A good golf book, like any good book, needs to transport the reader, and each of the Best of 2011 does that in its own way. These books take us places, reveal characters, and remind us of moments. All add to the enjoyment of the game. A few should even help us play it.
1) Golf Courses: Great Britain and Ireland
Author: David Cannon
The tariff on this stunner runs about the same as the freight for seven holes at Pebble; it's a fair exchange. Cannon's one of the best course photographers on the planet, and his book's leviathan format – with gatefolds extending beyond the leather to a full five feet – shows off his moody, dreamy golfscapes gorgeously. Through his lens, even the usual suspects come off in new light from unexpected angles. Granted, the volume is a luxury, but what journey through the game's trophy addresses isn't?
2) America's Gift to Golf: Herbert Warren Wind on the Masters
Author: Herbert Warren Wind
Publisher: The American Golfer
"If it's nae wind, it's nae golf," the Scots assure us, and, for decades, if it wasn't Wind, it wasn't the Masters. Stretching from 1954 to 1989, "Gift" collects the master's essential words on the event he brought so much color to with those words, including the two most associated with it: "Amen Corner," which he coined. There's even the unpublished gem that only ran in the SI prototype. Jones. Sarazen. Snead. Hogan. Palmer. Player. Nicklaus. The gang's all here. Hallelujah. And amen.
3) Wonder Girl: The Magnificent Sporting Life of Babe Didrickson Zaharias
Author: Don Van Natta Jr.
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Like that other Babe, this one cast a mighty shadow. She was talented, audacious, and full of pizzazz, and golf is forever fortunate she chose to embrace the game after conquering so many others. Her presence alone jump-started the LPGA; her courageous return from colon cancer to win the 1954 Women's Open jump-started the national imagination. She was so Bunyonesque, it's easy to overlook the reality: like that other Babe, her life was just that, a life — as fragile and flawed as it was fabulous. In this sweeping bio, her heart beats on every page.
4) The Timeless Swing
Authors: Tom Watson with Nick Seitz
Any swing that's held up long enough to win a British Open in 1975 and almost notch another 34 years later is a swing worth learning from, and Watson's swing is certainly that: simple, solid and consistent. His advice — from basic fundamentals to the mysteries of low hooks — is just as simple, solid and consistent, buoyed by helpful photos and sequences. Watson being Watson, he neatly peppers the text with "Watson Moments," epiphanies that shed light on how he kept his swing — and mind — together in the crucible of competition. And, then, Watson being Watson, he also includes a nice section he calls "Swing Younger" made up of advice to help unleash the 59-year-old Open contender latent in every duffer.
5) Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force
Author: Adam Schupak
Publisher: East Cottage Press
In his 20 years as PGA Tour commissioner, Beman's vision changed the face of tournament golf. He steered a collection of events into a juggernaut, lassoed sponsors, seeded the Players Championship and the TPCs, shepherded the split of the Tour from the PGA of America, fought insurrections, forged alliances, battled equipment makers, raised profiles, and made a lot of people a lot of money. Schupak's scrupulously researched chronicle gives the Commish his overdue due as it compellingly charts the behind-the-scenes maneuverings that transformed a not-so-simple game into a billion-dollar enterprise.
6) Golf's Finest Par Threes: The Art & Science of the One-Shot Hole
Authors: Tony Roberts and Michael Barrett
Publisher: ECW Press
There have been plenty of volumes dedicated to distinguishing great golf holes, but this one's a first: all par threes all the time, and — from the mountains to the prairies to the ocean's edge — it's a beauty. The fun goes beyond the requisite photography and architectural analysis. Welcome perks include cobbling together the ultimate knee-knocker of a par-3 course and a series of intriguing "Reflections" that stretch from a list of layouts with the best sets of one-shotters to the shots themselves — think Watson at Pebble — that have helped define greatness in major competion.
7) Unconscious Putting
Authors: Dave Stockton with Matthew Rudy
Publisher: Gotham Books
Golf's simplest lessons are its most effective, which is probably why the path to Dave Stockton's door has become so well-worn. His philosopy is so uncluttered that he's emerged as the go-to guy for the likes of Rory and Yani and Michelle and Phil when the putter declines to cooperate. His secret, like his book, is short and sweet and resides primarily in lightening — and enlightening — the dark abyss between the ears. Putting, for Stockton, is about feeling, not thinking; once we've banished the paralyzing march of fixes, fears, and failures, a whole other opportunity presents itself: to just feel the stroke and get the ball rolling.
8) Let There Be Pebble: A Middle Handicapper's Year in America's Garden of Golf
Author: Zachary Michael Jack
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Every golfer goes through some variation of the mid-life crisis. Not everyone gets to do it on the Monterey Peninsula. Once the obvious envy is removed from the equation, what's left is an inviting escapade into discovering — with the help of a diverse cast including "Golf in the Kingdom" author Michael Murphy, Clint Eastwood, the caddie corps, and Jack Nicklaus himself — why Pebble and its high-rent environs are always so absorbing, especially in an Open season.
9) Four Days in July: Tom Watson, the 2009 Open Championship and a Tournament for the Ages
Author: Jim Huber
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
The drama was heart-stoppingly rich in the moment, and remains heart-breakingly rich in retrospect. Watson. Fifty-nine years old. Turnberry. The Open. Huber, whose sterling commentaries grace CNN and TNT, neatly reconstructs the improbable scenario. His lively narrative gets a boost from the recollections of those who lived it — participants like Watson, his caddie Neil Oxman, and eventual winner Stewart Cink as well as interested and interesting parties such as Nicklaus, Trevino and Player. It just doesn't change the ending.
10) The Swinger: A Novel
Authors: Michael Bamberger and Alan Shipnuck
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Consider the set-up: His real name is Herbert, but all call him Tree, and he's the greatest golfer in the history of the solar system. He's rich, he's famous, he's got a spectacular wife, adorable kids, and a yacht almost as big as his libido. You can guess the rest, right? Not so fast. With SI's own Bamberger and Shipnuck at the keyboard, the obvious isn't so obvious at all. Sure, the scandal's a hoot and the fall's titanic, but this is still a novel, which means after the fall, there's hope for redemption.