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Game for a Lifetime: More Lessons and Teachingsby Harvey Penick
The Dreamer Sees the Real Thing
A fellow drove into the parking lot of our Pete Dye course beside the river. He parked his Mercedes-Benz with California plates in the shade of our live oak trees and walked into the golf shop and asked to see my son Tinsley, the head pro.
This visitor was a good-looking man with an athletic build. His clothes were top quality. His shoes were shined. His face glowed with health. Tinsley invited him into the grill room so they could have a glass of iced tea at a comfortable table while he waited to hear what the man wanted.
"When I was a kid, I was a terrific player," began his story. "Junior championships, state high school champ, played for a university team that did well in the nationals. Got married my senior year. I wanted to try the pro tour, but instead I started in sales for my father-in-law's company and made more money playing golf with clients my first year than any rookie on the pro tour made grinding his heart out.
"I've kept my game in good shape. My handicap is a traveling 4. In the last year, I've had a 68 at the Old Course, a 70 at Pebble Beach, a 70 at Pine Valley, for example, and there was one great day when I shot a 67 at Riviera. For a CEO who has made more money than he knows what to do with, and also has a handsome wife and family, I can really play golf."
Tinsley congratulated him on his success.
"But I'm not satisfied," the fellow said.
"Why not?" Tinsley asked.
"I still want to play on the pro tour."
Tinsley drank his tea and waited.
"This is no pipedream," the fellow said. "I'm talking about the Senior Tour. I'm forty-three years old. I have sold my company for a very large sum. I'm free now to do whatever I want. My plan is to move my family here and buy a house beside your golf course.
"Every morning for the next seven years I will show up on your doorstep, rain or shine. I want daily lessons from you, and I'd like your father to check me every week or so. I'll hit five hundred practice balls a day. I'll play golf every day from the tips on this very tough course. Soon as I reach the age of fifty, I'll turn pro and join the Senior Tour. I'll pay you and your father whatever you ask, if you'll agree to get me ready. What do you say?"
Tinsley didn't need long to think it over.
"Let me tell you about one of our club members," Tinsley said. "Like you, he's forty-three years old, and he's made all the money he'll ever need. He has a handsome wife and family. He practices golf every day, and he plays golf nearly every day. He's getting ready for the Senior Tour in seven more years. At this tough golf course, his handicap is a plus-4. He is your competition. He is the player you are going to have to learn to beat if you are going to go on the Senior Tour. I really don't want to spend seven years of my life trying to help you to do that. Not for any price.
"There's the man I'm talking about — he's sitting over by the window, eating a club sandwich."
Tinsley gestured toward Tom Kite.
What a Good Grip Can Do for You
Jim Manning, the golf coach at South Park High School, came to see me in the spring of 1952. Jim had been one of my players at the University of Texas, and it was good to visit with him again.
With him Jim brought a boy named Ed Turley, who had finished third in the state high school tournament at Memorial Park in Houston. Ed had come in behind two very good players from Houston — John Garrett, later a star for Rice, and Kirby Attwell, who never lost a Southwest Conference match after he joined our team at Texas.
Jim walked down the steps into my pro shop in the basement. He and the Turley boy had played a round that morning at the old Austin Lions Muny, the best golf course in town in those years, and Jim wanted me to go up to the range and watch his pupil hit a few balls.
Problem was, rain had begun falling.
Instead of going out in the rain, I handed young Turley a club and said, "Let me see your grip."
The boy placed his hands on the club as his father and Jim Manning had taught him, both V's pointing toward his right shoulder. His hands looked melted to the club. A good grip has obvious class, like the hands of a concert pianist. It gives me pleasure to see a good grip.
I said, "Anyone with a grip like that is either a good player now, or he will be by the time he leaves the University of Texas. I'm going to ask our Athletic Director, D. X. Bible, to let you live in the athletic dormitory."
Turley became the roommate of Davis Love, Jr., and was one of my boys for the next four years.
Thirty years later Ed, a successful attorney, was taking his son, Greg, on a tour of colleges. Greg was graduating from Austin High, but he had his eye on going to one of the fine schools in Virginia or North Carolina.
Ed picked up his son at the airport in Washington, D.C., and they drove to Burning Tree and asked Max Albin, the pro, if they could play a round. Max was polite to them, but he didn't get them onto the course. He said they might try again Sunday morning, if they were determined.
Early Sunday morning, Ed and Greg were in the Burning Tree pro shop, waiting for Max to come out of his office.
Greg was handling the clubs on the racks, picking them up, waggling them. Max opened the door of his office and said, "Listen, I'm sorry, but we're really crowded today, and I don't see how..."
Max stopped talking. He had noticed the way young Greg was handling the clubs.
"Anyone with a grip like yours can play on my course. Get your clubs and go to the tee," Max told them.
Ed and Greg thanked him and started out, but Max stopped them.
"You know, during World War II I was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin," Max said. "I went by the old Austin Country Club and asked Harvey Penick if he could get me onto his golf course. Harvey told me no.
"But before I left," Max continued, "I picked up a few clubs in the pro shop and handled them, gripped them, fiddled with them. In a minute, Harvey Penick walked over to me. I was afraid he was going to remind me I was supposed to be leaving."
But what I had said to Max was, "Son, anyone with a grip like yours can play on my course. Get your clubs and go to the tee."
Ed told me that when Max heard Ed had played for me in college, Max not only got them onto Burning Tree, he also picked up their tab and invited them to lunch.
That's what a good grip can do for you.
Keeping the Edge
In the years when Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw were going around our Austin Country Club course near Riverside Drive nearly every day, I would say we had as many low-handicap players as any club in the country.
I was walking toward the practice tee one morning when I overheard a guest telling one of our members, "I don't get it. Why do I see all these good players out here taking lessons and practicing? What a waste of time and money. If I was a good player, I'd skip the lessons and practice and just go straight to the tee."
I wondered what this fellow might say to a great violinist. "Why bother with teachers and practice? You're such a good player, why don't you just play concerts only?"
I have known many golfers who could lay off the game for months at a time, maybe even for a year or more, and still go out and shoot in the 70s.
But I've never known one who could lay off for months and continue to play consistently at a championship level. Bobby Jones would rack his clubs in the storeroom for months in the winter and then he would go win an Open, but not without first taking time for intense practice sessions with his teacher, Stewart Maiden.
One of my scratch players left our club and moved to Kansas City. A couple of years later he came to me for a lesson.
Before we started, I asked what his problem was.
"My game is going downhill," he said. "I'm playing to a 3 handicap now. I want to get back to scratch and stay there."
I watched him hit iron shots for about ten minutes. I handed him his driver, and he pounded the ball long and down the middle.
"Well?" he said. "What am I doing wrong?"
"How often do you play golf?" I asked.
"Once a week is all I have time for anymore."
I said, "There's the answer. You need to play more. It's unreasonable for you to play once a week and expect to stay at scratch. From what I've seen today, you hit the ball as well as ever. But no once-a-week player can expect to maintain the scoring touch you need for scratch golf."
"There's nothing you can do for me?" he said.
I said yes, there was something I could do for him. I would go to the shop and line up a game for him with some other good players.
"This is the medicine you need," I said. "And you'll enjoy it while you're taking it."
Copyright © 1996 by Bud Sharke, Helen Penick
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