The Digital Journalist
Selected photos from Michael O'Brien's The Face of Texas.
© Michael O'Brien

Bud Shrake/Harvey Penick/AUSTIN - Writer Bud Shrake had known Harvey Penick for years when Penick summoned him one fall day in 1991 to Austin Country Club. Shrake joined the 86-year-old Head Golf Professional Emeritus in his golf cart under the trees.The two discussed Shrake's brother Bruce, who had been on Penick's team when Penick was golf coach at the University of Texas--a position he held for 33 years.

"I thought he wanted to talk about my brother," says Shrake, a former Sports Illustrated writer and the author of 17 books and numerous screenplays.

But Penick--who started caddying at the Austin club when he was eight years old, and held the head pro position for 50 years--dispensed with small-talk.

"He reached into his attache case and pulled out a 5 X 7 red scribble-text notebook," says Shrake. "He said he'd never shown it to anyone except his son, Tinsley."

With the writer's help, the notebook became the famed Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, a 60-year compilation of Penick's considerable golf wisdom, plainly told, along with plenty of practical life philosophy. Shrake collaborated with Penick on the writing of the book and arranged a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster. The Little Red Book has become the best-selling sports book of all time, and four similar Penick/Shrake golf books have followed. Penick's simple advice--"Take dead aim"--is legendary among golfers.

"I revered Harvey Penick," says Shrake, who begged off a movie commitment to take on the project. "At the time, I felt: "I've been chosen by some divine force to do this.'"

The book is as much about life as it is about golf. When a New Yorker showed up at Austin Country Club one day for Penick's help, the man said: "If you're such a great teacher, teach me how to get out of sand traps," Penick relates in the book.

"Not so fast," Penick tells him. "I can teach you how to get out of sand traps. But I'm not going to do it until I teach you how to avoid getting into them in the first place."

Considered by many to be the greatest golf teacher in American history, Penick taught people, not methods. He says he never used the words "never" and "don't" with his students, who included such golf greats as Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite.

"I try to put everything in positive, constructive terms," he says.

When one of his less-talented pupils would hit a fine shot, Penick got as excited as he did with a pro.

"I would get goose pimples on my arms and a prickly feeling on my neck from the joy of being able to help," he says.

"Harvey came closer than anyone I know to living life by the golden rule," says Shrake, whose latest novel, The Border Land, deals with the history of Austin. "People love his soul as well as his teachings."

Penick died at the age of 90 in 1995.