Ben Hogan's instruction book, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, first published in 1957, was an instant classic. Hogan, who died in 1977, is still widely regarded as the greatest shotmaker golf has ever seen, better than Tiger Woods, better even than Moe Norman. Nobody has ever written about golf with the elegance of Hogan's coauthor, Herbert Warren Wind, and its illustrator, Anthony Ravielli, was a master. When SI first published the individual chapters that make up the book, the magazine was besieged with requests for reprints. Larry Nelson taught himself to play with Five Fundamentals and went on to win a U.S. Open, two PGA Championships and 23 other events on the regular and Senior tours. Others were less successful.
Five Fundamentals is the most overrated golf instruction book because you and I cannot make the moves that Hogan made, unless you happen to have world-class hand-eye coordination, a vise grip and several hours a day to practice. Hogan wants you to work on your grip—your grip—for half an hour a day. His imperious tone is, as the kids say, so annoying. He begins one warning this way: NOTE THIS WELL. (His caps.)
Supinate, pronate and rotate are the key words in Five Fundamentals. There's only one problem. Most people DON'T KNOW WHAT THOSE WORDS MEAN. For most golfers, the book is confusing, frustrating and intimidating.
On learning golf, by Percy Boomer, was first published in 1946 and can still be found in some bookstores. It should be in many more. I know of no golf instruction book that does more to teach the feel of the correct golf swing using an instrument ill-suited to the task: the written word. Boomer was a British teaching professional who uses Shakespeare's language with a loveliness and directness that lesser authors cannot manage. He writes: "...the joy of golf is to feel the ball snugly gathered up and thrown off the face of the club."
Boomer found one pupil to be "looking too intently at the ball." He writes that he does not look for swing faults. He looks instead for what is done correctly, and from that foundation he builds. The point of the book may be found in a simple, crude drawing on page 129. Using a series of dots, Boomer illustrates what the path of the swing should feel like—that you hit the ball from the inside and swing to the outside, as any power hitter in baseball does. The path of the club starts well inside the line of flight of the ball and finishes well outside. In execution, this is nearly impossible to achieve. You are not intended to do so. The caption reads: "Correct 'feel' or 'mind impression' of the swing." On Learning Golf is an excellent book because it wastes no words telling you how to swing. Instead, it tells you what a good one feels like. The lessons stay with you, even when you're on the golf course. A golf book that actually helps you play better. What a concept, huh?