The beauty of golf -- and self-help

Books On The Links

January 02, 2000|By Michael E. Waller | Michael E. Waller,Sun Staff

As I punch at this keyboard writing a review about golf books, the weather continues to drift toward its hockey state, with ice forming regularly in the early mornings.

Even for golfing wackos, this makes putting a bit too challenging. There's no avoiding the reality that it's time to put away the golf clubs, at least for a couple of months. But it's the perfect time to take up reading about pitching and the other required skills of the great game of golf.

In his most athletic move in years, the book editor -- a trout fisherman who loves to eat and drink but thinks a wedge is a piece of cheese -- has dumped two satchels full of recently published golf books at my feet and demanded I pick a handful to review immediately. Having no choice but to comply, I have selected four, three of which attempt to help you improve your game.

Among the best in the bag of books is "Five Fundamentals: Steve Elkington Reveals the Secrets of the Best Swing in Golf," by Steve Elkington with Curt Sampson (Ballantine Books, 192 pages, $27).

Elkington, an Australian who joined the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour in 1986, has the credentials to write with authority about the golf swing. He has averaged about a win a year since joining the tour and is considered by no less than the great Sam Snead to have "the best swing out there. Great rhythm, great balance, great follow-through." Elkington's PGA peers agree. For four years in a row they voted his swing the best on the tour.

While Elkington's book is not as comphrensive as most other instruction books, it is distinguished in several ways. It focuses almost exclusively on the full swing, although it includes a dozen pages on the short game and nearly two dozen on fitness and exercises. For the advanced golfer, it adds pages of tips, most of which eluded this high handicapper. It includes a little more biography than similar books. And it resurrects an idea popular years ago: the flicker book. By lifting the corners of the book with the thumb and allowing the pages to fall in sequence, the reader will see Elkington's swing and smooth tempo in motion. The sequences show him swinging a driver, a six-iron and a sand wedge. Seeing the elegance of his swing again and again is proof that Snead is right.

But Elkington is at his best when he's offering unconventional advice. Here's a sampler:

* When a change in your mechanics is required, "have no fear, just do it. Often you'll hear teachers say, 'Well, this change will make you play lousy for two months, and then you'll start to play better.' I've never believed in that. I've always felt that if you make a change that really needs to be made, then you will improve immediately." For us high handicappers, that's music to our ears.

* In setting up to the ball, "the modern prescription goes something like this: Get behind the ball, take a few deep breaths, visualize a good shot and walk in with a positive frame of mind. But I've never in my life seen a great player use this procedure. A great player's one and only focus is the target."

* "Tempo and balance are more important than 'correct positions.'"

* "Don't clutter your mind by getting into these big, full practice swings. The effort to make a perfect practice swing simply isn't worth it. I take a little half-swing, my eyes on the target."

So what are Elkington's Five Fundamentals for the perfect swing? You can find them all in the book, which, like Elkington's swing, is simple and just might become the swing bible.

Every bit as good and much more comprehensive is "Golf School," by Jim McLean (Doubleday, 256 pages, $27.50).

McLean is one of golf's best-known teachers and the personal coach of many PGA Tour pros, including Tom Kite and Brad Faxon. McLean's golf schools are rated among the best in the country.

Like Elkington, he offers much unconventional advice, including the 25 percent theory.

He divides the game into four equal parts: the long game, the short game, the course management game and the mental/emotional game. This differs from many instructors, who place more emphasis on the short game and less on the course-management game.

As a high handicapper, I can vouch for McLean's approach. His chapter on course management is right on target. Making smart decisions during a round of golf can save many golfers three or four strokes. This is especially important when you've hit into a trouble area and are tempted to try to hit the best shot of your life to recover. Playing smarter and hitting a safe recovery shot can save you a stroke or two.

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