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The 25 Best Golf Books Ever

4 DOWN THE FAIRWAY by Robert T. Jones Jr. and O.B. Keeler (1927)
To write your autobiography at age twenty-four normally takes huge helpings of hubris; Robert Tyre Jones Jr.—a.k.a. Bobby Jones—did it, instead, with humility. In 1926, the stocky Georgian became the first golfer to win both the British and U.S. Opens in the same year. But what makes the autobiography he would write with Atlanta sportswriter O.B. Keeler so moving is the wisdom he acquired through numerous drubbings, hot-headed meltdowns and runner-up finishes. "I never learned anything from a match that I won," he writes. Jones exhibits a self-deflating wit along with a keen ability to convey the tension and exhilaration of high-stakes golf. (Longstreet Press, $25)

5 GOLF IN THE KINGDOM by Michael Murphy (1972)
Slide into the pew. The Church of Shivas Irons is crowded with the faithful, and Brother John Paul Newport is about to speak: "Golf in the Kingdom gave me spiritual cover to indulge in the game by suggesting the possibility of 'bigger meaning.'" John Updike once called it his favorite golf book because "it imparts a philosophy of the game and teaches you how to play as well." Murphy, the cofounder of the New Age-y Esalen Institute in California, produced an atmospheric novel masquerading as a memoir. Stopping in Scotland on his way to India (that much is true), he meets a charismatic golf pro named Shivas Irons, who spouts metaphysical wisdom as if he were Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan with a brogue. They play eighteen, pause for dinner and, whisky-fueled, return to the links after midnight in search of the cave-dwelling master club maker Seamus Macduff. That's Part One. Part Two, containing the purported journals of Shivas Irons, is less compelling, but as Michael Bamberger says, "You don't have to bother with the weird second half to be totally thrilled by the first." (Arkana, $25)

6 DEAD SOLID PERFECT by Dan Jenkins (1971)
If it were just the funniest book ever written about golf hustlers, two-timing spouses and a scuffling Tour pro who finds himself leading the "National Open," Jenkins's first novel would still be a great read, but what makes it brilliant is its heart. Kenny Lee Puckett, Jenkins's droll hero out of Fort Worth, Texas, would be loath to admit it, but his is a love story, in the end as poignant as it is witty. And it is very witty. As Kenny informs us, referring to his activist ex-wife, "I used to tell her that the only difference I was aware of between Democrats and Republicans was that Republicans seemed to have lower handicaps and more sets of clubs while Democrats liked to bet more—and paid off quicker." (Main Street Books, $14)

7 THE MYSTERY OF GOLF by Arnold Haultain (1908)
Haultain took up golf in his maturity and examines with a convert's zeal the ineffable harmony of mind, spirit and muscle it demands. "It gets at the existential mystery of the game better than any other book I know," says Lewis Lapham. "It's about self-knowledge. There's an element of stoicism in it: to accept the ball as it lies, to be responsible for one's own blunders. And to remain in good spirits in the face of adversity." Even Haultain admits that isn't easy. "A false stroke in golf is more keenly felt than is a rejected proposal," he writes. "The girl may change her mind, but a foozle is an irrevocable foozle, and a hole lost is lost forever." (Classics of Golf, $33)

Caution: You are about to enter what was for years golf's most top-secret laboratory—the interior of Ben Hogan's steel-trap mind. Here is everything he learned in the one-man Manhattan Project he conducted on the practice tee. With surgical precision, Five Lessons will take your game apart and maybe put it together again. "That book has kept generations of teaching pros in business," Bamberger says.

So why mess with it?Because Hogan's intensity and will to win—whatever it takes—come through loud and clear. The unspoken sixth, and most valuable, lesson of the book is, simply, "Know thyself," which Ben Hogan did to an unprecedented degree. Finally there are Anthony Ravielli's remarkable line drawings of Hogan. They fully convey his granitic strength and imperturbable composure. (Pocket Books, $24)

9 SCOTLAND'S GIFT: GOLF by Charles B. Macdonald (1928)
Macdonald got his first glimpse of golf at Musselburgh in 1872, when he visited his grandfather in Scotland. He was sixteen, from Chicago, and the game, not to mention the players in their bright red jackets, struck him as "stupid and silly." Then his grandfather took him to St. Andrews, and Charlie saw the light. He became the first amateur champion of the United States, a cofounder of the USGA, the first American golf architect of note and a tireless advocate for the spirit of the game.

Scotland's Gift reads like a presidential memoir, plunging us back into the thick of historic disputes over rules and amateur status, quoting from impassioned speeches and letters he exchanged with the likes of Bernard Darwin and Harold Hilton. But Macdonald never saw himself as bigger than the game. "A golf hole, humanly speaking, is like life," he writes, "inasmuch as one cannot judge justly of any person's character the first time one meets him." (Classics of Golf, $39)

10 GOLF DREAMS by John Updike (1996)
"Updike's genius," McGrath says, "is to put into words our shared but usually inarticulate feelings for and frustrations with this impossible pastime." Let others narrate a nail-biting Augusta finish. Updike is more attuned to a regular foursome's grouchy, almost marital camaraderie. And who better than the author of the Rabbit novels to unmask the game as sublimation?In "The Bliss of Golf," he writes, "We feel, dressed for golf, knightly. . . . The green when it receives us is soft, fine, gently undulating, maidenly." Psychologically perceptive, he describes in the same essay "the bliss of the swing. The one that feels effortless and produces a shot of miraculous straightness and soar. 'I'll take it,' we say modestly, searching about with a demure blush for the spun-away tee." In "Farrell's Caddie," which McGrath calls "the single best piece of golf lit ever," Sandy, the wizened Scotsman of the title, has a unique gift for telling "a' aboot a man, frae th' way he gowfs." As for Updike: He is golf's ultimate poet. (Knopf, $25)

11 THE BOGEY MAN by George Plimpton (1967)
In writing about his month playing pro-ams on the 1966 PGA Tour, the man who invented participatory journalism endears himself to the reader with his heroically hapless play. But even better are the stories he picks up. Nicklaus explains that in the heat of a match he likes to hum "Georgy Girl" ("I find my whole game shifts and becomes involved"). And there's Hogan's advice to Claude Harmon, the head pro at Winged Foot, on how to win the Open on his home course: "Don't lift your eyes off the ground for the entire round—it'll save you having to talk or listen to anyone . . . don't say a damn word."

The author, who died last year at seventy-six, was not steeped in golf, but he was a quick study. And on one subject his opinion can be considered authoritative. A world-class connoisseur of cocktail parties, Plimpton writes that he always considered yachtsmen the noisiest. That is, until the parties at La Quinta during the Bob Hope Desert Classic. No one, it seems, can out-chortle a crowd of amateur golfers recounting their triumphs shot by interminable shot. (Classics of Golf, $25)


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