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Helpful book is elementary dear Watson

HOW many golf instruction books have you read? One? Five? 10? 20? Whether the number is big or small, it's a fair bet that you've been drawn mainly to the big names, to the superstars whose names conjure up images of Major championships and days of glory.

Jack Nicklaus' 'Golf My Way' was a big hit. Ben Hogan's 'Five Lessons' remains a classic. Tiger Woods also got in on the act with 'How I Play Golf.' Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson of earlier generations also produced books on their approach to the game.

And way back in the early part of the 20th century, the great Harry Vardon was involved in one of the first big name authorships that revealed his secrets to the ordinary hackers.

These are just some of the champion golfers who have had an input to golf instruction literature, but there are many thousands of books produced by coaches and lesser known teaching professionals, all intent on getting their thoughts on the golf swing across to the golfing public.

Why? First and foremost, the fascination with the game has long been seen by publishers as a lucrative outlet for their products. Vardon is a case in point. The great Harry was approached by a publisher who thought the combination of his name and his 'secrets' would be a best-seller.

Naturally, Harry wasn't a writer, and nor are any of the top professionals, so the publishers sent along a journalist to put the great Vardon's thoughts and information into a cohesive structure that would make money for all involved. The journalist trots along to meet Harry. What to do? Where to start?

Our man suggests that Harry gets to work and write out his thoughts on the golf swing and they can go from there. On the appointed day, along comes the writer. Harry shows him the fruits of his labour: this is everything he knows about the golf swing -- and it's all on a half page of foolscap paper.

Naturally, that won't sell a pamphlet, let alone a book, so the work begins and the writer plunders every possibility to expand Harry's knowledge into a worthy tome.

It was a successful publication, but I wonder: have the golf instruction books contributed to making the game and the swing far more complicated for the average player than it need be? Would we all have been better off if Vardon had published his half-page, told us how simple it all was, and set the tone for subsequent instruction books to be short, clear, and uncomplicated?

We'll never know. The interesting point is that (a) golf instruction books are still being produced in this age of DVD, mobile phone 'apps', and internet, and (b) some of them are pretty darn good. A case in point is Tom Watson's 'The Timeless Swing'.

When I first saw the title, I felt slightly queasy: not another large book on technique that has little or no relevance to the ordinary golfer. But, on examination, that's not the case. Nick Seitz, a top writer with Golf Digest magazine, and Watson, complemented by fine photography by Dom Furore of Golf Digest, have done a great job.

Watson, eight times a Major champion, the man who almost won the Open in 2009 when he was two months short of his 60th birthday, and who is still a formidable force on the Champions Tour, is a true golfing legend.


His greatness does not blind him to the difficulty of the game as experienced by 99.9pc of handicap golfers. The achievement of the book is that it provides clear information in an unfussy manner and offers insights to the swing, to shotmaking and to practice.

For instance, here's one for those of us who lash down with full force once we're at the top of the backswing. Tom says: "You'll probably be surprised to learn just how little force you need to start your downswing. For most of you, I suspect, it would be less than you think.

"Without a club, stand up and extend your arms out from your sides horizontally. Now simply let your arms fall. That's all the force you need to start your downswing."

And in keeping with the latest technology, many of the lessons can be accessed on the internet or a free mobile 'app' that allows you to see Watson demonstrate them. He also quotes tips from greats such as Nelson, Snead and Nicklaus which helped him, illustrating that Watson is not too proud to avail of timeless insights from other players.

All in all, an interesting and useful publication.

Irish Independent