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A Few Thoughts on Reading Five Lessons

Probably no golf instruction book has been more widely read, dissected, and discussed than Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons. What he said was the sum of his experience with the golf swing, but it has meaning beyond that when other golfers interact with its advice. These are my thoughts.

Five Lessons was serialized in Sports Illustrated, which my father subscribed to in the time when it was a literary magazine with a definite East Coast influence. There was coverage of polo, sailboat racing, horse racing, and Charles Goren had a bridge column. Ivy League football got covered as well as the national heavyweights.

I devoured the articles, and still have the copy of the book my father gave me in the early 1960s, when I was about twelve years old, much too young to even begin to understand and appreciate what he was talking about.

But I read it anyway, along with Johnny Revolta’s Shortcuts to Better Golf, which I checked out of the library countless times until I got a copy for my birthday in 1965.

As every golf book that has ever been written should have the title, How I Play Golf, which only Tiger Woods has done, such is Five Lessons. The opening chapter on the grip, while being the most thorough discussion if this important fundamental you will ever read, is about how to grip the club like Ben Hogan does. See instead my advice in A Basic Golf Swing.

Much of what Hogan says to do are not really what he does, but what he thinks he is doing because of how it felt to him. You know what we say now, feel is not real.

For example, in the stance, the placement of the feet and the position of the elbows do not match pictures of him in action. But those are small points.

What I want you to appreciate are two things. You have to read the entire book, because one sentence can speak louder than an entire paragraph. Second, and it seems as if I am contradicting myself, do not take any sentence as a stand-alone statement. You can be lead astray.

Take for example his oft-quoted statement, “As far as applying power goes, I wish that I had three right hands!” Yes, but that is not the whole story.

He said that in the context of “the left hand driving all the time,” and “AT IMPACT THE BACK OF THE LEFT HAND FACES TOWARD THE TARGET. THE WRIST BONE IS DEFINITELY RAISED.”

If the left hand is in this position it cannot be overpowered by the right hand, which would turn the clubface over and produce a wicked hook, the bane of Hogan’s existence.

And a few pages earlier, Hogan says quite clearly, regarding the hands, “YOU MUST HIT AS HARD WITH THE LEFT AS WITH THE RIGHT.”

In other words, read the whole book, not just the parts you like.

Hogan’s book is about causes, not about effects, by and large. It seems that he has not even mentioned two of the most important things a golfer has to accomplish at impact: ball first, ground second, and my favorite, the hands led the clubhead.

But if you read carefully, there they both are, within the space of eight lines of text on page 104. “For one thing, it helps you strike the ball absolutely clean, before the club takes turf.” This is followed a few lines later by, “Second, since this slight supination action [of the left hand] places the hands a shade ahead of the clubhead at impact, some loft is subtracted from the face of the club.”

He goes on to say about the latter that this gives you more distance by turning a seven-iron into a five-iron. Actually, Hogan should have stayed with his main point, which is that if you use your hands in such a way that the left hand does not allow itself to be overpowered by the right, the evidence is that the hands lead the clubhead at impact.

To say it backwards, if the hands lead the clubhead at impact, it is not possible that the right hand has overpowered the left, and it is up to the left hand to make sure that does not happen.

What about Hogan’s secret?

In 2009, Jody Vasquez published a book, Afternoons With Mr. Hogan, in which he revealed Hogan’s secret as Hogan revealed it to him. It has to do with how the right knee breaks in the forward swing. Why was that not in Five Lessons? “I’m not telling them this one!” Hogan replied when Vasquez asked him.

But he dropped a hint. On page 92, Hogan says, “The right knee breaks in, definitely, toward the target, boosting the mounting velocity of the swing.” There it is. Hogan’s secret if you can appreciate it, which few if any readers did back then or do now.

These are just a few examples. There are many more. Five Lessons is not an easy book to read if you want to absorb its teachings. But it’s worth the effort.

Longer Than Bryson?

I saw this browsing through the golf pages this morning and just had to show it to you.

This is the Trackman data for a Korn Ferry Tour player named John Somers.

For his 6-iron.

Somers’s average driving distance is 331.5 yards, ten yards longer than Bryson.

Good grief.

U.S. Open History Site

Now that the PGA championship is over (Yaay, Phil!), I have my sights set on my favorite tournament, the United States Open.

When I was growing up, this is the tournament everybody wanted to win. Winning this tournament made you different. The title of U.S. Open winner defined your career.

The USGA has a fabulous web page about the history of the National Open, as it was called for so many years. There is a slider on the bottom of the screen that you can set on any year and see pictures, newsreels, and interviews with the winners. Check Ken Venturi’s commentary on his 1964 victory. It was the most stunning win in the tournament’s history.

I’ll have more U.S. Open stuff in the weeks leading to the tournament, which is scheduled for June 17-20 at Torrey Pines (South) in San Diego.

Out On the Course Again

I went out to play with my Men’s Club for the first time since 2014. These last few years have kept me busy with other matters.

Not having played for a long time, I wasn’t sure if anything had changed. On the first green, I asked if I had to replace my ball in front of my marker, or could I put it anywhere I want like the pros do. They said that unfortunately we have to play by the rules. Just checking.

I played OK, shot a 45, two pars and two doubles. I was really good off the tee and on the green, but in between was blotto. I had this ten-yard draw off the tee which was not the shot I wanted, but it got the ball in the fairway so I decided to go with what was working instead of trying to fix it on the fly and make it worse.

I would say I lost four strokes, potentially, by having forgotten how to play the game. You know, hit this shot instead of that one. Or use this club instead of that one. Or hit it here instead of there. Those little things that give you a real chance to get down in two from close in.

The main thing I learned is that you have to practice all your shots to keep them fresh in your mind. Several times I played a pitch near the green when a running shot would have been better. But pitches are all I have been hitting lately, not running shots, so that’s what came to mind.

The difference between 45 and 40 isn’t that great. Just keep the ball in play, which I did, and close the deal in a hurry when you get to the green, which I didn’t. (But if you’re not doing number 1, number 2 won’t help you.)


My next opus, titled, Bob’s Little Golf Book, is in editing now, and will be posted on the blog site in about three weeks. Again, it will be a multi-media extravaganza, and this time free and click-ready from the start.

I’m Taking a Break

Circumstances requiring my time and my full attention require me to take a break from weekly posting at this space for a month or so.

Don’t go away just because there’s no new content for you every Monday morning. Just work on what I’ve given you so far. That will be more than enough to keep you busy until I’m back at it.

Play well and have fun.

I’m Back

My involvement with this blog has fallen off lately. The reason is that I spent the first five weeks of the year finishing writing my next book, The Golfing Self. That wasn’t much creativity left over for this space.

But last Friday morning, I put a tweak on the one sentence that still wasn’t right, and I’m finished. I made contact with the layout artist and we will get that part of production going later this week. The book is due out in April.

So! Starting tomorrow, you’ll be getting the usual supply of insightful instructional posts that is the backbone of The Recreational Golfer. In addition, this year I want to post short comments when ever it strikes me to, so the blog will be much more active than before.

For long-time readers, who are aware of my medical issues, I want you to know I played nine from the red tees last Friday, and the Friday before that. Everything went well. I hope to playing eighteen from the whites by mid-summer.