in the Scottish Highlands as one of golf’s premier destinations.
Wind captures Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Ken Venturi in their prime, and brings readers back to an earlier era when Harry Vardon ruled the links. He profiles golf’s female pioneers—Mickey Wright, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, and Joyce Wethered—and sings the praises of Bernard Darwin, “the greatest writer on golf the world has ever known.” In his Sports Illustrated deadline ode, “The 1958 Masters: Palmer at the Fateful Corner,” Wind brings Arnold Palmer’s first major championship to vivid life and coins Augusta National’s most iconic and enduring term: “Amen Corner.”
Lyrical, evocative, and insightful, Herbert Warren Wind’s Golf Book is a must-read for students of the game and fans of classic sports journalism.
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Herbert Warren Wind's Golf Book
By Herbert Warren Wind
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1971 Herbert Warren Wind
All rights reserved.
The Lure of Golf
One of sport's oldest stories concerns the golfer who threw his clubs into the sea after a painfully bad round and almost drowned trying to rescue them. That particular golfer happened to be a Scotsman, which adds a certain amount of relish to the story, but it is also irrelevant. Of all the games man has devised, supposedly for his enjoyment, golf is in a class by itself in the anguish it inflicts. For each good reason a golfer can cite (after a fine round) why it is the most satisfying of games, he knows there are at least two equally good reasons for giving it up for good. Few ever do it. Golf has been played for about eight centuries now. In its modern form — that is, since the feather-stuffed ball was replaced by the gutta-percha — it is just about 120 years old. Over that period, golfers have continuously counseled their nongolfing friends that the game is a pernicious, habit-forming drug and that a man is better off not to touch the stuff. The result has been that golf's popularity has kept on expanding and the game is now played by 20,000,000 in every corner of the globe. You might as well tell a fellow not to have anything to do with pretty girls.
As if life in mid-century United States were not sufficiently conducive to strain and frustration, 10,000,000 of the world's 20,000,000 golfers are Americans. This represents an astounding growth considering that in 1888 there were less than a dozen golfers in the country — most of them the charter members of the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, N.Y., the first permanent golf club organized in the United States. As late as 1913 there were only 350,000 American golfers; at the turn of the twenties scarcely 1,000,000. Then the rush began and it has been continuing ever since. Today, to take care of the horde, there are approximately 10,000 golf courses. (About a thousand of this number are par-3 layouts.) These courses are spread over the entire country. For the most part, however, they are congregated where the population is thickest, and one of the most fantastic and yet characteristic aerial views of America is the multiplicity of courses, each with its clearly defined fairways and its kidney-shaped traps around the greens, that the traveler sees as his plane approaches any sizable city.
It is customarily recognized, I think — even among men who are devoted to sailing, tennis, huntin'-shootin'-fishin', or other participant sports — that the most dedicated follower of these diversions never becomes quite as intensely and hopelessly embroiled as does the man whom golf takes up. When you ask most golfers why this is so, they are of very little help. They fall back on the fifty-year-old cliché about being "bitten by the golf bug" and then each rattles on about how bad his particular case is, like kids proudly comparing the size of mosquito bites.
There are a few contemplative golfers who have attempted to analyze why the golf virus hits a man so hard. The game's singular fascination, in their consensus, rests on the fact that while you play against par, against your opponent, against the topography, and against the elements, in golf, as in no other sport, your principal opponent is yourself. No one touches the golfer's ball but the golfer himself. If you slice your approach with your 5-iron into a luxurious patch of brier, you cannot slink out of the responsibility for a rotten shot by turning to your adversary, as you can in tennis, and exclaiming, "Beautiful forehand, Reg!" Nor can you alibi out in the other direction with the muffled insinuation that something your partner did accounts for your seemingly poor showing. Nobody else sliced that ball into the rough. Furthermore, since you get no second serve, no third strike, no fourth down, you're stuck with it. On the other hand, when you recover neatly from the brier patch and hole your slippery 20-foot putt for a par, nobody else had a hand in it either. All the glory of the accomplishment rests squarely on the shoulders of the guy who best appreciates your colossal skill.
While man's battle against himself is undoubtedly at the heart of golf's abiding appeal, there are a number of subsidiary reasons for the game's acceptance by its wide and variegated following. The setting in which it is played is, for most golfers, one of the most wonderful things about it. Were it not for the good greensward of the golf course, many hard-pressed American males, their lives increasingly tethered by the rites of city living, might never get any farther back to nature than growing chives in the window box of their apartment. Golfers never really lose their awareness of the natural beauties of a golf course — the freshness of the air in the morning when the dew is heavy on the striped greens, the pungent quietness in the evenings when the crickets start up and the setting sun makes the fairways ahead seem lusher than velvet. Veteran golfers breathe in these sensuous charms, but they don't talk much about them. They view them as part of the obvious bounty of golf. They are annoyed rather than diverted when some golfer-come-lately begins to rhapsodize on the scene like some self-elected Tennyson. "This is golf, man!" the veteran golfer is apt to snarl on these trying occasions. "What did you expect to find out here? A bowling alley?"
Very few golfers ever get to that stage of nature-loving where they can identify any flora other than grass, dandelions, and occasionally poison ivy. This is understandable. Trying to hit their shots correctly is too absorbing an occupation to admit any avocations. You will find, with few exceptions, that any seasoned golfer who suddenly exhibits an intimate knowledge of agronomy is deep in the throes of some concealed discomfiture. At the course where I grew up, our leading expert on the various grass strains was not the greenkeeper but an aging boy wonder whose game had long gone sour and who could no longer break 85 except when he played by himself. He persisted, however, in regarding himself as a 74 golfer, and this made a knowledge of grasses a must. "I don't see how you fellows can putt on this Merion blue grass," he would groan in exasperation, his hands on his hips, his eyes fixed captiously on the green, after he had jabbed a 3-foot putt a foot off line. "Creeping bent, that's the only grass a man with a delicate touch can putt on," he would continue. "The whole course has gone to pot. You know that spoon shot of mine that looked smothered? I hit it perfectly, really, but you can't get a ball up in the air from these fescue and redtop fairways. I ask you: How are you expected to play golf on a lousy pasture?"
Every enthusiast of the game, though, is a golf-course architect as well as a golfer. He knows exactly where each hole falls short of championship quality: the green on the first is located in the wrong spot; the trap to the right of the second green improperly penalizes a well-played shot; the third hole should not be a dogleg; the fourth (a straightaway par 5) should be a dogleg par 4; and so on, with infinitely more detail and passion. If he were chairman of the Green Committee with a free hand and the necessary funds, he'd know what had to be added and what had to come out to change his course into a testing but fair examination in golf — "which, after all, Harry, is the idea of this game, in case you've forgotten."
What this golfer-architect would end up by doing, should he ever come to power as head of the Green Committee, would be to remodel the course so that it compensated as perfectly as possible for his own peculiar and habitual shortcomings as a player. This is no wild assumption. Chairmen of the Green Committee — the men elected or appointed to watch over the golf course — have historically watched over themselves. For example, when the chairman happens to be a short hitter, all those traps out by the 200-yard marker are suddenly condemned as unfit for human habitation, filled in, and turfed over. Show me, as the old saying goes, the Green Committee chairman who hasn't chopped at least five strokes off his score, and I'll show you a very angry man.
This purposeful myopia among amateur course designers goes back to an old pro at the business, Charles Blair Macdonald, who flourished just before the turn of the century as our first official National Amateur champion and as the designer of the nation's first eighteen-hole course, at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois. Macdonald laid out the course so that the holes marched clockwise around the perimeter of the club's plot. The golfer who hooked on any hole ended up in heavy rough, and if he hooked quite badly, his ball shot off the course and out of bounds and he was penalized loss of stroke and distance. Old Charley, of course, never hooked. He had a fine grooved slicy swing, and when he sliced, there was always ample room out there on the right to take good care of his ball. The old boy was unbeatable on his home course for years!
Golf is unique among the "active sports" in that a man can be lacking in youth, brawn, speed of foot, suppleness of muscle, clearness of eye, and the other athletic virtues and still be a pretty fair golfer. This is certainly one of golf's attractions, this fact that it is a game which a man, or a woman, can carry through life. In Gene Sarazen's opinion, a golfer with good health and a sound swing should be able to play with his competence little diminished until he is sixty-five.
There is no debating, though, that the younger a person is when he takes up golf, the easier it is for him to develop a correct and rhythmic swing. The golf swing is not a facile natural movement (like batting a baseball) so much as it is a disciplined exercise in coordination — what Ben Hogan calls "muscle memory." Nonetheless, a man can take up the game with some expectation of attaining a reasonable proficiency at an age when it is no longer safe to indulge in contact or team sports. The same sanguine prospect applies for a man who was never conspicuously good at games and has no athletic prime to be past. The classic example is Walter Travis who decided to become a golfer when he was thirty-five, and four years later — in 1900 — captured the first of his three National Amateur Championships.
A Travis comes along once a century, and most men who start golf after thirty, or who begin to concentrate on the game around that age, are not fools enough to think they can duplicate Travis' miracle. It is the rare golfer, nevertheless, be he novice or old-timer, who can resign himself to the unflattering reality that he is no better than his usual score. In golf, the score is the prime consideration, whatever a man may profess to the contrary. Golfers periodically sound off about how they really don't care about their scores; all they want to do is hit the ball well, they'll settle for that. In translation this means that the speaker has been chipping and putting poorly, or is in the throes of some such score-defeating malaise, and hasn't much confidence of getting his touch back for a while.
That Ol' Debbil Score, for some abstruse reason, makes double-talk experts out of men who ordinarily have their feet on the ground, and it hatches not only more liars per capita than any other sport (not excluding fishing) but also the most implausible liars in the world. The fish that got away is one thing, but there is no rational accounting for the otherwise solid citizen who, frankly in front of your gaze, plays nine shots to get his ball into the hole and, when asked what his score was, says, "Six, dammit." The game, in some mysterious way, must have a direct pipeline to man's pride.
It can be truthfully stated, I think, that outscoring his opponent does wonders for a golfer's morale, but what really sets him up on a cloud is outscoring himself. To illustrate — once or twice a year a golfer who regularly shoots between 95 and 100 will come onto one of those days when he can do no wrong and will score an 88, no putts conceded other than the usual "gimmes" under a foot and a half. As far as that golfer is concerned, he is an 88 shooter. Those rounds between 95 and 100 to which he immediately returns are all "off-rounds," he is not shooting his game, his game is 88. A player can have his hot streaks in football or basketball or any other sport, but after the inevitable letdown sets in, most men are not too stubborn about admitting that they were playing over their heads. Golfers are a race apart. They are all convinced that they habitually play "under their heads."
There is something about the nature of the game, too, that eternally deludes the golfer into believing that he is on the verge of "coming into his own" and that if he corrects one tiny movement — the way he bends his left knee or the position of his right thumb — then his swing will overnight become a vision of beauty and even-par rounds will be no trouble at all. He begins to dream about how he will phrase his acceptance speech after winning the National Open. This is what makes golf such a humbling game. It looks to be the easiest of sports but it is in fact the hardest to play consistently well. Quite frequently, the very moment a golfer thinks he has mastered the critical technique is the precise moment when he discovers he cannot hit any shot. He wobbles off the course buried beneath such a mountain of powerlessness that he seriously doubts if he will be able to drive his automobile home and negotiate the difficult coordinative feat of climbing the front stairs.
In their pursuit of lower scores and higher self-esteem, American golfers invest prodigally in foolproof accessories, the latest models in clubs, "stroke-saving" home-practice equipment — more aids to success than for all other sports rolled together. There is nothing wrong in this, as any good pro with a well-stocked shop will tell them. In the view of many responsible critics, however, American golfers, in their obsession with lower scores at any price, have gone too far and done themselves and the game a considerable disservice over the last twenty years. They have successfully pressured Green Committees to soften up our courses to that lamentable degree where a golfer is often no worse off after a mishit shot than after a superb one. Greens are overwatered so that a half-topped niblick will stick. Overhanging lips have been removed from traps so that a man can scramble out with a putter. Roughs, above all, have been domesticated to where they are often indistinguishable from the fairways.
This mollycoddling of the heart of the game has produced lower scores, all right, and also a new breed of golfers who have forgotten that much of the game's satisfaction results from dealing resourcefully with the hazards. And with the weather, too, it might be added. On a recent trip to Britain, a young friend of mine, who had grown up with the idea that only a cloudless, windless day was fit for golf, walked onto the first tee at Sandwich on such a day and was staggered when his English host declared that it was disappointingly poor weather for golf. "The course will be dull today," the Englishman added apologetically. "There's hardly any wind for us to contend with."
The outstanding difference in the attitudes of Britain and America, the world's two great golfing communities, is, very probably, the Britisher's zest for subduing the authentic hazards and battling the elements. He is a more accomplished bad-weather golfer than his American counterpart, not simply because his native island provides him with such a fine supply of bad weather, but also because the top-heavy percentage of British courses, including those not on the seaside, have the general characteristics of links. The typical fairways in Britain are not tree-lined, as are ours, and the wind rampages unopposed across the exposed holes and becomes the major hazard. In the opinion of Henry Longhurst, the celebrated "golf correspondent" of the London Sunday Times, the American pro's minutely detailed, synchro-meshed type of swing could have evolved only in a country where golf is a warm-weather game and not the all-weather sport it is in Britain, where there is no "south" to head for in winter. Bundled up in two sweaters, a strong wind making perfect balance impossible, even the most talented British pro, in the cold months, must forgo the niceties of what Mr. Longhurst calls "the shirt-sleeve swing."
(Incidentally, it might be mentioned that Mr. Longhurst — along with such other British golf writers as the incomparable Bernard Darwin and Sam McKinlay, plus our own late writers, Grantland Rice and O. B. Keeler — has given golf a vitality in print that is probably superior to that enjoyed by any other popular game.)
British golfers play their rounds at a much faster pace than we do, a distinction that is also true of other European golfers, South American golfers, African golfers, Asiatic golfers, and aged Australian golfers with blisters. It is undeniable: the American, Speed's own child, is a tortoise on the golf course. Where it was once possible to play eighteen holes on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning in three and a half hours, now you are doing handsomely if you get around in under five. Our courses are clogged by new players who are polite as all get-out but are never ready to play when it is their shot and by veterans who grew up in the era when caddies were plentiful and have never learned how to watch and mark a shot themselves, which they must when a caddie cart is carrying their bag. Above all, traffic on our courses bogs down because our golfers (of all degrees of skill) have taken to overstudying their shots in imitation of our professional stars who, before playing each stroke, do everything but telephone the American Geographic Society for a report on the green ahead.
Excerpted from Herbert Warren Wind's Golf Book by Herbert Warren Wind. Copyright © 1971 Herbert Warren Wind. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Lure of Golf,
Jones Breaks Through,
Duration Golf, or, The Story of Byron Nelson,
Hogan: On the Eve of Olympic, 1955,
Snead: Twenty Years After His First Open,
The Winter Tour: 5,000 Sun-Drenched Miles,
Nine Holes in 27 Strokes: Souchak at San Antonio,
Swinging into '60 — Three Letters from Harry Sprague,
The 1958 Masters: Palmer at the Fateful Corner,
The 1964 United States Open: The Third Man, Ken Venturi,
The 1966 United States Open: The Return to Olympic,
The 1968 Masters: Rule 38, Paragraph 3,
The 1970 British Open: New Faces on the Old Course,
The Women: Mickey Wright, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, and Joyce Wethered,
Harry Vardon: The Peak Years,
The Ways of a Perfect Caddie,
Bernard Darwin at Eighty,
The Seven-Club Tournament at Turnberry,
Some Thoughts on Golf Course Architecture,
North to the Links of Dornoch,
The Greens of Ireland: The Southwest,
The Scrutable East,
Will Ye No' Come Back Again?,
An All-Time Ryder Cup Team,
About the Author,