Book ReviewApril 4, 2016

The new Harvey Penick biography will make you wish even more that you had lived the teaching pro's life

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GolfDigest.com will regularly highlight a book that it finds of interest to readers. This week’s is:

Harvey Penick: The Life and Wisdom of the Man Who Wrote the Book on Golf, By Kevin Robbins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardback, 368 pages (due out April 5)

What golf fanatic, if they’re being truthful with him or herself, would not admit to the desire at least once of having led the life of a professional golfer, all the horrific “life on the road” demands be damned? They may even have dared cite a model golfer, an Arnold Palmer, for instance, who had the golf world by the tail from the get-go, or for today’s crowd, Jordan Spieth, who has great skill and personality.

But at the next layer of golf expertise and knowledge—the teaching professional—there have been some extraordinary people whose lives would have been incredible to experience. Harvey Penick tops that list for me. How ultra-cool would it have been to have interacted with the legends he saw, played with and taught, to have connected with the common golfer as he did, and to have had his wise, sound golf advice put down in writing in some of the most treasured golf books ever? If you utter “take dead aim” all round long, you’re quoting Penick.

The new book by Kevin Robbins is a celebration, really, of a man who fully gave his life over to golf and cared so much about it that he endeavored to have others feel just as devoted to it as a focus of their lives. The essence of Penick’s integrity and character emerge, whether he is competing with Bobby Jones or teaching Mickey Wright, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Betsy Rawls or Kathy Whitworth.

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It is safe to say that Penick was not widely known prior to the publishing of his Little Red Book in 1992. His own humble demeanor and tender nature had a lot to do with that. But his teachings and wisdom were well-known in the industry because champions had emerged under his tutelage. As the club pro at Austin Country Club, his base for teaching his pupils, Penick kept a journal and diary of his thoughts and commentary about the game. Not many knew about it; in fact, only his son, Tinsley. But Harvey presented it to writer Bud Shrake one day in 1991, and Shrake took it stage by stage to being published in 1992, including a major excerpt in the May 1992 issue Golf Digest. Shrake saw it as nearly divine intervention that he was chosen to let the world read Penick’s incredible observations. The Penick legend became immediate, and a mini-book industry was built around his journals, ensuring his wise, positive and simple teachings would always be a golf treasure.

Robbins brings all this to life, beginning with Penick’s early years as he built upon a competitive and club-pro career right through to seeing his dear students Kite and Crenshaw break through with major championships. It was Penick’s death days prior to the 1995 Masters that so poignantly played a part in Crenshaw’s second Masters victory. Penick did not live long enough to see the two enter the Hall of Fame.

To read Robbins’ bio on the life of Penick is to read about how golf can shape a life and how that life can extend into others in a unique and special way.


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