Review: The Authentic Swing by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield has hit another home run with this short — yet incredibly impactful — read. Or rather, he’s hit a hole in one.

Let me explain.

The Authentic Swing is one of the few books I’ve read that uses golf as a means of relaying important life lessons and strategies. The other one that I’m most familiar with is the one I wrote, The Front Nine. And I can say that this book is the one that actually got me thinking about taking up golf more regularly (I rarely golf at all, to be honest).

Every time I pick up one of Pressfield’s books, I know I’m in for some introspection during (and following) the read. The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro all sit on my bookshelf ready for whenever I might need them, and The Authentic Swing has been added to the mix as well. The golf metaphors are something I’ve explored in my own work — although with not nearly as much knowledge of the game to go as deep as Pressfield does — but the idea of “the authentic swing” isn’t something I’ve really pondered.

And I should have,

Without spoiling too much, Pressfield says that as much as golfers have their own authentic swing we as non-golfers also have our own authentic swing. He uses the story of how he wrote his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance as a means to get this message across — and while the novel (and subsequent film) illustrates the message very well, the actual process of writing also does this effectively. As a writer, this resonated with me very much. But you don’t have to be a writer to get the underlying message behind The Authentic Swing. That said, how you interpret the message will definitely be personal rather than universal. And that’s what makes this book so worthwhile to read.

There are some great nuggets of wisdom throughout the pages of The Authentic Swing, one of which is a quote about the philosophy behind the novel. One part of that philosophy was particularly insightful:

“We feel with absolute certainty that if we could only swing like that all the time, we would be our best selves, our true selves, our Authentic Selves. That’s why we lionize men like Hagen and Jones and treat them like gods. They are gods in that sense, the sense that they have found their Authentic Selves, at least within the realm of golf.”

What hit me hardest about this was the wish that “if we could only swing like that all the time.” I’ve had many moments where I’ve felt that way, but in this context it drove home the point that if I took away all of the distractions, all of the crap that I can get caught up in, then there’s no reason that I couldn’t swing like that all the time. The challenge is stripping away everything but the Authentic Self. And that’s hard to do.

But why? We’ll get to that in a bit.

You don’t have to be a golfer to “get” this book. That’s because that the metaphor isn’t out of place, or hard to reach. When Pressfield writes about the “golf swing” he’s writing about so much more than that. Another great quote from the book:

“The golf swing is not learned, it is remembered.”

So, so good.

I’ve never annotated in a book more in recent memory, and for good reason. There are moments of introspection that are brought up in both the novel Pressfield wrote and the book he’s written that is partially about writing that novel that draws out something in the reader that they don’t face every day but should — no matter what they do for a living. Hell, no matter what they do in life.

There’s tons of practical advice for writers, artists, and entrepreneurs in The Authentic Swing, just as there have been in all of the other books I mentioned earlier. But there’s something about using a metaphor as a basis for a book that allows a deeper, more personal message to sneak up on the reader and hit them out of seemingly nowhere. The Authentic Swing does that. It did that to me.

After reading the book, I decided to watch The Legend of Bagger Vance. I hadn’t seen it in years. I didn’t have a copy of the book to read, and I also wanted to get through it in a fairly quick time period. I needed to view it while The Authentic Swing was still at top of mind. And I needed to do that late at night while I could be alone.

As I watched the film, pieces of both books flowed in and out of my mind. Some stuck around for a while, others came back for return trips, and others left as just as soon as they arrived. The film was more entertaining because my mindset was wired for it. It was also more informative. During one scene in the film — the most pivotal in my mind — I had a quote come to mind. It went around and around in my head and got the better of my emotions, as if it was totally meant for me. Make no mistake, it was meant for me. But not me alone.

“It’s not that you’re afraid that you can’t do it. It’s that you’re afraid you can.”

With The Authentic Swing, Steven Pressfield has written the book I needed to read.

And it’s one that you need to read too.