Staples on Your Bookshelf

February 23, 2014 Jon Roy

A Few Golf Books Everyone Should Read…

Staples on Your Bookshelf

My bookshelf is filled with hundreds of golf books of all shapes, sizes and topics.  There are books about course design, famous players, swing mechanics, rules of the game, and mental game theories.  There are biographies, fictions, and textbooks.  There are texts in French, English, and Kelley.  It may even be, if you believe my wife and children, that I have an addiction (of sorts) to uncovering stories and texts about golf that I feel will enhance my appreciation for the game and my ability to coach it.
And so I may be crazy, but I imagine that all of us have a few golf books that we feel everyone should read.  These are texts that explore the game of golf in unique ways and are able to somehow glimpse something of what we consider important in golf.  This short list of books, often positioned on a special section on the bookshelf, is an embodiment of the values and ideals that we cherish in the game of golf.  There’s “this thing” about golf that we just love to explore, and it’s tough to put in words, but somehow these books seem to hover around the idea just perfectly.  In some instances these texts break open the “crack in the wall which lets all of the light pour in”, and in other cases these texts simply sum up everything we love about the game.

So now, take a moment and imagine you were to be stranded on an island, with nothing more than a few balls, a few clubs, and a few books.

Which books would you have with you in such a scenario?  If you could only read a few books that relate to golf, which ones would they be?

Here are my picks:

  1. Extraordinary Golf – by Fred Shoemaker.

This book is just so enlightening – If I only chose one book it would be this one, without hesitation.  Subtitled “the art of the possible”, Shoemakers book explores the journey of learning in golf and asks the reader to recognize the absurdity of our present “culture of golf” which is obsessed with technical tinkering and which creates a golf experience filled with fear and frustration.  Starting off with stories about how he himself used to be a victim of this destructive mindset, Shoemaker makes many compelling arguments that simultaneously expose the absurdity of the way most of us approach the game while also making suggestions for a new possibility.

The main point of the book, for me, is that as golfers we are not all broken in need of a fix, despite what the culture of golf seems to suggest.  The reality is that all of us are excellent learners with an innate capacity to make great swings and play great golf.   Imagine if our experience of the game wasn’t spent worrying about what others think about us?  Imagine if we spent our time learning the game with a spirit of fascination and wonder, rather than a spirit of fear and bewilderment?

This book will challenge your perspective on the game and will highlight the fact that you are likely bringing way more “baggage” to the course than just your clubs.  With piercing questions about the “why” of golf, this is really the best book on golf I have ever encountered.  Guaranteed to challenge your perspective on playing and learning golf.

  1. Play Your Best Golf Now – By Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott

This book is just so practical.  If I was stranded on a driving range as opposed to an island, this would be the one book I choose.  Divided into a dozen crisp chapters that offer tons of useful drills and ideas, this text explores the theme of “performance state” in great depth.  Specifically, this text discusses how to practice performance and to use our time when we practice to bridge the gap between the range and the course.  And while acknowledging the need for technical practice and competence, the authors position their work as a complement to technique and suggest that more attention on aspects like body, mind and emotion are needed if you hope to become a more complete player, or more than just a person who tries to make nice swings.

The thesis stems from the realization that it makes no sense to practice our golf swing with a pile of balls off of flat lies on perfect turf – because we will never, or rarely, encounter this scenario when we actually play.   They key is to turn your practice time into a mirror of your playing the game, and then in turn your playing will begin to mirror your practice.  The authors, Pia and Lynn, offer so many engaging activities that can be done on the range that this book will forever change the way you spend your time training for golf.  And then you will finally begin to practice like you play, and in doing this you will enjoy your play all the more.  It sounds simple, but shouldn’t we practice the game we play rather than just practicing our swing all the time?

  1. Mastery – by George Leonard

This book offers inspiration for changing the way we approach skill development in all facets of our life, let alone golf.  “Mastery” follows the author on his own quest to master the martial art of Aikido, and makes the case that by searching for excellence we can attain a higher level of self-satisfaction and fulfillment.  

What is so compelling in this book is how Leonard exposes the many barriers that make mastery in a game like golf so challenging.  Because of our “fast food” culture that seeks instant gratification and which changes channels at the slightest lull in excitement, it has become virtually impossible to truly master anything, let alone something as complex as golf.  In order to gain a deeper satisfaction with the game, one must first confront these barriers and devise strategies to persevere through them.

Leonard also makes the compelling case that It really shouldn’t be so much about what we are trying to achieve, but rather that every day our journey is shaped by a quest to improve the self.  It’s not about getting the black-belt at the end of the road so much as it’s about the discipline and dedication that is required in its pursuit.  A black-belt is simply a thing, whereas the discipline and dedication are traits that will inevitably make us feel happier and more fulfilled.

In a culture that is generally obsessed with shortcuts and with replacing honest effort (verbs) with items we can buy (nouns)*, it is incredibly refreshing to read a text like Mastery to become more aware of this phenomenon, and then to embrace strategies for making the process of mastery a part of your life.

*(for more on this theme of nouns vs verbs please see our past blog post on “Having vs Being” – click here)

But those are just my picks and my favorite golf books – and while I have read hundreds of books to come up with these “top three”, there is no doubt that some of the best books I have yet to read.  And so the real purpose of this post is as much to tell you about my favorites as it is to discover yours.

So let us know which books you would bring on this island.

Send me a comment on this post with one or two of your own picks (and your reasons why I and others should read them).  Every comment received will be entered into our “hat”.
We will be presenting one respondent will be selected and presented with a special book from our own top shelf that will surely enlighten their experience of the game we all love.

I look forward to hearing your favorites…


Also – if this is of interest to you – you might enjoy this site which has lots of good information reataed to our work –



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Comments (2)

    • Hey Jim

      Thanks for the reminder – definitely one of the best reads…I actually pass around his one on tennis as it’s a little less sport specific (ironically) – but no matter what Gallweay is excellent. His inner game of work is actually really popular with our adult clients too…
      All good principles, and you could argue that he and Michael Murphy are really the godfathers of the three books I chose…

      Thanks for the thoughts

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