Books for Chrsitmas: Harvey rabbits and America is rapt: Tim Glover escapes the rough but falls for the seductive wiles of golf's best-read little red book

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The Independent Online
TWENTY years ago Harvey Penick retired from the Austin Country Club in Texas with the title of head professional emeritus. He had spent 50 years compiling notes on the game and how to play it and when he was persuaded to publish them his pension worries were over. Harvey Penick's Little Red Golf Book (CollinsWillow, pounds 9.99) has sold almost as many copies as Mao's little offering.

With Jack Nicklaus now designing and building courses in China, Harvey's thoughts may well have a more lasting effect than the ex-Chairman's. A best- seller in America it is now available in Britain and it is easy to understand its appeal. The paragraphs are brief and have a note-form read about them. And there are no complicated diagrams. According to Penick, the three most important clubs in the bag, in order, are the putter, the driver, the wedge. Ben Hogan listed driver, putter, wedge.

'You hit the driver 14 times in a round,' Penick argues, 'but you may have 23-25 putts outside the 'gimme' range. A five-foot putt counts one stroke, the same as a 270-yard drive but the putt may be much more significant to your score. Nothing is more important psychologically than knocking putts into the hole. A good putter is a match for anyone. A bad putter is a match for no one. The woods are full of long drivers.'

On the grip: 'Sam Snead never had calluses. He holds the club as if it is a live bird in his hands, with just enough pressure that the bird can't fly away but not so tightly that the bird can't breathe.' On approach: 'Take dead aim. Once you address the ball hitting it has got to be the most important thing in your life at that moment. Shut out all thoughts other than picking out a target.' On the short game: 'Devote 90 per cent of your practice time to chipping and putting. You will knock five strokes off your score. I guarantee it.' On positive thinking: 'If you can't make up your mind whether the shot calls for a four, a five or a six-iron and you choose the five as a compromise and then are still unsure when you take your stance, you might as well go sit down.'

If you do have to go sit down, take this book with you. Penick is nearly 90. 'As I get older I must be becoming a better teacher. This must be true because more of my pupils have started hitting the ball out of my sight. Or could it be my eyes are fading?' Not all his views are sound. 'Golf,' he says, 'has kept more people sane than psychiatrists.' The woods are full of demented people.

When Arnie: Inside the Legend (Tribune, Florida, dollars 19.99) was published in America in the summer, IMG attempted to rubbish the book and its author, Larry Guest. This is because of chapter six, 'Darth McCormack and the Evil Empire', in which Guest calls Mark McCormack's company 'International Money Grabbers'. While admitting that the liaison between Arnold Palmer and McCormack in 1960 provided the base for the phenomenal growth and influence of IMG and made both men fortunes, Guest alleges that the golfer was mismanaged and that three years ago he was 'thrust into a quagmire of embarrassing lawsuits and public ridicule'.

When the book appeared during the US Open in June, Guest received a copy of an IMG memo which had been faxed to the media hotel. In it Alastair Johnston, one of McCormack's top men, outlined IMG's strategy for dealing with the book: 'We certainly do not want to do anything to fan the flames of publicity . . . ' Johnston says the memo fell into Guest's hands by mistake; Guest, who copied it and distributed it, said it was sent to him by a sympathiser. To answer potential questions, IMG prepared a press release which accused Guest of 'innuendo, misrepresentation, hearsay and inexcusably wrong facts to discredit the Palmer-McCormack relationship, the most successful business partnership in all of sport. Why? When Arnold asked Guest the reason he wrote this inflammatory book, the reply was predictable: 'Arnold, I did it for the money'.' IMG would have appreciated that sentiment, surely? As for Johnston, a Scotsman, he said of Guest: 'As the IRA say, our day will come.'

There have been numerous books on Seve Ballesteros and there will be more before he has done but to catch up on the 36-year-old as his game goes through a mid-life crisis, Lauren St John has produced Seve (Partridge Press, pounds 14.99), a biography. St John is a scattergun interviewer with a genuine, almost obsessional interest in the game. When Ballesteros was beaten and Europe tied in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1989, he approached her at the bar and said: 'We should have won, we should have won.' He had such a look of sadness it reduced St John to tears.

Plumridge with the plum pudding? Almost Straight Down the Middle (Queen Anne Press, pounds 12.95) is an entertaining collection from Chris Plumridge, imaginative and humorous. Golf: Nostalgia and Tips and Care (Aurum, pounds 16.95) wins the most marks for presentation. Written by Alick Watt, the two-book pack is designed to catch the eye. David Leadbetter has followed up his successful book The Golf Swing with Faults and Fixes (CollinsWillow, pounds 15.99) in which he explains how to solve the 80 most common problems. Eighty? He should have limited it to 20 and brought out four annuals.

There is more instruction and more photographs and diagrams in Masterclass Golf (Anaya, pounds 16.99) by Peter Smith. The Killer Swing (CollinsWillow, pounds 14.99), John Daly's guide to long hitting, will appeal to those who want to drive for show. What Daly proved was how to drive for dough. Four PGA professionals offer a more conventional approach than 'grip it and rip it' in Driving: The Power Game (CollinsWillow, pounds 15.99).

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