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Opinion & Analysis

Top-10 Golf Reads…errr…Listens!

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As a Los Angeles guy, born and raised, one thing that I am experienced at is commuting.  It is a fact of life in this city.  I know the freeways here better than I know my kids.  I spend more time on the road each month than I do golfing (that’s a sad fact; I drive 3 hours a day just to and from work alone!). What this all adds up to is that I am an avid “reader.”  To be more specific: I listen to audiobooks.  Everyday.  Each way.

For all of you “couch readers” out there, I’m sure the books on this list are just as entertaining on the page as they are on the iPod.   As far as audiobooks themselves: my opinion is that a good audiobook is much the same as a good paper book and the reader can get equally absorbed with either medium.  If the book is great, I will sometimes find myself sitting in the driveway with the book playing as I can’t seem to “put the book down.”  There is little joy greater than finding one of these rare “driveway books” for me.  But, if the read is no good, I tune out.  Just like a couch reader does on the Nook or Kindle.

As for the books I “read,” I read much more than just golf books.  I read everything from fiction to non-fiction to biographies and everything in between.  Every now and then, I will slip a good golf book into the playlist.  One other thing I do is rate ALL of the books I read as I use this for recommendations for friends and others who are also slaves to their commute (hit me up and I will provide you a list of my top 10 books of all-time if you are interested).  My rating list has come in handy on many an occasion as it will right here and now.  So, without further adieu, I present my Top 10 list of great golf reads: fiction and non-fiction — and “other.”  This list does NOT include books written specifically for swing instruction.  There are too many of those already out there and they are nearly as subjective as politics!  I leave all of the “Stack and Tilts” to you all.  I am listing these in order from my all-time favorite golf book to my 10th choice.  Please post up comments for any reads (or listens) that you recommend.  If nothing else, I am always looking for my next book!

Writer’s note: I only listen to, and therefore, recommend unabridged audiobooks.  I am not interested in saving time and would prefer to hear the author’s complete version, not an edited one.

  1. The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever – What do you get when you mix Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Ken Venturi and Big Crosby?  One helluva read is what you get!  This story is real account of the match pitting two of history’s greatest golfers against two up-and-coming amateurs in a gentlemen’s game of golf all taking place in the 1950’s on the hallowed grounds of the Cypress Point Golf Club.  This is an incredible story that takes place during the true golden age of golf with some of golf’s most esteemed figures as the central players.  It also does an excellent job at providing an in-depth look at each of the golfer’s themselves to give the reader a bit of history before breaking into a hole-by-hole account of the match itself.
  2. The Greatest Game Ever Played: A True Story (print only) – This is the quintessential turn-of-the-century golf history story and is only available in print.  There is no audiobook of this one that I know of which is disappointing as I would love to hear this story.  But, I had to go old school and read it instead!  This is the story of Frances Ouimet and how he came to tangle with Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open.  This is an extremely entertaining true historical account of the dawn of golf in the US written by the same author as “the Match” — and one of the greatest underdog stories ever written.
  3. Who’s Your Caddy? – Rick Reilly turns in one of the most entertaining and informative books all about looping ever written (then again, is this the only book about caddies in print?).  The stories about John Daly, Casey Martin and many others give the reader a rare insight in to all aspects of the world of golf.  If nothing else, the book’s chapter where Mr. Reilly got to carry for legendary Las Vegas Golf gambler Dewey Tomko is worth the price alone.  You won’t believe the stakes and the rules with which they play.  Talk about pressure over a 5 foot putt…!
  4. Hogan – This is easily the most entertaining and informative books about one of the greatest legends in all of golf ever written.  I learned about which spot Hogan used when on the range (the furthest right spot so that he didn’t have to see anyone else’s swing), what drove him to such greatness, what happened in the horrible car crash that nearly ended both his life and career and which shot he made that ate at him for the rest of his life.  This book is a “must read” for any true golf enthusiast.
  5. Zen Golf – Yes, this book blurs the line between golf instruction and non-fiction.  This book in particular is why I added a caveat about “other.”  Dr. Joseph Parent never tries to tell you how to swing the club or any other specific instruction as far as the golf swing.  But, what he does teach the reader is how to relax during a round, what goes through the mind of most golfers and the way to just go out and play as best as you can.  I learned more tricks and tools from this book and have applied many of these into my everyday game.  I have found his perspective to be mesmerizing and does much to help my overall mental state when on the course.
  6. The Mysterious Montague: A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf, and Armed Robbery – The Mysterious Montague is a true-life account of one of the most secretive yet unbelievably skilled golfers that ever graced the annals of golf history.  The setting is the 1930’s beginning on the east coast and quickly moving to the legendary Lakeside Country Club in Toluca Lake, Calif. (my backyard). I don’t know if all of the accounts in this book are fact, but you won’t believe the stuff this guy could do with a club in his hand!  Throw in the fact that he was on the lamb and you have the makings of a page-turner.
  7. The Legend of Bagger Vance – Classic golf fiction at its best.  This book takes place in the heyday of classic golf with Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen meeting with, and matching wits with fictional protagonist Rannulph Junah.  But, the real story is about the mysterious caddy, Bagger Vance and the information he holds.  The book is better than the movie if for no other reason than NOT having to see actors attempt to make professional-looking golf swings.
  8. Missing Links – I have to admit, I am sucker for the musings of Rick Reilly.  When he wrote for Sports Illustrated, I was sure to flip to the back page and read his stories.  “Missing Links” (as well as the next book on my list, “Shanks for the Memories”) are humorous fictional accounts of a cast of characters all playing golf at the fictional goat track, Ponkaquogue Municipal Golf Links.  Is it “War and Peace” of golf?  Far from it.  But, Rick Reilly does a good job of creating a group of hackers doing outlandish things while keeping me engaged for a light and entertaining read.
  9. Shanks for the Memories – The sequel to “Missing Links” brings back the same lovable characters from his first offering.  This one is not quite as entertaining as the first one.  But, once you have poured eight hours into the first one, you may as well throw nine more away on this one!
  10. Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book – I love a good bathroom book — even on the road.  Sometimes I just need to pop in, hear a few yarns about Davis Love III or life on Texas golf courses.  Yes, this book definitely breaks my rules about golf instruction as the late Mr. Penick sprinkles in plenty of anecdotes about drills to help your game.  But, since so much of the book is actually made up of stories involving all sorts of historical golf characters, facts and figures, I felt this book deserves a spot on the list — and on your iPod!
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Chris Hibler is an avid golfer, writer and golf gear junkie. If he's not practicing his game with his kids, he's scouring the GolfWRX classifieds looking for a score.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Chris Hibler

    Feb 19, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Two books being added to my Top 10 list (it’s now a Top 12!):
    Just finishing up Hank Haney’s “The Big Miss.” Very good listen with Haney narrating. Will post up a synapses when complete. So far: excellent. And more fair to Tiger than expected.

    Also, I listened to “the Miracle on the 17th Green” as recommended here. I have to say that it was breezy and easy. I listened to it in one three-hour drive. Nothing earth-shattering, but it was a nice fable and enjoyable from start to finish.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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5 things we learned on Saturday at the 2018 U.S. Open

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Whoops, we did it again. While not as dramatic as the 7th hole concern of 2004, the Saturday of 2018 seemed eerily familiar. The commentators were divided on the question of whether the USGA was pleased with the playing conditions. The suggestion was, the grass in the rough was higher than necessary, and the cuts of the fairway and greens were just a bit too close of a shave. No matter, everyone finished and the band played on. The hashtag #KeepShinnyWeird didn’t trend, but Saturday the 16th was certainly not ordinary. Five weird things we learned, on the way.

5) Phil’s breaking point

It wasn’t violent. No outburst or hysteria. We’d seen Phil leap in triumph at Augusta. Now we’ve seen the Mickelson jog, albeit under most different circumstances. Near as we can determine, for a moment Phil forgot that he was playing a U.S. Open. After belting a downhill, sliding bogey putt well past the mark, the left-handed one discerned that the orb would not come to rest for quite some time: a lower tier beckoned. As if dancing a Tarantella, Phil sprang toward the ball and gave it a spank while still it moved. Just like that, his quadruple-bogey 8 become a 10, thanks to the 2 strokes for striking a moving ball penalty. In true warrior fashion, Mickelson accepted the penalty without questions, intimating that it saved him another stroke or two in the end. Yeesh. Phil, we feel you.

4) DJ’s front-nine free fall

Just as unlikely as Phil’s whack-and-walk was Dustin Johnson’s front nine of 41. The cool gunslinger of Thursday-Friday faced the same turmoil as the other 66 golfers remaining, and the outward nine did not go according to his plan. DJ got past the opening hole with par, after making bogey there on Friday. Number two was another story. Double bogey on the long par three was followed by 4 bogeys in 5 holes, beginning with the 4th. The irony once again was, Johnson struggled on holes that the field did not necessarily find difficult. Hole No. 2 was the 10th-ranked hole for difficulty on day 3, while 4 and 7 were 13th and 11th-ranked, respectively. Hole No. 6 and 8 did fall in the more difficult half, but not by much. At day’s end, however, the tall drink of water remained in contention for his second U.S. Open title.

3) The firm of Berger and Finau

Each likely anticipated no more than a top-15 placing after 3 days, despite posting the two low rounds of the day, 4-under 66. Those efforts brought them from +7 to +3 for the tournament, but Johnson and the other leaders had yet to tee off. Every indication was lower and deeper; then the winds picked up, blustery like the 100 acre wood of Winnie The Pooh. Both golfers posted 6 birdies against 2 bogeys, to play themselves into the cauldron of contention. Berger has one top-10 finish in major events, while Finau has 2. None of those three came in a U.S. Open, so a win tomorrow by either golfer would qualify as an absolute shock.

2) Recent winners fared well

In addition to Johnson, the 2016 champion, Justin Rose (2013) and Brooks Koepka (2017) found themselves near or in the lead for most of the afternoon. Since Shinnecock Hills offers much of what characterizes links golf, it should come as no surprise that 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson is also within a handful of strokes of the top spot. Rose played the best tee-to-green golf of the leaders on Saturday, but was unable to coax legitimate birdie efforts from his putter. Koepka was the most impressive putter of the day, making up to 60-feet bombs and consistently holing the clutch par saves. On another note, given his victories at Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Royal Birkdale (2017 British Open), the missed cut by Jordan Spieth was the week’s biggest surprise.

1) The wind

The most unpredictable of nature’s weapons, the winds of Shinnecock Hills exposed flaws in the course preparation. Areas that would have held off-line putts, were dried out enough to escort those efforts off the shortest grass, into the runoff compartments. The zephyrs pushed tee balls and approach shots just far enough astray to bring all the danger zones into the recipe. Prediction for tomorrow is, any golfer within 5 shots of the lead has a chance at the title. A Miller-esque round of 63 would bring anyone into contention, if the wind continues to blow. No event appreciates drama more than the U.S. Open, and Sunday at Shinnecock promises plenty of it.

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