“The Timeless Swing”: Tom Watson

I don’t usually review golf instructionals (I feel like Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” saying that), but when I learned that Tom Watson had a new book coming out, I couldn’t resist pouncing on a review copy. Like most golfers, I’ve always admired Watson–there always seemed to be an unimpeachable rightness to how he went about his business.

All of that was reinforced, of course, when Watson, at the age of 59, came within one bad links bounce of winning the 2009 Open at Turnberry. For me, the thing that made that run so meaningful wasn’t the nostalgia trip for Baby Boomers who remembered him in his prime, but that he gave a whole new generation a glimpse of his rare talent, rarer longevity, and an exemplary graciousness in defeat. It was the sports story of the year, and a gift to golf.

Anyway, I went into reading this book with a pretty firm belief that Tom Watson is not a guy who is going to mess up your golf game. As a teenager first learning to play in the early ’90s, I studied an earlier Watson instructional–which I still have on my bookshelf–called Getting Back to Basics (pictured below). The new book is The Timeless Swing, and it’s also written with longtime collaborator Nick Seitz, an editor at Golf Digest.

It’s been said that rarely do old bottles contain new wine, and that is certainly the case here. The Timeless Swing is perhaps not as wordy as the previous book, which might improve its clarity in places, but otherwise the two books are pretty similar. Fundamentals like grip, alignment, stance and posture are all given their proper treatment, often in a way that mirrors its predecessor–but guess what? This is a really reassuring thing. It shows that Watson isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, that the things that are truly important to playing good golf don’t change over time.

What has changed (for the better) is the visual presentation. Much as I respect the late Anthony Ravielli, who illustrated Getting Back to Basics, his work in that book was not at the level of his all-time classic Fundamentals of Hogan, and the green-on-black two-tone design is pretty jarring and distracting to look at today. In the new book, Dom Furore’s color photos of Watson going through his paces make a big difference–the layouts in general feel fresh, modern, and much more appealing. The book even features a handful of those newfangled smartphone tags–3D bar codes that launch Youtube videos of Watson’s demonstrations. These videos complement the book beautifully and are an excellent use of the technology–I only wish that there had been more of them.

“Golf fans think the tour pros are on the practice range sharing secret insights to the swing and working on esoteric keys to which they, average golfers, are not privy. They’d love to listen in. Well, I’m afraid we’re not hiding anything so intriguing or revolutionary. We’re out there working on tried and proven fundamentals, by the hour. When our games go off, the cause almost always is a lapse in our fundamentals.”

This passage appears on page 12 of The Timeless Swing, and it pretty well describes the book’s mission. There is nothing here that will trigger a revolution in golf swing theory, and not much that experienced golfers probably haven’t encountered before (though I learned a few things about Watson’s personal approach–like zeroing in on his target by visualizing field goal posts down the fairway). But again, that’s what makes this book so good. It’s equally a primer for beginners and a worthwhile refresher course for low-handicappers. The Timeless Swing may be conservative in its approach, but it’s well-measured, clear in its instruction, and fundamentally trustworthy, not unlike the Man from Kansas City himself. I should probably mention that I’m the furthest thing from a golf professional, but my sense is that the concepts Watson and Seitz outline in The Timeless Swing can only help one’s game. As a new golf season approaches here in the northeast, I was glad to have Watson’s help in reviewing the basics.


The Timeless Swing, by Tom Watson and Nick Seitz, goes on sale March 29. Atria Books, $29.99.


2 comments for ““The Timeless Swing”: Tom Watson”

  1. I got a lot out of the Watson/Seitz short game book, Getting Up & Down, when I was starting out. Probably more helpful to me than any other instructional book. Don’t know why I never got Getting Back to Basics to go with it.

    Posted by Steve | March 29, 2011, 4:17 pm
  2. “…there always seemed to be an unimpeachable rightness to how he went about his business.”

    I love that line and agree with it. Thanks for the review, TD.

    Posted by JD | March 30, 2011, 7:17 pm

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