News & Opinion

Golf’s major champions of the printed word

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Morning Read contributor Mike Purkey recommends some of his favorite books for golfers seeking a taste of the game during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’re missing your regular game during the coronavirus shutdown, take dead aim at some of golf publishing’s best works, and maybe you’ll soon be able to take a good walk spoiled again

With no live golf – or any other sports – on television and much of the country in “stay at home” mode during the coronavirus outbreak, you still can get your golf fix. It’s been said that the smaller the ball, the better the writing, which means that golf has the best writers in all of sport. Books about the game abound, and now is a perfect time to catch up on your reading.

In no particular order, here are my 10 favorite golf books:

“The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate” – Dan Jenkins’ collection of stories, most of which appeared in Sports Illustrated in the 1960s, is as timeless as it is classic. The title is taken from a famous quote by Bobby Jones that’s as true today as it was then. You’ll marvel at Jenkins’ writing as much as you will laugh out loud. The best of the bunch is “The Glory Game,” where you’ll meet Cecil the Parachute, Foot the Free, Magoo and Moron Tom, among other denizens of the golf course they called Goat Hills. If you’ve already read “Dogged Victims,” read it again. It’s just as good a second – or third – time.

“A Good Walk Spoiled” – Before writing “A Good Walk Spoiled,” John Feinstein was best known for “A Season on the Brink,” a year inside University of Indiana basketball and its explosive coach Bob Knight in 1985-86. At the time, it was the best-selling sports book of all time. Feinstein brought his quintessential reporting skills to golf, taking his readers inside the PGA Tour in 1995, through the eyes of a number of players. It became the template of other golf books Feinstein would author.

“A Golfer’s Life: Arnold Palmer” – Palmer’s autobiography was lovingly caretaken by James Dodson, who brilliantly captured all facets of Palmer’s character. Arnold Palmer loved being Arnold Palmer, Dodson has often said, and he showed us things about the King that we already knew but others that we didn’t know. If you want to know what’s important about Arnie, this is the book.

“Golf in the Kingdom” – In 1962, Michael Murphy co-founded the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif., as a place for thinkers of religion, enlightenment and human potential. Nine years later, Murphy penned “Golf in the Kingdom,” a novel in which a character named Michael Murphy plays golf in Scotland with a mystical teaching pro named Shivas Irons. The student experiences a higher consciousness and finds out the true meaning of the game. Nearly 50 years old, “GITK” remains a book to be studied, not just read once.

“Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book” – Most golfers believe that Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf” to be the game’s quintessential instruction book. Here’s a vote for Penick, the down-home pro at Austin Country Club in Texas’ state capital for 50 years. Penick, who taught Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, dispenses near-perfect wisdom in small bites, which is just enough to absorb and put to practical use. His best bromide: “Take dead aim.” What’s simpler and more effective than that?

“Ben Hogan: An American Life” – This is the authorized biography of Hogan, and Dodson digs deeply into the mystery of Hogan’s complicated life. From his troubled upbringing to the great bus wreck to his storied comeback, this book peels away the layers of the onion that is Hogan’s personality. He could be cold and aloof, and he could be warm and giving. You just didn’t know when.

“Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect” – If you believe golf is more mental than physical, Bob Rotella’s first book is a gem. Rotella was the director of sports psychology at the University of Virginia when he began to work with some PGA Tour players to improve their performance. In 1995, he wrote, “Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect,” which is his collection of knowledge about the way he believes golfers should think. “It is more important to be decisive than correct…,” he said.

“Dead Solid Perfect” – Jenkins’ first golf novel features Kenny Lee Puckett – his nephew, Billy Clyde Puckett, was the hero of “Semi-Tough” – and his quest to win the U.S. Open at fictional Heavenly Pines in Heavenly, N.C. Along the way, Kenny Lee runs into an unfaithful wife and a rival named Donny Smithern. But it was Spec Reynolds who taught Kenny Lee a painful lesson betting on the made-up Corbett Comets. “Don’t you know … a man can travel far and wide – all the way to shame or glory and back again – but he ain’t never gonna find nothin’ in this old world that’s dead solid perfect?”

“Final Rounds” – Dodson’s 1997 book was born from a column he wrote as a contributing editor at Golf Magazine. It is the story of a trip to Scotland with his terminally ill father, a final sojourn with a perpetually upbeat man whom Dodson always referred to as Opti the Mystic. It is equally about the many treasures that golf gives us and a father-son connection that provides different gifts altogether.

“The Greatest Game Ever Played” – Mark Frost’s classic examines the 1913 U.S. Open, won by American amateur Francis Ouimet, who beat British icon Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff. Not only was this Open the seminal event in the great rise of American golf, but Frost takes an in-depth look at the contrasts of 20-year-old Ouimet and 43-year-old Vardon. The event and the main characters create one of golf’s defining moments.

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