Sunday, June 14, 2009


How Ralph Lost His Groove

I'm in New Scientist this week with a piece on Ralph Guldahl, who in 1939 was the world's top golfer. But then something happened:

Along with the usual product endorsements and talk of film cameos, a more unusual offer came Guldahl's way: a book contract for a guide to golfing. He took two months out from his game to write the extensive accompanying text to Groove Your Golf, an innovative "Ciné-Sports" book that used high-speed photography of Guldahl in action on each page to create flip-book "movies". After explaining the use of each club, Guldahl left readers with the admission that even experts had to think carefully about their game; that nobody "is so good he never has to consciously be aware of a number of things to keep his swing in the groove". He then put down his pen and returned to the PGA Tour. He never won another championship.

After a few losing seasons, Guldahl left the circuit. What had happened to golf's greatest star? It was the book that did it, said some, and over the years that suggestion hardened into received wisdom. "When he sat down to write that book," Guldahl's wife Laverne asserted in 1972, "that's when he lost his game."

The real story, I found, turns out to be a little more complicated...

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