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.
When my father played for Harvey at Texas, Tinsley was in junior high, and my father would give him rides home from the golf course. Later, he remembers my father speaking to his father from Korea, getting advice over the phone about how to build sand greens for a course he was building on an Army base there. Tinsley says that my father fulfilled his father’s teaching legacy. They both taught golf — although this is a phrase they would never use — in a holistic way. For them, teaching was not a get-rich-quick scheme. It was a way of life. Golf didn’t make them rich, not in the material sense. According to legend, when Harvey was told his cut of the advance for the Little Red Book would be $50,000, he said, “I don’t know if I can come up with that kind of money.” The book sold two million copies. (I can’t tell you how many I have bought and given away.) As an old man, Harvey made a big pile of money. Oh, he went wild. He bought his wife, Helen, some drapes. I can turn golf on and off in my life, but my father could not, and I don’t think Harvey could either. Every day that I play or hit balls, I think of Harvey. He gave me the grip I have used for my entire professional career, pretty much. I was with Harvey in person only a handful of times, but I feel as if I really knew him, and the book you have in your hands is part of the reason.
My times with him were all memorable, particularly when I went to see him in 1986, in my rookie year on Tour, when my grip wasn’t feeling right. My father felt I should see Harvey alone. I remember him saying, “I can’t figure this out. Go see Mr. Penick.” For old-time golf instructors, golf always begins with the grip. Everything flows from the grip.
We met on a Monday late in my rookie season. Austin Country Club was closed, but Harvey was able to use his range. He was 81, and you could see the Texas wind and 10,000 lessons in his weathered face. But his eyes were young, and so was his voice. He was sharp. He didn’t babble endlessly, the way some instructors do. He had me hit balls, and I could tell in his silence that he was really thinking. He looked at my swing and my grip and my footwork. He looked at everything. Finally he said, “Davis, I’d like you to take your left thumb and pinch it closer to your fingers. Just enough so that you can feel it, but I can’t see the change.” I can remember his eyes as he spoke. They were all lit up. He was excited.
He didn’t say why he wanted me to make that change, just as he didn’t tell my father why he should take dancing classes. He wanted you to answer the why questions for yourself. I made the small grip change, and it felt new but not strange. Harvey’s adjustment fixed all the grip-related swing problems my dad had been seeing. In one simple lesson. I made the change right there. Harvey watched me make a few more swings and said, “Let’s go get lunch.” The next year I won my first Tour event.
Two of the best-selling sports books of all time are golf books: this one and John Feinstein’s A Good Walk Spoiled. I talked to John for his first golf book, and he included something about my father and his legal pads crammed with notes. After John’s book came out, Jeff Neuman, an editor at Simon & Schuster, and I talked about using those notes as the basis for a book I would write about how I learned golf from my father. I was intrigued from the beginning, but the reason I said yes was because Jeff had edited Harvey.
My book, Every Shot I Take, takes a lot of inspiration from Harvey’s Little Red Book. The book has helped my children and others get to know my father, who died in a plane crash in 1988. When I was collecting my dad’s papers for the book, I went through a whole pile of condolence notes. One is from Harvey. He wrote in rickety, clear penmanship, and he concluded his note with these words: “He will probably be teaching in Heaven.”
Harvey died on the Sunday before Masters Sunday in April 1995, at age 90. On that day, I won the Tour stop in New Orleans, which got me into the Masters. Harvey was in his home. Somebody told him that I had won, and he put his hands together and made a single clap. Later that night he died. Bud Shrake, the former Sports Illustrated writer who helped Harvey write all four of his books, delivered the eulogy. After the funeral Bud was talking to some friends about that week’s Masters. Bud predicted that of Harvey’s two most celebrated students, Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw, either both would miss the cut or one of them would win. Tom missed the cut. Ben, at 43, won only days after he buried his mentor. I was a stroke behind him.
Neuman, the Little Red Book’s editor, makes a fascinating point about the book. It was published not as a new book with new ideas, but as a classic golf book that, it just so happened, had never actually been published. There’s no artwork or photography in its 175 pages. There’s a tiny oval old-timey drawing on the cover, showing a golfer in knickers. On the back there’s an extraordinary author photograph, Harvey in his 70s. His forehead is lined, old and wise. Then there’s his shirt, a golf shirt with this amazing squares-within-squares pattern. You’d have to be an original thinker to be drawn to a shirt like that, and Harvey was.
The last time I saw Harvey was some years after my father died. Ed Turley, my father’s close friend and former teammate, had been visiting my mother’s home in St. Simons, on the Georgia coast. Penta was telling Ed that she had received a royalty check from my father’s book, How to Feel a Real Golf Swing, which he wrote with Bob Toski. She was wondering what to do with the money. Ed suggested she might want to use it to start a scholarship at Texas in my father’s name, and that’s what she did. Ed and I made a visit to Harvey to tell him about it. Justin Leonard, who went on to win the National Amateur and the Open Championship (as my father and Harvey called the U.S. Amateur and the British Open) was the first recipient.
The most famous three words from the Little Red Book are the title of its 18th chapter: “Take Dead Aim.” If you can really commit to that idea, you will become a better golfer. In 1997, when I won the PGA Championship, take dead aim was my mantra. It always is, really. It’s just that sometimes you are more attuned to its genius than at other times. On the Sunday of the ’97 PGA, I played with Justin Leonard. We came up the 18th fairway together. The misting stopped, and the sun came out.
Two years later Ben Crenshaw was the Ryder Cup captain. Justin and I were on his team. We were playing in Brookline, at the Country Club. The Europeans had a four-point lead through two days of the three-day event. That’s a huge deficit. On Saturday night before the finale, the players and their wives and Ben and others were in our team room at the hotel. I had been sort of waiting all week for Ben to say something about what he had learned from Harvey, but he never did. On that Saturday night, Ben went around the room and asked those so inclined to say something personal about Ryder Cup golf, about what we might expect on Sunday — anything at all, really.
My wife, Robin, was the last to speak. She asked everybody to remember Harvey’s words: Take dead aim. We did, and we won in the biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history. Justin Leonard — who knew Harvey, who had received a Davis Love Jr. scholarship at Texas, who was playing for one of Harvey’s students — holed one of the most famous putts in golf history on that Sunday to help us win. It was the putt heard ’round the world. Harvey, taking a break from his teaching, must have heard the roar in heaven.
The list of Ryder Cup captains with close links to Mr. Penick makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up: Lloyd Mangrum, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Jackie Burke, Dave Marr, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw. And here I am, captain of the 2012 team. Just the idea of adding one more name to that list gives me goose bumps. I’m certain of this: My life in golf was made possible by the happy circumstance that my father knew Mr. Penick.
Sea Island, Ga.
Excerpted from Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: 20th Anniversary Edition by Harvey Penick with
Bud Shrake, published by Simon & Schuster