The Little Brown Book

Posted on: May 3rd, 2010 by Jeff Ritter No Comments


As the sun sank low into the western sky, he stood in reflection at the end of an honest day’s work. The long evening shadows cloaked his lanky body, stretching his figure towards the flags as they danced in the breeze. Determined and stoic, he had a commanding presence, much like the statue of Rocky Balboa which overlooked the City of Brotherly Love just a few miles away.

He was old school and believed the only way to find your game was “In the dirt.” Well, at least that’s how Ben Hogan would put it.  He would repeat the mantra all the time when you talked to him. He loved Ben Hogan. “Find it in the dirt, find it in the dirt. That’s the only way you can play this game.” I, of course, knew better.  He was just too cheap to pay for a lesson!

I spent every day of my summers growing up on the golf course, hitting balls, putting for milkshakes and basically just trying to stay out of the way.  As crazy as it sounds, as much as I was there, he was there too, banging away, looking for his “secret” in the dirt. At sixty years old, you would think the hazy, hot and humid Pennsylvania summer would deter him. Equipped with a pasty layer of sun block and a locker room towel tucked into his back pocket, he would slug away all day in the burning sun.

He was a true model of determination. The only problem being that he was awful. He had the most awkward stance, at least twice as wide as the norm. It looked as if he had one foot on land and another on a boat as it slipped from shore. This, however, was just one of his many idiosyncrasies. His hands were held high to his chest and his legs were squat down low assuming the stance of a sumo wrestler.  As a pulpy sweat from the sun block dripped to the ground below, he would blast shot after shot nowhere near any target. Fore right, into the houses on the left, then by pure chance, one which would land safely in play.

It was after this miracle occurrence where he would reach into his back pocket and pull out a small spiraled brown notepad. Torn, tattered and soaked with sweat, it was as if he had found it washed up upon the shore. He would stand with eyes closed in concentration, and then quickly scribble into the book. In an hour, the grimy pad would leave his checkered shorts at least a handful times.

His practice tee antics became legendary and were a constant source of gossip at the 19th hole. One day, while I was enjoying my usual perfect clubhouse cheeseburger, a group of members confronted him on the topic. “What the heck are you writing in that book?” One of the members gestured towards his pocket. He became protective. “Nothing, nothing, it’s none of your business.” He was irritated by the question.

Everyone knew he was writing down his keys to success, but it was comical to see someone so bad taking such serious notations. They just had to know what was in that book. While he got up from his bar stool, one of the members snatched the book from his back pocket. A game of keep away ensued which quickly threw him into a rage. Like a grade school boy who had a love letter plucked from his grasp, he began throwing a tantrum, fighting to get the notepad back into his possession. After a short tussle, he reclaimed the notations and strode quickly away.

A few years had passed, yet his routine remained steady. In the time I was at the club, he must have filled dozens of the little books, still his scores remained the same. Soon the great teacher Harvey Penick penned his famous “Little Red Book,” a montage of tried and true tips from his lifetime in coaching. We began to joke, “When do you think the Little Brown Book will hit the market?”  In reference to what God only knew was written about the pages of the notebooks.

Not long after the inception of the Little Red Book, a large group of members from the club received a surprise dinner invitation from the hapless slugger. This was odd in itself, since he was not the most social of characters, yet all of the invitees were in attendance. Upon arrival, the guests were led to the dining room where the dinner tables were adorned with the finest china; each dinner plate holding a beautiful brown leather book. The book was sealed closed with a string, and on the outside each was engraved in gold “Little Brown Book – Everything I Know About Golf.” The room was buzzing with anticipation. We finally, after years of speculation, would find out what was in those ridiculous little books.

He got up and spoke a few words, mostly thanking everyone for coming and conveying his passion for the game. “As many of you know, I have been a very successful man in my lifetime. My father taught me the value of hard work and I can say I have bested every obstacle I have set before me. That is until I took up golf.”

“The game,” he paused, “Has proven to be one real mother of a challenge. Therefore tonight, I present to you what you have all been waiting for.  That is, everything I know about the game of golf.”

As each guest peeled the string from the book jacket, a loud rumble of laughter began to circle the room. The book and all of its pages were empty! A standing ovation ensued along with a flow of heckles of encouragement.  He made so many new friends that night, as people had newfound respect for not only his determination, but his surprisingly good sense of humor.

As the night wore on, my belly was full from too many soft drinks. I sat next to him by the fireplace. His head rested against his hand, happy, yet tired from a long evening. He said to me, “Young man, I want to tell you a story and I want you to listen well, because it will one day save you a lot of pain in this world.” I acknowledged my interest in his tale. “A long time ago there was a big oil tanker stranded at sea. The captain did all he could to get it running again but he just couldn’t do it. He tried and tried but nothing would work. So then, the shipping company sent every one of their men out there to look as well, but still they couldn’t fix it. The problem was, every day the ship was stuck at sea, it cost them a bunch of money with the oil just sitting there.  Finally, after millions in losses, the company called an expert out to take a look. The expert showed up, walked around the engine a time or two, and then whacked the engine in the side with a wrench. Sure enough, the old ship began to shudder and sputter until the engine fired up and they were back on their way. About a week later, the shipping company got a bill for ten thousand dollars. The owner was pretty angry. No way was he going to pay ten grand for that.  He called the expert and argued, ‘How do you expect me to pay you ten thousand bucks? All you did was hit it with a wrench!’ The expert replied, ‘Oh, hitting it with a wrench was only a dollar, it was nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine to know where to hit!”  I laughed, “Good story sir.”

He leaned in close and tightly grabbed the cloth of my shirt. “You see my point son?  This game is too hard to figure out on your own, save yourself while you can.  Find an expert and get a lesson!”

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