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Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons

Wouldn’t it be great if there was such a thing as a “golf whisperer?”  Someone out there you could visit who, by merely suggesting a few things, could completely turn your game around and get you on the right track to improvement.  There are a lot of people out there who would imply to be such a person, but unfortunately there’s a lot more noise than there is music where golf instruction is concerned.  I just finished reading Ben Hogan’s  FIVE LESSONS and there seems to be a lot of music in there.

I have been playing golf since I was given my first set of irons by my then future father-in-law back in 1984 or 5.  In the time since, I have had one paid lesson (in the early 90’s). Most of my instruction has come from my former father-in-law, observation, reading the tips in publications like Golf Magazine and Golf Digest, and finally, a lot of “pissin’ on the electric fence.”  I have perused many books on golf and even own a few that I have acquired through the years – Seve Ballesteros’ book, Greg Norman’s book, etc., but never really read them as a serious student.  I tend to be attracted to the funny and anecdotal books.  Over the course of the last couple of nights, I read Mr. Hogan’s book as a student and for the first time and there are a few things that struck me as I read it.

First, the book is small, the font is large, and the illustrations are beautiful.  That, my friends, is a winning combination right off the bat in my world of 12 pounds of to-dos for my 5 pound to-do bag.  Mongo like a quick read.  Mongo like pictures. And these pictures, drawn wonderfully by Anthony Ravielli and “closely supervised” by The Hawk for accuracy, alone provide a great pocket guide to fundamentals without ever reading the text.      

Next, I found solace and hope in Mr. Hogan’s words in his introductory chapter, The Fundamentals, regarding the average golfer and what is possible:

“I see no reason, truly, why the average golfer, if he goes about it intelligently, shouldn’t play in the 70’s – and I mean by playing the type of shots a fine golfer plays…THE AVERAGE GOLFER IS ENTIRELY CAPABLE OF BUILDING A REPEATING SWING AND BREAKING 80, if he learns to perform a small number of correct movements and conversely, it follows, eliminates a lot of movements which tend to keep the swing from repeating.  In these lessons we will certainly not be attempting to cover all of golf or even one-hundredth of that almost inexhaustible subject.  What we will be concerning ourselves with are the facts of golf which have proved themselves to be the true fundamentals – fundamentals that can be checked and not simply left to the imagination or to guesswork.  This is all that is really needed.”  

These are words not from a self-proclaimed “golf whisperer” trying to sell you his 3  DVD set for a mere $149.95, but a legend who’s reputation and ethos precluded saying anything but what he believed to be the absolute truth about his business and his passion.  These words are promising!  A few fundamentals, followed closely, is attractive to the “left-brain” part of me and, if promise holds true, will allow the “right-brain” part of me play the game

Finally, as I finished the book, I realized how simple and few the fundamentals are as described by Mr. Hogan.  They are easy to comprehend and conceptualize.  I also recognized myself in some of his descriptions of what not to do and how not to do it.  In these years of “pissin’ on the electric fence” and trying the quick-fix tips found in magazines and videos, I have managed to get my handicap down to a low of 2 and now hover at a 5.  Pretty good, except my handicap is built on lots of golf course buffoonery with the occasional brilliant round.  We all know that the handicap system is built to grab onto those brilliant rounds and keep them in the system like the words of the ten commandments on the stone tablets.  Therefore, I may be a 5, but usually I play in the low to mid 80’s.  My desire, like I am sure it is for all, is to minimize the buffoonery and maximize the potential for brilliance – always break 80. 

Is Mr. Hogan a “golf whisperer?”  No, I don’t think so, but he does give us the benefit of his many years of hardnosed self-evaluation and experimentation with the golf swing.  His personal results are undeniable.  The sub-title of his book is The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.  Since the original copyright is 1957, it’s not so modern anymore.  Who cares?  It’s still a ball and it’s still a club.  Professionals still revere his swing.  I think his fundamentals are likely timeless.  Will his instruction make us as good as he?  No, unless you have the nearly fanatic work ethic for practice and talent for striking the ball that he had.  Can he make us better with his instruction – intuitively, I believe that to be true.  His instruction hit my ah-ha button too many times to doubt it altogether, but I reserve final opinion until I go through the training myself.  I have already begun and have already seen positive results. 

So, I will ensure my cup is empty, maintain an open mind, and keep my expectations realistic…sorry, that’s another book I am reading – Zen Golf.   Maybe there really is a “golf whisperer,” only he wears leather sandals, meditates, and drinks green tea…

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