About the time I started trying golf
Harvey Penick (with Bud Shrake) wrote
Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book (Simon and
Schuster, 1992). Penick, the longtime golf
coach at the University of Texas and golf
professional in Austin, describes the book’s
origin in the first part of the book:
“An old pro told me that originality does
not consist of saying what has never been
said before; it consists of saying what you
have to say that you know to be the truth.
“More than sixty years ago, I began
writing notes and observations in what I
came to call my Little Red Book. Until
recently I had never let anyone read my Little
Red Book except my son, Tinsley.
“My intention was to pass my Little
Red Book on to Tinsley, who is the head
professional at the Austin Country Club.
“With the knowledge in this little book to use as a reference, it would be
easier for Tinsley to make a good living teaching golf no matter what happens
when I am gone.
“There is only one copy of the red Scribbletex notebook that I wrote in. I kept
it locked in my briefcase. Most of my club members and players who came
to me for help heard about my Little Red Book as it slowly grew into what
is a slender volume
considering that all the
important truths I have
learned about golf are
written in its pages.
“What made my
Little Red Book special
was not that what was
written in it had never
been said before. It was
that what it says about
playing golf has stood
the test of time.
(photo by Ron Meredeith)
“I prefer to teach with images, parables and metaphors that plant in the
mind these seeds of shotmaking. These, too, went into the notebook— if they
“Maybe it was wrong to hoard the knowledge I had accumulated. Maybe
I had been granted these eighty-seven years of life and this wonderful career
in order that I should pass on to everyone what I had learned. This gift had not
been given to me to keep secret.
“A writer, Bud Shrake, who lived in the hills near the club, came to visit me
under the trees on this particular morning. “That morning under the trees we
opened my Little Red Book.”
Wikipedia states the book became the number-one selling golf book of
all time and calls Coach Penick perhaps the best golf coach of the
mental game. Among his star pupils, Mr. Penick lists Ben Crenshaw
(Masters Tournament champion) and Tom Kite (in his day the top money
winner for professional golfers and a U.S. Open champion).
The book is essentially 80 golf lessons, clearly stated in one to two pages.
A few are longer. What struck me immediately was the common-sense
approach, yielding succinct lessons. Lessons Coach Penick describes as
proven help. I doubt if anyone could make me much of a golfer. But more
than golf was the realization that this man knows how to teach and coach.
And he was the same kind of professional gentleman as my mentor,
Mr. Jim Leighton. Coach Leighton was Harvey-in-tennis. Perhaps not as
well-known, but he had the same kind of effective teaching techniques.
And, as I read Coach Penick’s book, I was stunned by the similarities with
Coach Leighton and the career experiences I had gathered over 50 years
of teaching and coaching.
Coach Leighton finished his career at Wake Forest University. The tennis
stadium is named for him. His book, Inside Tennis: Techniques of Winning is
a stellar tennis work.
My own writing is limited. I tried to compile a guide to coaching college
tennis in the early ’80s but abandoned the effort until 2007. Play Is Where
Life Is was about one-third tennis.
Like Coach Penick, I thought that was it. However, Coach Penick
published three more books. I like all of them, especially the title of his
second: If You Read This Book You Are My Pupil, And If You Play Golf You Are
My Friend. My son Dan says I am “on the other side of the digital divide” and
introduced me to blogging. The Little Red Book of golf may be the
first golf blog. I doubt if Harvey realized what was to come.
My blog (www.tomparham.wordpress.com) was a way to continue
writing—and writing about tennis especially.
I do not consider myself in a league with either Coach Penick or Coach
Leighton. I do have an admiration and appreciation for both. And a
realization that they both went about conveying proven valuable lessons
in a language and style that is quite similar.
Bob Dylan sang, “you’ve got to get up close to the teacher if you want to
learn anything.” (“Workingman’s Blues #2”). The Little Green Book of Tennis is
my attempt to pay tribute to these two great teachers/coaches/
gentlemen and their techniques.
Like Coach Penick I have tried diligently to select the lessons that
are valuable and true in tennis. Most have a connection to my many hours
spent with Coach Leighton.