“If you play golf, you are my friend.”
Harvey Penick [PEE-nik] spent his entire life teaching golf. He saw more golf shots than anyone who ever lived. A Texas native, he began as a caddy at Austin Country Club at eight, became assistant pro at 13, and accepted the head professional position upon graduating Austin High School in 1923. Part of the first generation of Americans to succeed the English and Scottish pros who brought the game to the United States, Penick was a gentle man revered for his simple, practical approach to teaching golf. “He found out in life that he had a gift for teaching,” said World Golf Hall-of-Famer, Ben Crenshaw, of the only teacher he ever had. “He was a fine player, but he made his life’s mission to help others in golf in any way possible.”
“The woods are full of long drivers.”
Born in Austin, Texas, October 23, 1904, Harvey Morrison Penick was the youngest of five boys. After becoming head pro at Austin Country Club at 18, he considered playing professionally. “I qualified for the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in Chicago [in 1928],” recalled Penick. “It was the first time I was a long way from home. I saw Walter Hagen hit the ball like a bullet. I didn’t play very well. Coming home on that slow train, I thought I better stick to teaching.” Penick was certain he’d made the right decision after working with a young Sam Snead, who possessed talent unlike any player he had ever seen. In 1931, Penick became the head coach at the University of Texas, where he led the Longhorns to a remarkable 22 Southwest Conference titles in 32 seasons. Five of his Longhorn players went on to reach the World Golf Hall of Fame and two of them — Tom Kite and Crenshaw – tied for the individual title at the 1972 NCAA championships.
“A good putter is a match for anyone. A bad putter is a match for no one.”
Penick spent countless hours on the practice range in the hot Texas sun, demystifying the golf swing. “Harvey had so many wrinkles, his face would hold a seven-day rain,” quipped Jimmy Demaret, a life-long friend who won 31 times on the PGA Tour. As president of the Texas chapter of the PGA, Penick signed the Class A membership cards of Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Penick allowed his students’ swings to fit his or her personality, and claimed to learn something new about golf every day. In addition to Kite and Crenshaw, Mr. Penick taught major championship winners Sandra Palmer, Mickey Wright, Betsy Rawls and Kathy Whitworth. The 1989 PGA of America Teacher of the Year had a profound impact on Davis Love, Jr., encouraging him to learn to play a musical instrument in order to become a better communicator.
“I learn to teach from teachers. I learn golf from golfers. I learn winning from coaches.”
For more than 60 years, Penick compiled observations in a red notebook, which were tabbed according to subject. One section was on putting, another on hooks, a third on slices. The notebook covered every aspect of golf. He planned on passing these thoughts along to his son, Tinsley, until one day he decided to publish them. In 1992, Little Red Book was released. Full of anecdotes and easy-to-understand insights amassed from a lifetime of teaching, Little Red Book spent 54 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and remains the top-selling sports book ever published. Four books followed, each a success.
“Golf tips are like aspirin. One may do you good, but if you swallow a whole bottle you will be lucky to survive.”
Harvey Penick died April 2, 1995 – the Sunday before the Masters. That Wednesday, Ben Crenshaw, who had received a putting lesson from his coach only weeks earlier, served as a pallbearer at Penick’s funeral. Following the service, he flew to Augusta where, with the memory of his longtime friend and mentor to guide him, Crenshaw became the second oldest Masters champion in history, winning his second Green Jacket at 43. Following the round, Crenshaw attributed the win to Mr. Penick’s spiritual presence. “I had a 15th club in my bag,” said the grateful Texan.
Penick, who always encouraged his students to “Take dead aim,” was head pro at Austin Country Club from 1923 to 1971 and head golf coach at the University of Texas from 1931 to 1963 . He was inducted into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame in 1979 and Texas Sports Hall of Fame five years later. In 2002, Mr. Penick was posthumously enshrined into the World Golf Hall of Fame under the “Lifetime Achievement” category.
“Golf has probably kept more people sane than psychiatrists have.”
On this date in 1983, Ben Crenshaw — who was born and raised in Austin and, like Harvey Penick, graduated Austin High School – beat Hall Sutton and Brad Bryant by one shot to win the Byron Nelson Golf Classic in Dallas.