From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

The Spirit of Harvey Penick

My father says to me, “Respect everybody, and your life, it will be perfect.” Then, even if you are poor on the outside, on the inside you are rich.

Costantino Rocca

It’s funny how circumstances sometimes transpire to lead us in unexpected directions. This tale recounts the chain of events that led me to the legendary Harvey Penick and the subsequent effects that encounter had on my life.

I was visiting an uncle I had not seen in many years, a golfer’s kinship sort of thing. Uncle Norman introduced me to the game of golf, starting as his caddie. A miserable experience, thanks to weather and other circumstances; I hated the game, and I didn’t take it up in earnest until the age of thirty-five. Immediately, the golf bug bit me. During this visit, I picked up a book lying on the kitchen counter, Harvey Penick’s Little Green Book, If You’re a Golfer, You’re My Friend. The book so impressed me, I read it cover to cover that night and decided to meet Mr. Penick. Now was as good a time as any.

From South Florida, I drove the following week to Austin, Texas. After checking into a motel on a Sunday night, I looked up his phone number and anxiously placed the call. I knew that Penick was old and frail, but I was shocked to learn his current condition. Helen Penick informed me that her dear husband was “released from the hospital that very day and he was not expected to make it.” It was even more surprising that she said to call in the morning and if he felt up to it, “Mr. Penick would be happy to see you.” I was given directions to the house and instructed to call around 10 A.M.

My emotions surged. At first, I felt sorry for myself. I had driven fifteen hundred miles, and I expected that effort would get me the audience I came for. I began to feel guilty, knowing how selfish that was. Saying a prayer, for Mr. Penick and myself, I retired early.

Arising at the crack of dawn the next morning, I restlessly waited for 10 o’clock to arrive. Precisely at 10, I began dialing, and for what seemed an eternity, I heard busy signals. The worst crossed my mind. Was he even sicker? Did he die? Paranoid that I am, I even thought that the phone was intentionally left off the hook to discourage my calling. At 11, I drove to the house.

Following precise directions, I arrived at the Penick home, situated in a beautiful part of town. Worried about coming before calling, I sheepishly knocked on the door. When a nurse answered, I asked for Mrs. Penick. She was out shopping, but the nurse asked if I would like to visit with Mr. Penick. After traveling such a long distance I was aching to say yes, but I declined. “I think I’d better wait to see if it’s okay with Mrs. Penick first.” The next several hours were awe-inspiring and would change the course of my personal and professional life.

Outside, in this pristine setting, I became aware of changes, faint at first, in my sensory perceptions. The colors of the flowers were distinctive and bright. A gentle breeze blowing, the air was crisp and clear. Rich, pleasant aromas abounded. I heard several birds and could distinguish the differences in each of their songs. My body tingling all over, I was captivated by a heightened sense of awareness, actually feeling a part of nature. For a cold, calculating, bottom-line guy like me, this experience was a first.

I remember seeing a squirrel on the opposite side of the street. I closed my eyes, believing the squirrel would come closer, and to my delight he did. Closing my eyes again, I knew he would come right beside me. Well, nobody’s perfect. This trancelike state lasted for what seemed an eternity, yet in reality was only thirty minutes or so. Mrs. Penick arrived and asked me to come in.

The bedroom resembled a hospital ward with tubes and machines everywhere. Mr. Penick was glad that I had come, eager to talk golf and share his wisdom. His love for the game was obvious, and talking about golf seemed to lift his spirits. A glow enveloped him as he shared with me a lifetime of teaching, people and stories. He asked about my personal life, my game, and how he might help me. What we discussed is almost irrelevant, for I knew that I was in the presence of greatness.

His son Tinsley stopped by the house, and our session continued. From his deathbed—he would pass away the following week—Mr. Penick was giving me a golf lesson.

Incredibly perceptive, from our conversation, he could detect my flaws. After a few hours, I could see how tired he had become, so I excused myself to see if I should go. Though Mr. Penick wanted to continue, Tinsley felt it was time for rest. I thanked them all and left. How remarkable this family is. At a time when most people would only think of themselves and their troubles, they welcomed me into their home as if I was a lifelong friend. I made a con- scious decision to live my life and play the game of golf according to a higher principle, Harvey Penick’s way. Meeting him altered my life.

To make a long story short, that encounter led to my writing The Secrets to the Game of Golf & Life, for which Tinsley agreed to write the foreword. I still get goose bumps every time I read it. Among other thoughts in his foreword, Tinsley wrote that his father and I became “kindred spirits and soul brothers” and that “Leonard has brought that special feeling to the pages of his new book.” I am now firmly entrenched in the golf community, as a writer and consultant. Meeting Harvey Penick helped me to become a better golfer, but more importantly, a better person. I look at both golf and life from a different perspective, more aware and more appreciative.

Leonard Finkel

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