Last Christmas Eve, Harvey Penick decided he'd had enough. Books were stacked in his living room in Austin, Texas, awaiting his signature. Fans were lined up outside his front door, their cars parked along the street. The demands of being golf's Robert Fulghum had become overwhelming. "Please," Harvey told his wife, Helen, "no more books."
In March, Helen found herself on the phone with Bud Shrake, co-author with Harvey of the best-seller The Little Red Book and its green sequel, And If You Play Golf, You're My Friend. Her husband, she told Shrake, was spending too many days napping in his chair. She feared he would fall asleep one afternoon and not wake up. "We agreed it would be a good thing for Harvey to do another book," Helen says.
Helen realized that a second career, as an author, had given her ailing husband a reason to live. For nearly 50 years, until his retirement in 1971, Penick had been the head pro at Austin Country Club. One of the country's best golf teachers, he was revered by such champions as Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. For much of the 1980s, however, Penick was kept in bed by a fractured spine, a bleeding ulcer, prostate surgery and depression, among other ailments. Last week, on Oct. 23, he turned 90. "There's not one person who saw my dad five years ago who thought he'd be around now," says Harvey and Helen's son, Tinsley, the head pro at Austin Country Club. "Every spring I'd say, "God, this old man's seen another spring.' You think in the winter he'll never make it, and he just keeps going."
Harvey's next book—For All Who Love the Game: Lessons and Teachings for Women—will be published this spring. Besides Crenshaw and Kite, some of Penick's most famous former students include Kathy Whitworth, Betsy Rawls, Mickey Wright and Betty Jameson, all members of the LPGA Hall of Fame. Simon & Schuster, Penick's publisher, would like him to continue the series with books dedicated to juniors and seniors.
October 31, 1994
The Little Red Book is in its 27th printing and has sold more than a million copies since its publication in May 1992. The green book, which appeared the following year, has sold more than 500,000 copies. Both volumes still sell briskly and have spawned videos as well as an NBC television special that aired in June. Penick spends one hour a week giving lectures at the Harvey Penick Teaching Academy in Austin, and he helped design his signature clubs, which are made by GolfSmith, also in Austin. A Harvey Penick sportswear collection, with such Penick sayings as TAKE DEAD AIM on golf shirts, is in the works.
"After all these years, my dad is getting to be a capitalist," says Tinsley.
For a man who can walk only a few steps and must be wheeled from one spot to another, Penick keeps busy. The day Kite called earlier this month to have his swing checked before the Dunhill Cup in St. Andrews, Penick was giving a talk to the Austin Rotary Club. "He says he is absolutely loving living right now," Kite says. "That's a neat thing, to be 90 years old and saying that." In 1986 a large group of Penick's friends established a fund to help pay for his medical care. These days he can afford to cover the bills himself: His earnings from book and video sales are conservatively estimated at more than $1 million.
"I think it's wonderful that he's in a position now where he doesn't have to worry," says Kite. "Certainly the money he's been able to generate is far more than he and Helen will be able to spend. The money is nice, but Mr. Penick has never done anything for the money."