November 3, 2000
Some golf books should come with warning labels.
Jon Winokur’s new book, How to Win at Golf (Without Actually Playing Well), (Pantheon, $21 SRP) should carry a notice telling readers not to drink anything while reading it.
I’ll explain why later.
Winokur’s first foray into golf writing is a very funny, mock-serious look at one of the basic elements of competitive golf—getting into the head of the golfer you’re playing.
Some might call this gamesmanship. Others, including Winokur, call it golfmanship, in honor of the fact that golf is the ideal sport for these tactics.
I really don’t know too many golfers who have never tried a bit of golfmanship on their competitors. Apparently neither does Winokur. It’s also clear that he’s used several of the tactics described in his book, with great success.
With a mix of anecdotes from the professional tours as well as the experiences of everyday amateurs, Winokur delves into what works and what doesn’t.
On Pigeon Husbandry:
The care and feeding of a bona fide pigeon—someone you can beat regularly but who always comes back for more—is a delicate matter. You must strike a balance between winning consistently and still giving him hope of beating you. (I do not refer to this aspect of golfmanship as “hustling,” which connotes smoke-filled poolrooms and other unsavory milieus. I prefer to think of it as “long term planning.”)
[I]f your opponent is himself a golf dandy, take the opposite tack and dress down. The more inappropriate your attire, the greater your edge on a man who takes care to turn himself out for a round of golf. . . . Black socks with Bermuda shorts are worth a shot a side, minimum.
[I]f you and your opponent are on the same line and you’re away, and you happen to leave your putt short, you may be able to salvage the hole by saying to yourself in a stage whisper, “Really belted it, too.”
I’d better stop before I just quote the whole book.
Winokur also mixes in good legitimate advice, while amusing his readers with his dry wit. He aptly describes the difference between match play and medal play, including a useful segment on the appropriate strategies most golfers should use to help in match play. Part II of the book, “Your Own Petard,” includes a surprising amount of good counsel for amateur golfers on how best to play golf without the use of golfmanship. Of course, Winokur then goes on to describe the questionably appropriate tactics that are the book’s primary focus.
The heart of the book is contained in Parts IV, V, and VI. Part IV, Matchmanship, runs from match play basics to “The Art of the Gimme.” Part V, Tricks of the Trade, is a wide-ranging mix of well-known and previously unpublished methods. Most are viciously funny and probably effective.
Part VI, Conversation: The Fifteenth Club, shows why golf is such a great sport for these kinds of head games. Actually hitting the shots takes only a few minutes, spread among several hours. Some can take advantage of the downtime between shots and wreak mental havoc on their competitors. Winokur shows how.
Now for the warning. I read this book while sipping orange juice. One segment gives helpful hints on playing with older golfers who are within 10 years of one’s own age.
Winokur made me spew my drink, because I burst out laughing.
The pages eventually dried out, but it took a while.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.