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Arnold Palmer
July 15, 1963
The confident attitude and bold techniques of Arnold Palmer have made him the most renowned professional golfer in the world. Now for the first time he reveals the mental and physical disciplines that make up his unique concept of the game. In a five-part series he shows how all players can use the Palmer principles to increase their golfing pleasure and proficiency
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July 15, 1963

Part I: Good Golf Is A State Of Mind

The confident attitude and bold techniques of Arnold Palmer have made him the most renowned professional golfer in the world. Now for the first time he reveals the mental and physical disciplines that make up his unique concept of the game. In a five-part series he shows how all players can use the Palmer principles to increase their golfing pleasure and proficiency

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Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated. A child can play it well, and a grown man can never master it. Any single round of it is full of unexpected triumphs and seemingly perfect shots that end in disaster. It is almost a science, yet it is a puzzle without an answer. It is gratifying and tantalizing, precise and unpredictable; it requires complete concentration and total relaxation. It satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening—and it is without doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.

No game is as pleasantly engrossing. I am a professional who has to keep winning to keep eating. Yet I love golf so much that I sometimes forget to play it as well as I can. You see, a golf course is an intoxicating place. This is especially true in the spring of the year, when the warm sun presses down on your shoulders, when the grass has just been mowed for the first time and lies there damp and green with its fresh-cut smell, when the sky is a deep blue and an occasional cloud drifts by so brilliantly white that it dazzles your eyes.

This was the sort of day, this was the sort of happiness that we kept waiting for all winter when I was growing up in western Pennsylvania. The winters are long and hard around Latrobe, my home town. The golf course where my father was and still is the pro usually froze over by the middle of December, and we had to content ourselves with skiing while we waited for that first perfect day to come along. We dreamed about it all winter, and we went slightly out of our minds when it finally arrived. I still have trouble keeping my feet on the ground on that kind of day; I want to march right up over the next hill and on and on. It is so great to be alive and playing golf, and the world is so perfect that my mind sloshes about aimlessly. I forget that the ball is there to be hit. I stare at it, its white enamel glistening in the grass, as if hypnotized. Physically I am on the golf course, but spiritually I am just floating around it in a happy daze. I have to make a deliberate effort to reach out, pull myself back to reality and get down to the business at hand.

What other people may find in poetry or art museums I find in the flight of a good drive—the white ball sailing up and up into that blue sky, growing smaller and smaller, then suddenly reaching its apex, curving, falling and finally dropping to the turf to roll some more, just the way I planned it. I even enjoy the mingled pleasure and discomfort of breaking in a new pair of golf shoes. I like the firmness of the leather, the solid feeling against the turf. Sometimes I have changed to a new pair of shoes in the middle of a tournament and have been carried away by the confidence they gave me and the excitement of the play. Not until I returned to the clubhouse would I notice that I had acquired a crop of blisters.

There are times, of course, when I get dead tired of golf. One tournament has followed another, day in and day out. I am mentally and physically exhausted. My back aches from the constant pivoting. My shoulders hurt from the repeated jar of clubhead biting into hard ground. I cannot wait to get back home, to toss the clubs into a dark closet, to sit down and relax and forget there ever was such a game. I sit for an entire day, and no thought of golf enters my head. The second morning also passes in freedom from the tyranny of the game. But by the second afternoon I am downstairs in my shop, fiddling with that three-wood that felt a little off balance in the last round. By dinnertime I have unscrewed the bottom plate, added a drop of solder for extra weight, swung the club a dozen times, filed away half the fresh solder, found myself satisfied at last with the three-wood and begun to wonder what kind of fraction-of-an-inch alteration would make my putter feel better to me. If you are a golfer you know what I mean. If you are about to become a golfer you will soon find out.

Many people—amateurs distressed by their failure to break 100, professionals weary of the travel and the strain of having to break par every day—swear to give up golf. Almost nobody ever does.

One reason for this is the subconscious suspicion that golf is not really hard to play. No other golf book, I suspect, has ever started with the statement that golf is a simple game—or even that it is "deceptively simple," the phrase that I have used. But here, I think, is where those of us who have been writing about golf or teaching it have made a great mistake. We have been lured into too many complexities. We have forgotten that the game began with the very elementary discovery, by a Scottish shepherd who never had a lesson in his life, that he could knock a pebble an astounding distance with a good swift lick of his shepherd's crook—and that essentially the idea of the game even today is simply to pick up a stick and hit a ball with it, as straight and as hard as possible. The trouble, I suppose, is that most people do not take as naturally to swinging a golf stick as they do to throwing a baseball or knocking a tennis ball across a net. They usually have their difficulties at the beginning, and this makes them a captive audience for anyone who has learned to play at all. The game, therefore, lends itself to doubletalk. We pros seem to be in the possession of occult secrets denied to other men, so who can blame us if we stroke our beards and begin talking about the inside-out swing, turning in a barrel, starting the backswing with the shoulders, starting the downswing with the hips, pronating the wrists and all manner of mysterious things? I have seen many golf books—you must have, too, if you have been interested in the game for any length of time—that were as difficult to read as advanced textbooks in physics.

The temptation to talk and write like oracles has been almost irresistible, and those who have succumbed to it (including me) were only being human. Unfortunately, we have done golf a disservice. We have made the game sound so difficult and so contrary to the body's natural instincts that we have surely scared away thousands of people who might otherwise have tried golf and enjoyed it. We have infected thousands of other people with inferiority complexes which have inhibited them from ever playing their best and which, worst of all, have made them look upon a round of golf as an exhausting ordeal instead of a delight.

It is time now—and this is my main reason for writing this book—to get back to first principles. Golf is a game, a great and glorious game. It is played for pleasure, for the modest and natural pleasure of walking around in the good clean air and for that other exquisite pleasure of hitting that rare perfect shot. Even those of us who earn our living at the game, I can assure you, play it more for pleasure than for money.

Contrary to what many amateurs have been led to believe, the golf ball is not a natural enemy of man. It is not an evil spirit put there to confound you if you should happen to forget the merest detail in a long list of mental musts and must nots. On the contrary, it is a friendly masterpiece of engineering skill, tightly wound, beautifully covered, gifted with the possibility of reaching a great velocity and dimpled to make it fly straight and true. So the next time you go out on a golf course, forget the fancy theory, shake your inferiority complex, give the ball a good healthy whack—and enjoy yourself. If you must have rules, call this Palmer's First Law of Golf.

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