The best books on golf (with a nod given to the mental game)

Who am I?

A golfer since age 10, and psychology student, then professor, since age 19, I have a combined 121 years of experience in becoming a golf psychologist. I’ll let you calculate how old I am! As the author of 3 books and over 100 mental instruction articles for Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, Golf Illustrated, and GolfWeek, I made 10 national TV appearances on Inside the PGA Tour. I also served Notre Dame as a sport psychology consultant. With psychology degrees from the Universities of Notre Dame, Kentucky, and New Mexico, and post-doctoral training at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, I was a full-time college professor for 34 years, and served as President of the SC Psychological Association.

I wrote...

Golf: The Mental Game: Thinking Your Way Around the Course

By Tom Dorsel,

Book cover of Golf: The Mental Game: Thinking Your Way Around the Course

What is my book about?

With over 6000 copies sold, Golf: The Mental Game has been described by reviewers as “The Gold Standard of the Mental Game,” and “like having a mental game lesson per week for a year.” The book addresses the thinking, feeling, and behavioral aspects of golf, and does it in 50 short independent lessons, such that you can jump in the book wherever you want and treat it like a reference book. It is like having a golf psychology consultant on-call that you can go to anytime with the mental challenge of the day.

The author is a single-digit handicapper and a bonafide Ph.D. psychologist, who has drawn on his background in both clinical and experimental psychology to become one of the most prolific writers and practitioners of golf psychology in the world.

The books I picked & why

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The Winning Touch in Golf: A Psychological Approach

By Peter Gordon Cranford,

Book cover of The Winning Touch in Golf: A Psychological Approach

Why this book?

The Winning Touch in Golf was the first sport psychology book that addressed golf. It was certainly the first such book that I read and it influenced the rest of my life. Indeed, I became a golf psychologist.

The book was written by a psychologist whom I found credible, not only because he had his Ph.D., but because he was also a member of Augusta National, the home of the fabled Masters Tournament. To me, that meant that he was not only a psychologist, but also a serious golfer.

I found the 53 brief “secrets” about the mental game, each “secret” consisting of only 3 or so pages with some graphics, were indeed brief and very easy to read. I was happy to find no psychological mumbo-jumbo, just interesting topics, astute observations, and practical suggestions for many common psychological situations in golf. Indeed, I modeled my own book on these same criteria some 50 years later.

Lastly, I liked that the book was published by a major publisher at the time (Prentice Hall) and had a forward by a major PGA player (Dr. Cary Middlecoff). Clearly, the book was highly regarded back then, and is still a classic today.

The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

By Mark Frost,

Book cover of The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

Why this book?

The Match is a true story of what has been considered one of the greatest matches in the history of golf. It was 1956, and two of the greatest professional golfers of the era – Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan –  went up against two up-and-coming amateurs, Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi.
I found the actual match to be very interesting, not only because of who was playing but the circumstances under which it took place. The match was set up by two millionaires who arranged for Hogan and Nelson to sneak away from preparation for Bing Crosby’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am to play the match, hoping no one would realize they were absent.  Good luck with that.

What I really liked about The Match was the interesting biographies of each player. It quickly becomes obvious that these great players were struggling human beings, just like the rest of us. I left the book feeling like I really knew these players personally, even down to what cocktail they ordered, or didn’t order, at the 19th hole.

Golf in the Kingdom

By Michael Murphy,

Book cover of Golf in the Kingdom

Why this book?

Golf in the Kingdom is not about playing golf for eternity on that heavenly golf course in the sky. Rather it is about golf in the British Kingdom, wherein golf had its Scottish origins. I liked it because it is about a young fellow searching for meaning in life, who is traveling to the far east to find his existential roots under the guidance of some eastern religious gurus. 

Since he was passing by the British Isles along the way, he decided to take a brief detour and check out his golfing roots, golf being another passion he had. In doing so, he met up with Scottish legends, Shivas Irons and Seamus McDuff, who challenged our hero’s existential, metaphysical and general philosophical longings, as they existed in hidden form in the game of golf. Gradually he comes to see the game in a new light, maybe even bright enough to satisfy his quest for self-knowledge and meaning in life. 

This was the perfect book for me since golf and psychology have been my two earthly passions, also. I married the two early on as a teacher of psychology and as a golfer always struggling with the mental game. I  liked that his book added the existential aspect of psychology to my golf game, particularly since I had recently added existential psychotherapy to my arsenal of techniques as a clinical psychologist.

Harvey Penick's Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf

By Harvey Penick,

Book cover of Harvey Penick's Little Red Book: Lessons and Teachings from a Lifetime in Golf

Why this book?

The reason I like this book is the same reason I like any other book on golf — it is simple, basic, understandable — no psychobabble and no crazy swing gymnastics. I mean you and I, average golfers, can understand this and immediately put Harvey’s thinking and suggestions to use.

An example: Harvey admonishes the player to “Take Dead Aim.” Sounds simple enough, but a lot of players don’t do it. They look at the pin, set up, and think they are aiming at it, but in reality, they are aiming at all kinds of strange places other than at the pin.

Jack Nicklaus concurs with Harvey when he says that our alignment (i.e., aiming at the pin) is 50 percent of the battle in hitting a good shot. I would add that if you are aimed wrong, you have to swing wrong to get the ball where it is supposed to go. And good luck with that!

Ernest Jones' Swing the Clubhead

By Ernest Jones,

Book cover of Ernest Jones' Swing the Clubhead

Why this book?

When it comes to simplicity, I like that old pro Ernest Jones exemplifies one of the simplest and hard-to-argue-with swing keys you can employ: Simply feel and swing the clubhead! Now, of course, that is simple to say, and if it is enough for you, forget the book and just go out and do it. But, if you find it needs a little more explanation, read Jones’ book and see how he explains it.

What I found most intriguing about the book is Jones himself. As I remember it, he was a successful pro, went off to war, lost a leg, and came back and learned to swing the only way he could — on one leg. By balancing on one foot, he learned the importance of “swinging the clubhead,” as opposed to “hitting at the ball.” That is, the only way he could maintain his balance was to “swing the clubhead” with timing and rhythm, and he learned to do this to the tune of 250-yard drives.

Now, I thought that if swinging the clubhead works on one leg, how much better might it do with two legs. So whether you have one or two legs, or even want to swing with your legs together (a good practice technique, by the way), give Jones’ method a try, and it might change your approach to the game forever.

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