The Anatomy of Greatness

We don’t typically review instructional books, although when something compelling comes along it is worth highlighting. Brandel Chamblee has been a commentator on the Golf Channel since 2004 and his opinions are usually strong and more than occasionally, controversial. Chamblee follows his own path and often takes positions contrary to the mainstream golf media. Whether you agree with him or not, one area where it is very difficult to be critical of Brandel is in his knowledge and understanding of the game; the man does his homework. Not content to simply repeat sound bites or blurbs from press releases like other commentators, Chamblee is meticulous is his preparation for a story.

That same attention to detail and quest for truth lies behind his first book, The Anatomy of Greatness. Chamblee sets out to find the Holy Grail of the golf swing and in his typical style has fully researched the subject. He traces the methods back to the true beginnings, to a book first published in 1857. After a review of the history of instruction, he focuses on a little known teacher named Alex Morrison, whose methods had an influence on Jack Nicklaus. No discussion of the proper method of swinging the club would be complete without also reviewing the most popular instructional book of all time, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons, which he does as well.

The goal of Anatomy of Greatness is to distill down the common elements of great golf swings through the generations; the book’s subtitle is Lessons from the Best Golf Swings in History. What do the greatest players have in common and what can the average player learn from them? Brandel points out, for example, that Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, and Ben Hogan all played the ball forward in their stance. He methodically reviews the grip, setup, posture, swing triggers, the initial move away from the ball, the backswing, transition, and impact and finish. There are hundreds of illustrations and images of renowned players used to demonstrate the points Chamblee makes.

There are scores of practical nuggets throughout the book, including suggestions that are often overlooked but that can make a big difference. Jack Nicklaus, for example, considered setup as “the most important maneuver in golf,” and the book outlines why. The other approach Chamblee takes, which is probably the most important insight in the book, is breaking down commonly held myths about the swing and how it is commonly taught. Ben Hogan had a very specific problem he was trying to solve for in his swing (avoiding a hook), and following his advice may not be the best for most golfers. Another myth shattered relates to posture and setup. How often have you had a teaching pro tell you to imagine you are standing on railroad tracks as you setup to the ball? Chamblee demonstrates that most of the best in the game don’t actually do that, and have a slightly open stance instead.

As Brandel says in the book “it was not I who was doing the instructing, but rather the greatest players of all time.” One of the most underrated and underappreciated skills is the ability to take a complex subject and make it seem easy. The Italians have a word that was defined during the Renaissance that sums up The Anatomy of Greatness perfectly: sprezzatura, doing something extremely well without showing effort. No doubt Chamblee spent countless hours analyzing and agonizing on how to distill down the essence of the successful swing, but he presents it in an easy, digestible, and useable way. The book is far from another “me too” instruction book, and the conclusions it reaches will allow golfers to improve their game. Buy it.

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— John Sabino

About valuablebook

Valuable Book Group specializes in rare, collectible and valuable golf books. We are avid collectors ourselves obsessed not only with playing the game, but also its history and the literature of the game.
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