Monday, May 21, 2012

Bill Pennington's Golf Book That (Almost) Saved My Life

In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess that I owe Bill Pennington my life, or at least the use of my limbs. A couple of years ago, after more than forty years playing golf, I suddenly lost my ability to putt. It didn't just have the yips. I had the yaws, the yahoos, and the you've-got-to-be-kidding-mes. I tried a dozen different putters including some that were clearly not legal. I putted cross-handed, one-handed, and would have putted no-handed if I could have figured out how to hold the putter in my teeth, but I still counted as many as 45 putts on some rounds. I was about to give up the game and take up a sane sport like chainsaw juggling when I read Pennington's NY Times column about putting while looking at the hole instead of the ball. That column saved my game, not to mention my fingers.

So is this an unbiased review? Mostly.

In On Par: The Everyday Golfer's Survival Guide, Pennington writes about golf in a way that resonates with the regular golfer. The subtitle notwithstanding, this isn't a golf instruction book. It's more of an extended, rambling conversation about the game like the ones you have with your buddies at the nineteenth hole. The difference is, Pennington knows what he's talking about, whereas your buddies....

On Par is full of gentle, self-deprecating humor and dozens if not hundreds of little stories that illustrate the beautiful ironies of golf. Like a conversation he had once with Gary Player about how humiliating it is to hit a ball into the water. Or the time he almost killed the club president's wife with an errant six iron, a club selection that reminded me of the story in Weird Golf that begins "Just ask the guy in the tenth fairway staring at the six iron covered in blood." Pennington also reveals how jealous Annika Sorenstam is of her sister Charlotta, who won only one pro tournament but has three times as many holes in one. In other words, if you're looking for a book to fix your slice, look elsewhere.

There's plenty here to enjoy and learn from without pages full of illustrated swing tips. Pennington writes about nine places every golfer should play (hint: it's not a list of courses), what the pros are like and how they got that way, and one particularly distressing chapter titled "Shanks, Choking, and Other Tales of the Dark Side." Oh, and there's a section about putting while looking at the hole that you don't want to miss.

More than anything, I think, On Par expresses an attitude about golf that more of us should have. As Pennington says, "It is a silly game, somewhat childish....The allure of golf is its simplicity, which leads to a thousand complexities." And more than a few laughs along the way.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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