The following passage, written by Davis Love III, is excerpted from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: 20th Anniversary Edition by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake, published by Simon & Schuster. (Buy it here.)
My father taught me golf the way he was taught it by Harvey. Not that he ever called him that. It was always Mr. Penick. Dad must have started 10,000 sentences to me with the words, “As Mr. Penick would say . . . ” Mr. Penick spoke not of the U.S. Open, but of the National Open, and so did my father. I doubt that was a coincidence.
Harvey was a model for how my father taught golf, as he was for many other teachers. In the early 1950s, my father, Davis Love Jr., was a good schoolboy golfer in Arkansas. Harvey was the head pro at the Austin Country Club and the golf coach at Texas. He recruited my father to the university, I imagine sight unseen. No high-resolution e-mail attachments of youthful golf swings in those days. What my father had were junior titles in Arkansas and write-ups in the El Dorado newspaper. He left for Texas at 17 and played for Harvey for three years before being drafted into the Army.
Those were important years, and not simply because Harvey made my father a much better player. My father’s teammate Ed Turley will tell you: Harvey and my father were cut from the same cloth. They both lived to be on the range, looking at swings.
Harvey became like a second father to my dad, with a personality distinctly different from his own father’s. My paternal grandfather was strict and formal, but a sort of boom-and-bust oilman entrepreneur. In good times he drove a big black Lincoln. Harvey had a warm and unimposing manner, and he held that one job at the Austin Country Club pretty much his entire life. He didn’t seem to have any material needs. He lived simply. He was absorbed with the act of teaching and the desire to help a player improve. He had a servant heart.
For many decades now, the PGA of America has held special seminars where club and teaching pros learn how to teach from “master” teaching pros. My father would invite Harvey to speak at those sessions. In the 1970s and ’80s, when my father was on the Golf Digest teaching staff and active in the Golf Digest golf schools, he would often bring in Harvey as a guest instructor. He was always picking things up from Harvey. My father knew about the little red book long before it became Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book (Buy it now). My father did something similar, writing down little squibs about what worked and what did not in golf instruction. He kept his notes on long yellow legal pads.
There are so many things that Harvey told my father that my father told me, things that I am now telling my teenage son, Davis Love IV, who goes by Dru. Dad used to tell a story about being on the range one day at Austin when Harvey came by.
“What you doing, Davis?” Harvey asked.
“I’m hitting six-irons at that mound,” my father said.
“Good. Now I’d like to see you hit a five-iron at that mound.”
My father hit a few.
“Now a four-iron.”
And through the bag they went.
When I was in high school, my father would say to me, “Hit me a 300-yard drive.” I’d do it. “Now 250.” Done. “O.K. -- 200.” Another swing. “How ’bout 150?” These days I do the same with Dru, except I start him at 325. Harvey wanted for my father what my father wanted for me and what I want for Dru. We want a golfer to truly feel the clubhead, to own his or her swing.
I’m not a good golf teacher. I can tell you what you’re doing wrong, but I can’t tell you how to fix it. My brother, Mark, who teaches Dru and many others, is a good teacher, a natural instructor who teaches right out of the Harvey Penick–Davis Love Jr. playbook. A big part of that skill is to recognize the needs -- and the personality type -- of the student. Harvey taught Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, and they both went on to win majors with totally different styles and methods. They couldn’t be more different as people or as golfers. What worked for one would not have worked for the other. Harvey gave each what he needed. He sized them up. Harvey wouldn’t have really known the concept of sports psychologist. But he was the ultimate sports psychologist. He saw the whole person, and he could teach anybody, from any walk of life, from a raw beginner to the best player in the world. Caring about people was at the core of his teaching and his being.
Tinsley Penick succeeded his father as the head pro at Austin. Tinsley remembers the story of the advice his father gave my father on how to be an effective teacher. Early in his career, right after serving in the Army during the Korean War, my father was working as an assistant for Wes Ellis, a Texan and a legendary club pro at Mountain Ridge Country Club in New Jersey. Harvey suggested that my father take dancing lessons. He never said why. My father did as Harvey suggested. Maybe it had something to do with improving his balance -- he didn’t know. Only later my father figured it out: Harvey wanted him to know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a lesson and what it’s like to be trying something new.
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