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On Par: The Everyday Golfer's Survival Guide Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 15, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The most humble and humane golf book I have ever read. Relying on insight instead of striving to incite, Pennington reduces golf to its most basic charms and makes the game remarkably accessible. Pennington...is the most noble of guides, encouraging and realistic, light and enlightening. Laid out like a challenging but attractive tract, On Par spares us the wiseguy tweaking with wisdom and earnest good humor. [On Par] should be handed to every first-time golfer as part of a welcome packet. Better yet, it should be in the zippered compartment of every new golf bag, like an in-flight magazine. Or a Bible.
-Bill Scheft for the New York Times Book Review

"Golf writing may be unique among sportswriting for the way it often manages to convey the deadly seriousness those passionate about it feel toward the game, while simultaneously joking at their expense. Pennington’s tone shares this trait and will be familiar to those who have read any of the many golf books out there. None of those books, however, offer nearly as much real-world advice to golfers on how to improve their experience.  A must for beginning golfers or players looking to get more enjoyment out of their time on the course."
-Kirkus Reviews

"A hilarious, informative primer on the essentials of golf, schooling novices or the professional bewitched by mastering the links... A chapter on golf-speak will tickle readers with a sampling of the colorful jargon of golf pros... With a few chuckles and basic instruction, Pennington’s book effectively consolidates the wealth of knowledge from his beloved column, while delighting those who are perplexed by the puzzle that is the sport of golf. "
-Publishers Weekly

"No one can completely cover the game of golf like Bill Pennington and no book can comprehensively tell the story of the sport with the same wit, wisdom and knowledge like On Par."
- Jim Nantz, CBS Sports

"As a regular reader of Bill's On Par column in The New York Times, I was wondering what fertile golf terrain could possibly be left for him to farm? I soon found out his surplus was even better. And I know he can dig with the best of them. I played a round of golf with him!"
- Dan Hicks, NBC Sports Golf Host

"Bill Pennington takes his first-hand experience as a golfer, as well as his years of getting to know professionals, and delivers a phenomenal guide to the sport I love so much. He does a great job of breaking down the fundamentals of golf to something everybody can enjoy and understand. As all golfers know, the sport is about more than being able to hit a good shot and this book takes you through the journey, arming you with everything you need to know."
- Annika Sorenstam

"Put a copy of Bill Pennington's On Par on your shelf and another copy in your golf bag. Often funny, always smart, Pennington zeroes in on the essence of a royally crazy old game."
- Kevin Cook, author of Titanic Thompson and Tommy's Honor

"One of the great joys during the golf season is reading Bill Pennington’s golf page, 'On Par,' in The New York Times each Monday morning. Imagine that – a whole page devoted to all things golf! My heart be still. And now we have this wonderful book that’s much more than my Monday morning read. Trust me, if you’re an avid golfer, you’ll devour each and every word."
- Martin Davis, golf historian and author of The American Golfer

"On Par is the ideal guide for golfers who don’t hit their pitching wedge 160 yards, get paid for wearing white belts, or hang out with Las Vegas cocktail waitresses. And it wouldn’t do those other guys any harm, either."
- David Owen, author of My Usual Game

About the Author

Bill Pennington writes the "On Par" column and stars in the related video series on www.nytimes.com. Pennington, who covers a number of sports in addition to golf, joined the New York Times in 1997 from the Bergen Record, where he was a sports columnist. A six-time winner of the Associated Press Sports Editor’s writing award, Pennington has also written for the New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, and a number of other publications. A longtime golfer himself, Pennington grew up near some of New England’s historic golf courses, but he has not been able to get his handicap below 11. He lives with his wife, Joyce, and three children in Warwick, N.Y.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547548443
  • ASIN: B00DTOU8W4
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,700,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

BILL PENNINGTON is an award-winning sportswriter for The New York Times. A former syndicated columnist, Pennington was a beat writer who covered much of Billy Martin's tenure with the New York Yankees. A 14-time finalist and six-time winner of the Associated Press Sports Editors annual writing award, Pennington lives with his family in Warwick, New York. This is his fourth book.

A CONVERSATION WITH BILL PENNINGTON

Why did you decide to write this biography about BILLY MARTIN?

As a young reporter in the mid-1980s, I was a traveling beat writer with the Yankees and covered two seasons when Billy was manager. I knew him well, and even 25 years after his death, I always considered him one of the most magnetic, entertaining, sensitive, humane, brilliant, insecure, paranoid, dangerous, irrational and unhinged people I had ever met. He was a completely unforgettable character and personality and I always wondered if I would write a biography of him. It seemed like his story needed a little time to percolate and to find its place in history.

Finally, with the perspective of time - and a little nudging from my editor - I knew it was time to tell the whole story of a complex, flawed, renowned, and yet largely misunderstood, figure in American sports.

What was your relationship with Billy Martin?

For years, we were together for hours daily before and after games, even longer during spring training or on the road when I accompanied Billy on countless team planes or buses (beat writers traveled with the pro teams in those days). He and I were friendly, albeit more like business associates. I knew his many moods, his pet peeves and little known interests, like Western-themed novels and Civil War history.

What research did you perform for the book?

I spent nearly three years researching the book. In addition to persuading each of Billy's four wives to communicate with me - something no other journalist has done for a book or article -- I interviewed nearly 250 people, going as far back as Billy's childhood friends from the 1930s in Berkeley, California. I spoke with his minor league teammates from the 1940s and dozens of his teammates and enemies when he was a star player for the Yankees in the 1950s. I retraced each of his managerial stops from Denver to Minnesota to Detroit to Texas to New York to Oakland and back to New York during four more stints in the dugout. I conducted dozens of interviews with players, coaches, rivals, umpires and team executives in each of those cities.

I benefitted from the cooperation of Billy's only son, Billy Joe, and Billy's sisters, brother and many cousins. Moreover, I returned to the site of his fatal 1989 auto accident and talked with dozens of people living in upstate New York - like Billy's housekeeper and neighbors - who spent ample time with him in his final days.

The baseball community is a large but tight circle. I lived within it for two decades before branching out to cover other sports. But it was easy to re-connect with the hundreds who knew Billy, including those who loved him and those who hated him. Time had only made their stories and their voices richer.

How is this biography different from others about Martin?

Most biographies of Billy Martin were written in the late 1970s with the last biographies of him published shortly after his 1989 death. They focused on the sensationalistic aspects of his life and death and helped contribute to a caricature of a man whose public persona came to be defined only by his excesses.

They were, understandably, history's first draft of Billy Martin's life, but to me, they painted an incomplete portrait.

With the perspective of more than a quarter century of time, most everyone I talked to - even his adversaries - offered nuanced reflections and a deeper understanding of Billy's numerous gifts as well as his many failings. There was greater empathy for what Billy achieved, especially given his shantytown upbringing. Interview subjects saw Billy Martin as someone who reflected America in the middle of the 20th century - a man of his times, all of them, from the 1940s to 1980s.

Billy Martin's blemishes and extremes have been well documented - as they are in my book, too. Someone said that Billy could delight and disgust in one five-minute conversation and that's probably true. There is no escaping his drinking problem and inclination to punch first and ask questions later. But my goal was to not only focus on those well-known incidents. I wanted to elucidate the whole person including his accomplishments, complexities and the genius of his craft.

Moreover, as an eye-witness to the most noteworthy events in the final six years of Billy's life, I had the advantage of seeing and experiencing the complete Billy Martin story. In the past three years, I worked to shine a light on all of it.

Did you learn anything new or make any surprising discoveries while writing the bio?

I uncovered a detailed account of the secret meeting between George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin at the old Yankee Stadium in the fall of 1989 during which Steinbrenner explained his plan to re-hire Billy for a sixth time in 1990. Billy died just months later.

His widow, Jill Martin, who has spurned all interviews for 25 years, agreed to several interviews with me and for the first time described in detail the final moments of Billy's life, before and after the auto accident that caused his death. Jill also discussed the many controversial facets of her life with Billy. So did hundreds of ex-players and coaches, many of whom had not spoken about Billy in the past.

I conducted in-depth interviews with Hall of Fame managers Tony LaRussa, Earl Weaver and Tommy Lasorda helped detail the baseball genius of Billy Martin and revealed their desire to start a campaign to have Billy inducted into the Baseball of Hall of Fame. Said LaRussa of Martin: "Without reservation I would call Billy the most brilliant field manager I ever saw. He was unmatched. None of us felt up to him."

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

I want readers to see past the caricature that has shrouded Billy Martin's legacy for more than two decades. Billy, if he is brought up at all, is now visible only in five second video clips on ESPN, which show him kicking dirt on umpires or fighting in a dugout with Reggie Jackson. Obviously, all those things, and many other transgressions, happened.

But this is also a player who was considered the unofficial captain of five World Series championship teams with the Yankees in the 1950s. As a manager he had often had no peer, compiling a winning percentage (.553) that is higher than 13 managers currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Casey Stengel, Tommy Lasorda, Sparky Anderson and Whitey Herzog.

He won everywhere he went and managed his entire 16-year career before baseball expanded the postseason to include wild card teams. Five of his teams went to the playoffs but six more would have qualified for the postseason if the current wild card format had been in place.

He was an irresistible national personality, someone who was impossible to ignore. He ran with Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack, dated starlets and was a regular on TV variety shows. He was a sentimental, humorous, generous man who also went through life with fists clenched because of the societal inequities he experienced in a hardscrabble life. He was simultaneously complex, fascinating and loyal and distrustful, apprehensive and suspicious. He was the hero, the antihero, and the alter ego - a combination of all three - for several generations of American sports fans.

It is sad to me that over the years Billy Martin life has been confined by narrow definitions. The broad picture should instead show the Billy Martin whose common-man vulnerability made him beloved by millions of fans. He was unforgettable and controversial, someone who had many enemies but more friends. His was a full life of triumph, tragedy, rebirth, disappointment and redemption. Most of all, Billy Martin was a man of accomplishment who nonetheless failed repeatedly, a recurring rags-to-riches tale that continued to his last days. His is a great American story.

What are you working on now?

Sleeping on weekends and on vacation. Most of those days for the last three years were devoted to working on the book.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Gary K. McCormick VINE VOICE on March 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I approached "On Par: The Everyday Golfer's Survival Guide" with some trepidation, fearing at first that it might be just another of the many "golf tips" books that crowd the market. My fears were allayed when two, or at most three, pages into the book I laughed aloud--and I wasn't even out of the introduction yet. It was a laugh born of recognition and commiseration at the foibles, trials, and tribulations of the game of golf as portrayed by author Bill Pennington.

With chapters on "The Rules of Golf", "The Language of Golf", and "Golf Safety", among others, the potential reader who is, like myself, unfamiliar with author Bill Pennington's "On Par" column in the New York Times, might be excused for thinking that his book "On Par" is just another primer for the golf beginner. I have been playing golf for long enough to not require a basic primer on equipment, or rules, or etiquette, etc., so I wasn't looking for guidance in those areas when I selected this book. My preferred reading on the subject of golf is more along the lines of golf history and biography, course architecture, or golf-related fiction. I avoid the ubiquitous self-help golf books that promise to cure your slice (or hook, or putting woes, or short-game failings...), and run as fast as I can in the opposite direction from the myriad of "mental-game" self-help books. While Mr Pennington certainly includes a lot of basic information which will be invaluable to the beginner, he goes well beyond the basics in these and other areas of the game.

Bill Pennington has played golf all across the United States and around the world, and has shared fairways and greens, as well as bunkers and rough, with such luminaries of the sport as players like Annika Sorenstam & Tiger Woods (not to drop a name or anything...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jayne P. Bowers VINE VOICE on May 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I ordered this book for my husband, an avid golfer. Although at first he was expecting it to be some type of training aide filled with practical information on how to improve his game, before long he became quite interested in its contents, especially the observations, how-to's, golf tips, and interesting stories. In fact, the stories made On Par more personal to him since he could identify with the situations and events described by the author.

While On Par isn't a big book, it's loaded with useful, everyday, golfer information and would make an excellent gift for any golfer regardless of his or her level of play.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marie Antoinette VINE VOICE on March 11, 2012
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I found this book to be very informative and interesting. The author gives some really great tips on playing golf while at the same time he inserts interesting tid bits and stories, some are even funny, on things that have happened to him and others while playing golf. It's a small book, but it's packed with a lot of useful information. I would recommend it if you're into golf, especially if you're trying to improve your golfing skills.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By An Educated Consumer VINE VOICE on April 26, 2012
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Bill Pennington provides a back to basics survival guide for golfers.

While there are no revelations that are unique or will forever change your game, a review of some basic golf from start to finish, i.e. etiquette, clothing, and equipment is complemented with some helpful tips that often bear repeating.

Stories about the pros and celebrities are added at an easy pace.

Written with humor and class, the book is enjoyable for the novice to the more accomplished.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Baker Barr on December 13, 2012
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On Par, The Everyday Golfer's Survival Guide is unlike any other golf book I've read. It's not just a series of tips on how to improve your swing, but stories about the whole game. It's examples of what can go wrong, what can right, and how to make the good things happen more often than the bad. Pennington's tales are funny and often had me laughing out loud. His information about playing the game and playing it well, etiquette, and how to get along with everyone you encounter is spot on. It's a great book for anyone new to golf, but it's also a good, humorous review to those that have been golfing for years. I liked his golfing tips and hope they improve my game. Pennington clearly has done his research on and off the course. I especially liked the second to last chapter of the book - Nine Places Every Golfer Should Play (it's not nine specific courses, but nine types of courses). Maybe I'll get to all of them someday.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amateur curmudgeon VINE VOICE on March 28, 2012
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Bill Pennington writes about golf in the New York Times. He offers here a collection of articles on the game we love and hate. Some are advice and improvement, some are just stories, insightful, helpful or, like when he asked his caddie in Scotland whether he could get from the rough to the green with a four iron and the caddie answered "Eventually," simply hilarious.
If you like golf, this is a great book to read on a stormy day when you cannot play.
If it's sunny, go play.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By pgwl VINE VOICE on April 26, 2012
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I have top-ranked junior golfers in my family, three of them. I also have a whole slew of duffers in my family. Every single one of them enjoyed this book. If you want to improve your game by reading this book, you won't like it. But if you love the game, you will have an interesting read. The book is full of golf history and humor which will be appreciated by all lovers of the game. Makes an excellent gift for any golfer, no matter what level of play.
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