Some would argue that golf books can only play a limited role in acquiring golf skills, or in learning how to play the game for that matter.
I’m not so sure about that. I do know though, that each of the golf books below gave me an enormous boost in an understanding of various aspects of my golf game.
It is hard for me to think about where I would be as a golfer without the learning gained from them.
So, if you are looking to improve your game, I wholeheartedly recommend these books to accelerate your learning.
This list is not exhaustive. There are many more great books about this beautiful game out there. But if you read nothing else, these books will give you a lot of what you need to play better golf.
1. Ben Hogan's Five Lessons
Written in 1957 by Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers in the world at that time it is easy to see why this book has become a classic. This book was one of the first I read as a beginning golfer. I was shooting in the low 100’s and I was keen to develop a repeatable golf swing. In this classic, Ben Hogan broke down the fundamentals of the golf swing for me in a way that made sense.
Ben Hogan talks through everything from the grip to the role the hips, arms and knees play at various stages of the golf swing. My biggest learning in this book though came from his description of how one should grip the club. To this day, that aspect of my swing has not really changed.
Golf, like any sport, cannot be learned from a book and the chances are that Ben Hogan’s idea of a perfect golf will not work perfectly for you. But if you are a beginning golfer this is a fantastic book to give you a better understanding of the important components of the swing and how the various parts of your body can help generate the results you desire.
2. Harvey Penick’s Little Red Golf Book
This book is a gem. It is a collection of thoughts, lessons, and stories Harvey Penick collected over a lifetime spent in golf. First as a caddie, then as a player and most significantly as a teacher to some of the most accomplished golfers in the world.
I heard about this book from a friend of mine early in my journey, while I was still trying to groove my swing. I bought the book thinking it would help me with my swing, what I found in this book was a treasure trove of ideas about how to play the game of golf. Harvey addresses almost every aspect of the game: how to practice, how to putt, how to think and many others that I won’t go into here.
My most memorable lesson from the book was Harvey’s idea about trying to make the ball die in the hole when putting. This flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that the ideal putt speed should end up a foot or so past the hole (if there were no hole there). In typical Harvey style though he convinces with just one sentence: “The hole is much bigger if you aim to have the ball die in the hole”. This is just one of the many pearls of wisdom Harvey offers in his book and I believe every golfer should own a copy.
3. Dave Pelz’s Short Game Bible
Dave Pelz brings a level of scientific rigour to the study of golf you can expect from a former NASA scientist. Frustrated with his inability to make a living on the PGA Tour, primarily from a weak short game, Dave set about studying and analysing data about every shot in golf. The result is a series of bestselling golf books. Among them, I credit The Short Game Bible with my continuing obsession with improving my short game, and the improved results I have seen from doing so.
One of the major insights in this book for me was Dave’s explanation that poor distance control plays a bigger role in how close our approach shots are to the pin than accuracy with your irons or wedges. To this end, he talks extensively about how to incorporate 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock shots into your game so that you can dial in your wedges from various distances to get your shots pin-high every time. It does take time and practice to dial in in your distances. Once you do though, you will really begin to look at your wedges as true scoring clubs.
Wedge play is only one of the many aspects of the short game that Dave explores in detail. If you struggle with any aspect of your short game (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t), then you will learn heaps from reading this book. There is so much in it you will want to read it again and again. While you’re at it, I would also recommend getting Dave Pelz’s Putting Bible.
4. Golf Is Not A Game of Perfect
There was a time when I was naïve enough to think that the key to great golf was to develop a perfectly consistent swing, so I could hit every fairway, hit every green in regulation, two-putt and walk off each hole with a par or better. This book quickly cured me of my delusion. In this book, sports psychologist Bob Rotella explains why, it is not only possible to play great golf with a less than perfect game, it is necessary.
He explains that unlike other sports where you react to the ball, golf is primarily a mental game. In golf, there is no unconscious reaction or reflex. As we stand over the ball, we have all the time in the world to let good thoughts or bad thoughts enter our conscious mind before we play the shot. And the types of thoughts we let enter, directly influence the outcome of our shots.
Among his many words of wisdom, Bob talks about having a conservative strategy that involves playing only shots you are confident playing. Developing a dependable mental and physical pre-shot routine to shut out the bad thoughts. Swinging confidently. And, most importantly, accepting the results no matter what they are. If you feel that the scores you are getting on the course do not reflect your true ability as a golfer then I highly recommend this book and many of Bob Rotella’s other books to help you become the golfer you know you are.
5. The Big Miss
Hank Haney is probably up there as one of the best-known golf coaches in the world. Admittedly, this is partly because he coached Tiger Woods, one of the greatest players of all time through one of his most successful winning patches. So, when Hank released this book about his years with Tiger, I found the combination of author and subject matter irresistible.
Tiger Woods is not a neutral figure in golf. You either love him or hate him. Regardless of your feelings toward Tiger though, I think the value to be had in this book is in understanding the challenges, insecurities, and self-doubt Tiger faced. Even as he seemed to be on top of the world. More importantly, it provides insight into how Tiger manages his game to score and win, even when he is not playing his “A” game. Something I certainly could learn to do a little bit better.This book is not brimming with tips on how to improve your game. But there are certainly enough gems to keep us all interested. And I really believe this book will make you a better golfer, in the same way that reading about the Dalai Lama might make us all better people. This book is controversial. Some people think Hank should not have written a book about one of his clients. Some people think he painted Tiger in an unflattering way. And some people just can’t stand Tiger. I think that if you can work your way around to read this book, you’re in for a treat.
I read these golf books in the order above because each book addressed a specific gap in my game as it developed.
If for example, you are just beginning golf you would be primarily interested in how to swing the club more consistently and with more power. That’s where Ben Hogan’s book helps.
As you learn to play the game, Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book is filled with tips that will help you find your way around the course in fewer strokes.
Once you’ve grooved your swing to some degree and find your short game leaking a lot of shots, that’s when Dave’s book really comes in handy.
Finally, Bob Rotella’s book can help get your game to the next level if you find your game is plateauing.
Of course, you can read these books in any order you like. Just read them.
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