Golf Digress

Physically cultured commentary on Sport and Wellness

Happy Birthday Harvey Penick

Harvey Penick couldn’t have been more gracious. Bud Shrake sat over on a couch, microphone at the ready. A steady stream of people would come to visit the oracle. Bud would simply turn on the mic and see what came from the conversation. This was after the first book, based on the contents of his Scribbletex notebook, which I’m lucky enough to say I’ve held in my hands.

The only time Bud said he ever saw Harvey get genuinely angry was over his suggestion to get one of those automatic signing stamps. It would’ve approximated Harvey’s signature well enough. Signing each copy came to be difficult and fairly preposterous. Stacks of the Little Red Book would arrive at the Penick house. I saw them. Occasionally they would get mislaid, causing frantic searches. Harvey would not relent. He was insistent that there was to be no approximation. If someone wanted a signed copy from him, and went to the trouble to ask and send their copy, they were going to get it.

I sat alongside him, the better to be closer, although he had no trouble hearing and understanding me. Occasionally he would look out onto the porch, and notice a squirrel or just wait for my awkward questions. He told me many stories, the ones he said he often told writers, including about Herman Keiser showing up at Austin Country Club dressed as a forlorn caddie along with the notorious Titanic Thompson. Later they’d recognize the ‘Missouri Mortician’ in the paper as the winner of the Masters. Harvey was curious about me, especially about how I knew about Abe Mitchell, a working class British champion from the early twentieth century. Mitchell went on to find success but was perhaps one of the first of those in the modern era to be saddled with the “best to never have won a major” title, which he never did. I was a Mitchell fan from cigarette cards and was, frankly, surprised that Harvey knew who he was. Mitchell did achieve immortality. He is the model of the golfer on top of the Ryder Cup, having worked as the private instructor for Samuel Ryder.

I’d found a saying of Mitchell’s which I particularly liked, and included it in our manuscript of Golf Etiquette. Harvey noticed it, and commented about it. In fact, he later included it in one of his later books. That he agreed to endorse Golf Etiquette was something of a dream come true, and he and Bud even correctly spelled my name when they included a mention of me and the book in “Learn Etiquette from Barbara.” It appears in For All Who Love the Game. Barbara Puett, an excellent student of Harvey’s, and for many years an excellent teacher, features etiquette in her classes. She often teaches absolute beginners; in fact the classes, available through the adult Informal Classes through the University of Texas, always fill up quickly. I occasionally assist. It’s wonderful to see golfers get off on the right foot in addition to learning the basics of decorum. Former UT golf coach George Hannon told her once she was providing a public service by actually going out on the course and prepping new golfers to their responsibilities, which is true. Everyone who completes her beginner 1 class gets a copy of Golf Etiquette.

Harvey did look at me askance. I asked if he could teach me how to hit a stymie. “You don’t need to know how to do that,” he said. That was true but I persisted, and he showed me the following trick. It didn’t work well on his carpet and rug but it works like a charm on a green.

Place two balls one in front of the other, a few inches apart. Step a little bit on the back ball, compressing it down slightly into the green. [Please don’t damage the green. Find a crappy spot, or an edge, or just don’t hold me responsible.] Then simply putt the back ball. It hops up and over the front ball, a perfect antidote to negotiating a stymie. (Now that I think of it, it was an old cigarette card of Abe Mitchell demonstrating proper stymie negotiating technique that must’ve prompted the question.)

I didn’t have the nerve to ask Harvey under what circumstances he acquired this mystery. I wonder. Back in the day the stymie, a compelling subject that I explored at some length in Golf Unplugged (Tatra Press, 2008), could be a masterful bit of strategy. Harvey’s tip would of course been highly unethical. But handy.

At any rate, happy birthday Harvey, happy birthday to a grown caddie, a most interesting man, and a justly revered teacher. It shouldn’t have surprised me but when I came across a chapter entitled “Yoga” in their last collaboration (my personal favorite), The Game for a Lifetime (1996), or as I call it, the Little Blue Book, Harvey again demonstrated he was way ahead of the curve.

“I can’t imagine,” he wrote, “a more useful pursuit for a golfer than the study of yoga.” There you have it. As if he needed any endorsement, let alone one from a shag boy. An extraordinary individual, who I very much enjoyed meeting and speaking with on several occasions.

Lanced Armstrong’s “lie is no longer believable.”

No shortage of Lanced books on sale at the Austin Public Library's Recycled Reads store. Hardcovers: $2, paperback: $1. Cheap!

No shortage of Lanced books on sale at the Austin Public Library’s Recycled Reads store. Hardcovers: $2, paperback: $1. Cheap!

It’s been tough to keep up with it all. There’s Tuesday’s banner USA Today headline, “LEMOND SLAMS LANCE, SAYS ACTIONS ‘CRIMINAL.’

[CNN’s Anderson] Cooper asked LeMond if Armstrong perpetrated the greatest fraud in sports history.

Absolutely. Absolutely,” LeMond replied. “The greatest fraud was that, I mean, I know his physical capabilities. He is a top 30 at best. I mean, at best. No matter what. If he was clean, everybody was clean, he was top 30 at best. He is not capable …of the top five.

“What do you think should happen to him now?” Cooper asked.

“This is not a sporting infraction, said LeMond, a three-time Tour de France winner. “This is criminal.”

“You think he should go to jail?” Cooper asked.

“I do, yes,” said LeMond, who compared Armstrong to Bernie Madoff.

A couple of days before, in The Guardian, another damning headline: “Lance Armstrong tells Alex Gibney: ‘The lie is no longer believable.’ ( If The Armstrong Lie (released next month) is anywhere near as good as Gibney’s Enron tour de force, The Smartest Guys in the Room, his treatment of Armstrong’s tour de farce should be mesmerizing. It started as comeback movie to be called The Road Back, but for obvious reasons was never released. Paul Kimmage of The Observer asks:

What if it had been released and people thought: “What a hero. We love this guy.” And then a month later, the Usada report is released and now those same people are in shock: “He’s a doper! Hey Alex Gibney, what have you just sold us here?”

Yeah, well, there was that, and that’s why we didn’t release it. It was not a promo job – there was quite a bit about how brutal he was with people and the allegations of doping – but, in the light of events, it was not a film that could be credible. As Lance once told me – because we had a conversation prior to Oprah when he was pondering how to come forward and I said, not nudging him: “Why don’t you just keep doing what you always do and fight?” He said “Well, the lie is no longer believable.” So there had come a moment when the lie was no longer believable.

The movie premiered recently at the Toronto Film Festival. From Fox News:

Taking a fresh look at the footage late last year, Gibney and producer Frank Marshall recognized that they had captured the incredible truth that had been “hiding in plain sight,” he said. “We realized that we had all of this stuff that we didn’t know was so important then, but was now important,” said Marshall.

There’s another new book. The authors, two seasoned Wall Street Journal reporters, have been making the radio rounds promoting Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever. Unfortunately, they’re not on the bill for this weekend’s Texas Book Festival. The book’s billed as ”The first in-depth look at Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal, the phenomenal business success built on the back of fraud, and the greatest conspiracy in the history of sports.”

He finally returned the bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics. There’s that.

Odd, too, I thought, was the comment on The Guardian’s site from author Malcolm Gladwell, defending Liestrong.

“Imagine,” Gladwell says, “if all the schools in England had a rule that you can’t do homework, because homework is a way in which less able kids can close the gap that Nature said ought to exist. Basically, Armstrong did his homework and lied about it! Underneath the covers, with his flashlight on, he did his calculus! And I’m supposed to get upset about that?”

To which a blogger responded in the comments:

FirstBass AB2013

30 September 2013 9:17am

Well, injecting yourself with substances that have been specifically banned by your sport’s governing body to give yourself an advantage, winning lots of races and making lots of money, lying about your use of these substance, and bullying people attempt to point out the truth – would that meet your definition of cheating? I think society has a fairly broad consensus on this one.