February 4, 2000
The winter weather in the Cape Region is keeping a damper on playing opportunities on local courses. Besides, some of us are taking the Polar Bear Plunge this Sunday.
After a dip in the frigid Atlantic, the recliner, a roaring fire, and a good golf book will beckon. Smart Golf (HarperCollins, $24 SRP) is the newest offering from Hale Irwin.
For the last few years Irwin has romped on the Senior Tour. A 20-tournament winner on the PGA Tour, and a 3-time U.S. Open winner, he’s been even more impressive on the senior circuit.
How does he do it?
Irwin is not a long driver. He’s not a great putter. His short game is very good, but not mentioned as among the best by Irwin’s peers. During his entire career Irwin earned a great reputation for his long iron play, though, and that is a good clue.
A person that can control his long irons must have good balance.
In several respects, Irwin recommends different types of good balance as essential to good golf in his new book.
Irwin developed a reputation over the years as a player who got the most out of his talents. Because his talents were deemed more limited that other players, Irwin became known as a competitive, smart golfer.
Irwin knows his own reputation and plays to it in his approach to his material. It is divided into two basic parts: Smart Game Management and Smart Course Management.
The first part deals with appropriate goal-setting, tracking performance, equipment choices, and practice choices.
I particularly liked one pithy comment:
[A] smarter game will be something you can hold on to, unlike so many swing changes golfers make. Band-Aids, after all, eventually fall off.
Irwin delves into remarkable detail concerning fitness and, notably, the need for a balanced diet. For this segment he had the help of Dr. Debra Hartley, the wife of collaborator Jim Hartley.
This is the first time I’ve seen a nutritional guide in a golf book, describing menu choices that vary depending on starting times.
Irwin’s points on fitness are not as original but are nonetheless beneficial, especially for the senior set. His discussion returns to the need for balance, by stressing work on the legs, hips, and low back.
The second part, on course management, begins with a section on preparation for play. It then stresses the need for balance in practice again, in a chapter on the short game. The theme continues in other chapters on tournament play and on the Rules of golf.
This segment should make the members of Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles feel very proud. This is the third book in recent years to feature a hole-by-hole description of how a PGA player played Riviera in a notable performance.
[The other two: Bob Rotella’s Golf is a Game of Confidence, with Bob Cullen, and Steve Elkington’s Five Fundamentals, with Curt Sampson.]
Irwin uses his 1998 U.S. Senior Open win at Riviera for his chapter called “Anatomy of a Smart Round.” What’s nice about this segment is that he balances his description of his triumphs with an equally careful depiction of his mistakes. This vignette is a good example of course management, and Irwin was smart enough to include it.
The last chapter is a useful summary of the topics covered in the previous nine chapters. Again, there are no major new insights. Nonetheless, golfers seeking improvement in their own games should consider adopting Irwin’s balanced approach.
It’s the smart thing to do.