A Harvey Penick Story

The following story was submitted by John Bernardoni, a long time Austin resident and intermittent golfer who loves the game and related the following story about a lesson he had with Harvey Penick.  Enjoy


Around 1986, I began playing golf again after a long hiatus during which time I was restoring the Paramount (19733-1985) and not hitting balls.  I needed help.  Couldn’t hit a crisp shot to save my life.  Somehow, I had the audacity to call Austin Country Club (in its present location) to ask if it was possible for a nonmember to get some lessons with Mr. Penick.  They said, “Yes” which blew my mind.

So, one day I went out to see Mr. Penick who even then was sitting in his golf cart about 6-7 yards back of me for safety lest he be consumed by the upcoming vortex.  He was a serious man and extremely focused on my hands.  I didn’t crack any jokes.  He said, “John, go ahead and take a few swings to warm up – without a ball”.  I did my best to have good form.  After maybe 10 swings, he said, “John…are you from San Antonio”?  Jesus!  I said, “Yes sir”.  He said, “All you San Antonio boys try to knock the heck out of the ball every time”.  I have fought that issue my entire golf life.

Then, he said, “I want you to take the club back like it was a bucket of water”.  I had a problem envisioning that but I tried.  I know he was trying to slow my swing down so that he could see what I was doing within the blur of muscle movement.  He then said, “Turn your grip a little to the right”.  I moved it to the right.  Immediately, he barked, “No, no not that much.  This is a game of fractions”.  I slid it back an imperceptible degree.  He then told me, “I want you to take that 7 iron and hit it like a chip shot.  I bladed the first four 200 yards, easy. Animals left the range.  On and on it went.  Finally, by the grace of God or out of some unconscious pity for Mr. Penick I took a “swing” like I was going to hit it 20 yards.  The ball clicked off the blade with no physical feeling to my hand, and soared in the air like – well, there’s no way to explain it.  The shot went about typical 7 iron distance – maybe 160.  Harven said, “That will be all today”.  I asked him how much was the lesson.  Waited a little too long to ask that question.  I had no idea what was coming next.  He said, “$20”.  I was dumbstruck.  I mean I think that’s what a pro charged at Muny or Morris Williams.

I know I took a second lesson from Mr. Penick but that is a blur.  Either he had had enough or I couldn’t put him through any more.  It was an experience, however, that I will never forget.

It should be noted that Austin Country Club only sparingly allowed Italian Americans on the grounds.  Lucky!

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