If you’re looking for a good golf book to read,
let me point you toward Michael Bamberger’s recently-released, Men In Green.
Bamberger, a senior writer at Sports
Illustrated, is a friend, occasional golf partner and former colleague, dating
back to our days together at the Philadelphia Inquirer, so I won’t pretend to
present this as a totally objective book review.It is not.
That said, in my unbiased opinion, Bamberger is
one of the best, if not the best,
writer of his generation when it comes to golf and the people and issues associated
with the game.That’s what this
book is all about – mini-profiles and stories about 18 people Bamberger
has encountered or come to know and respect along the way in his career and golf
He divides them into two categories:"Living Legends," such as Arnold Palmer,
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson; and "Secret Legends," which includes people you
may or may not have heard of.
Among the "Secret Legends" is another top golf
writer and friend, Jaime Diaz, contributing editor at Golf Digest and editor of
Golf World; also on the list are two folks with Philadelphia connections:Neil Oxman,
who leads a double life as a political consultant and as Tom Watson’s caddie;
and Chuck Will, a character if ever there was one and a man who spent about
three decades as the top deputy to CBS’s Frank Chirkinian,
who virtually invented the modern golf telecast.
There is one woman on the list, Mickey Wright,
who many believe possessed the finest golf swing ever, by man or woman.Because she has pretty much withdrawn
from public life, the LPGA legend declined to fully participate in Bamberger’s
effort, even if she was nothing less than gracious in rebuffing him.
Some of the best stuff between the covers of Men In Green is Bamberger’s many
encounters with Palmer, who he admires and reveres immensely; and Nicklaus, who
is his ultimate golf hero.Bamberger’s take on the late Ken Venturi, the
former U.S. Open champion and CBS golf analyst, evolves over time from good to,
shall we say, less flattering.
If there is a main theme running through the
book, it is Bamberger’s close, enduring and complicated friendship with Mike
Donald, a former journeyman PGA tour pro whose moment in the spotlight was
losing the 1990 U.S. Open to Hale Irwin in a sudden-death playoff.
Donald, confidant and an invaluable source of
facts, history and insights on golf and golf people, rode shotgun in Bamberger’s
old beater of an Subaru Outback on many of their cross-country road trips/interviews.The dynamic between the two is worth the
price of admission for any shrink, couples therapist or anyone trying to
maintain a marriage or relationship.
I often judge books by whether I dread picking
them up or whether I can’t put them down.Men In Green is the latter.
As much fun as it was watching young Jordan Spieth’s to wire-to-wire win in the Masters, the
implications for the future of the game are even more exciting.
Golf always benefits from a good rivalry, and
now that Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson is winding down after almost two decades,
what better time to welcome the dawning of Rory McIlroy
vs. Jordan Spieth battling it out for World No. 1 and
every major championship title for the next 20 years?
Besides being golfing prodigies of the highest
order, McIlroy and Spieth are
both quite likeable and marketable, even if they are a little white-bread boring
for some fans’ tastes.But so what?
Now, if only money, fame and the inevitable
temptations that come with both don’t bring them down (see: Woods, Tiger), we could have a good thing going for a while.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve already had my
fill of Bubba Watson.
Well, as it happens, I’m not
a betting man.I also like to
believe that my Mama didn’t raise no fool.
By all outward appearances,
Tiger has his confidence back.He
said he has been at home "working my ass off" and that his game is back to where
it needs to be.There is also his burning
desire to win major title No. 15.
On the other hand, I cannot
ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that reality will rear its
ugly head sooner rather than later, during his opening round on Thursday.
Even for the one and only
Tiger Woods, the Masters is not the place to reappear on the scene after a
two-month absence, and not the place to reestablish your golfing supremacy on a
track that has only grown increasingly faster.The expectations, and the pressure, will
be suffocating, even for the man with the strongest mind in the game.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall
inside Tiger’s head right now.He
exudes confidence, because he knows that is what is required.He smiles, a little nervously if you ask
me, because he would never let us see him sweat.
He’s done this before
– four times – and he can do it again.Just ask Tiger.The question is, is he is trying to
convince us or himself?
I love the Masters as much as the next guy,
Long ago, I drank – gulped -- the Kool-Aid, before I ever wrote a word about golf for a
living.Even as a kid, I was
transfixed by Augusta National and everything about the tournament.
Once I started going to the Masters with a
notepad and a press pass, nothing changed. I inhaled the springtime air in Augusta,
and the way the Masters signaled the dawning of another golf season.I soaked up the pomp and circumstance,
the corny piano jingle we all associate with the tournament.I didn’t even roll my eyes at the over-the-top
reverence of CBS’s coverage, or the stunning pomposity of the club and its
Even as a hard-core cynic and sourpuss, when you
walk through those gates and make your away around that golf course, all your
defenses go right out the window.No need to apologize.It
happens to everybody.
For one thing, the Masters field is by far the
smallest, rarely more than 100, usually less, when other majors have 156.The small field is then diluted by the
traditional inclusion of past champions who have utterly zero chance of
winning.Uh, I’m thinking Ben
Crenshaw, Sandy Lyle, Mike Weir, Larry Mize, Tom Watson, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer...I could go on.
Then, there Augusta National’s traditional and
quaint inclusion of a number of amateurs who also have no chance of
winning:the U.S. Amateur champ and
runner up, the British Amateur champ, the U.S. Mid-Am champ, the U.S. Publinks champ and, more recently, the Asian-Pacific Amateur
champ and the Latin American Amateur champ.
In Augusta National’s noble effort to grow the
game globally, the field is increasingly full of international players that I’ve
never heard of and certainly couldn’t pick out of a line up.Even if they somehow play their way onto
the leaderboard, the guys in the control truck at CBS go into full panic
mode.For ratings purposes, they
need Tiger, Phil, Rory, somebody we at least recognize.They have and will settle for Fred
Couples hanging in there on Thursday and Friday.
Bottom line, out of this year’s field of 98,
there are maybe 30 to 35 guys who have a plausible shot at winning the
Masters.I wish I believed Tiger
Woods was among them.
Of course, come Sunday afternoon, I, like you,
will be glued to the 55-inch high-def window onto the
luscious green golfing mecca of Augusta National, even if it comes down to Charley
Hoffmann battling JoostLuiten
for the green jacket.
It’s a sickness, really, for which there is no
first time I ever met James W. Finegan Sr., was in
1995, while he was still working on his definitive history of golf in
Philadelphia, A Centennial Tribute to
Golf in Philadelphia.
occasional was a small, annual golf event at the Philadelphia Cricket Club,
hosted by our mutual friend, Michael Bamberger, senior golf writer for Sports
Illustrated.I was familiar with Finegan’s name, but I didn’t know him or much about
him.That all changed when we were
seated next to each other at the post-round dinner in the Flourtown clubhouse.
could tell a story like Jim Finegan.Skinny as the shaft of a 1-iron, with a
manner of speaking that defies description, when Finegan
regaled you with a tale, he was all arms and all superlatives.That 20-foot putt you made on the 12th
was the single finest putt he had ever
seen struck by an amateur or a professional. That course he played last
month in Ireland was simply superior to
anything anyone has designed in the last 100 years, case closed.
could go on and on like that, and he usually did.In conversation with Finegan,
you mostly listened, and happily so.How could you not?
night at the dinner, as Finegan told me about the
book he was writing to commemorate GAP’s 100th anniversary, he
mentioned he had been working on it for almost five years.
Five years? I couldn’t imagine working on a writing project for
the time his three-inch thick masterwork was published, in 1996, I was the
newly-appointed golf writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer.GAP sent me a copy, which promptly
became the single most valuable reference book I have ever owned.I still refer to it religiously to this
day.Anything or anybody I ever needed
to know about having to do Philadelphia golf, Finegan
had researched exhaustively and written about with authority, in great
detail.Dense with facts and
perspective, I came to wonder how he ever wrote that book in only five years.
the rare occasion that I couldn’t find precisely what I was looking for in Centennial Tribute, I would pick up the
phone and call Finegan.By then, we had become friends.We would play golf together, meet for
lunch, spent 45 minutes at a time on the phone.Not only was he a bottomless storehouse
of information and memories, Finegan was the single
most quotable source I have ever known.The man simply spoke in quotes.
was generous with him time, his expertise and his praise.How many times did the phone would ring
and it would be Finegan?"Joseph, that piece you had in the
Inquirer this morning was simply
amazing.You told me things I did
not know.I don’t know how you do
it – and on deadline!"
Jim, I don’t know how you did it.
Finegan was the master.I was, I am, his student, in awe of his
talent and his charm, grateful to have known such a unique and endearing
Remember a few weeks ago, when Tiger Woods and
his camp were outraged over an obviously, openly fake
interview in Golf Digest, purportedly conducted by legendary sportswriter
The column was over-the-top, even if it was
hilarious, given the relationship, or lack thereof, between Tiger and Dan.Many people felt the column was
offensive and cruel, unfair to Tiger.Only the dullest dullards didn’t understand that it was an attempt at
satire, plain and simple, especially since the headline was "My (Fake)
Interview with Tiger."
Well, yesterday, when the Golf Writers
Association of America announced this year’s writing awards, Jenkins’ fake
interview took top honors in the category of Non-Daily Columns.Basically, that means magazines.
So far, no comment from Tiger. No comment from Dan either, although I
suspect he made no effort to hide a smug grin.
Here’s the breakdown of winners from the GWAA:
2015 GWAA WRITING
following is a full list of the winners, including honorable mentions.
were 466 entries in the 2014 contest
DAILY COLUMNS – 1, Jim McCabe, Golfweek.com Vet credits Casper for life; 2,
Bill Fields, billfields.net,
A driver makes another trip; 3, Gary D’Amato, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, One
more round with dad.
Honorable mention: Ron
Green Jr., Global Golf Post, The great ones find a way; Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.com,
Ike’s Tree leaves legacy; Beth Ann Nichols, golfweek.com,
Compton finds Open fame.
Honorable mention: Michael
Johnson suspended after drug test; Ron Borges, Boston Herald, Phil can’t stop
Rory’s rise; Randall Mell, Golfchannel.com ,
Wie’s scars define her journey.
DAILY FEATURES – 1, Helen Ross, PGATOUR.com, Lyle reclaims his life; 2, Ian
The man who gave Compton life; 3, Alan Shipnuck, Golf.com, Team
USA needs a change.
Honorable mention: John Boyette, Augusta Chronicle, Ike’s Tree rooted in tradition;
Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune, Golf is refuge for burn victim; Helen Ross, PGATOUR.com,
Rallying around Isaiah.
– 1, Dan Jenkins, Golf
Digest, My fake interview with Tiger; 2, Jerry Tarde,
Golf Digest, Hannigan shook things up; 3, Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated, The case for Johnny Miller.
Honorable mention: Jaime
Diaz, Golf World, Bubba as the great liberator; Scott Michaux,
Virginia Golfer, Ryder Cup task force; Jeff Neuman,
Met Golfer, The myth of protecting par; Jeff Rude, Golfweek,
Bubba strikes again.
NON-DAILY NEWS -- 1. Alan Shipnuck,
Sports Illustrated, Anthony Kim, MIA; 2, Jim Moriarty, Golf World, Bubba wins 2nd Masters; 3, Adam Schupak,
Golfweek, Spieth learns on
Honorable mention: Michael
Bamberger, Sports Illustrated, You say you want a revolution; Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated, Wie
is happy at last; Ron Sirak, Golf World, Mighty
NON-DAILY FEATURES -- 1. Ron Whitten, Golf World , How Pinehurst got
its groove back; 2. Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated
,Tiger and the drop; 3, Gary Van Sickle, Memorial Tournament Magazine, Matt Kuchar's odyssey.
Honorable mention: Michael
Bamberger, Sports Illustrated, Legend of Will McKenzie; Tom Callahan, Golf
Digest , Watson's last hurrah; Tom Callahan, Golf Digest, Most interesting men
in the world.
– 1, Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated, Greatest U.S. Open ever; 2,
Scott Michaux, Augusta Chronicle, Adam Scott, one for
Australia; 3. Mercer Baggs, Alan Tays,
Jason Sobel, Ryan Reiterman,
Jason Crook, Bailey Mosier, Jack Menta, Jay
Arnie: man, myth, legend.
Honorable mention –
Rex Hoggard, Golfchannel.com, Jarrod Lyle’s remarkable
journey; Ron Sirak, Golf Digest, The failed USGA
coup; Gene Wojciechowski and Bob Harig,
Miracle or meltdown at Medinah, Sept. 24
If you enjoyed A Course Called Ireland,
Philadelphian Tom Coyne’s 2009
memoir about walking the back roads and golf courses of the Emerald Isle, you’ll
surely be interested in his latest project.
Coyne, who teaches writing at St. Joseph’s
University, plans a follow-up book, A Course Called the Kingdom, due out
in 2016, from Simon & Schuster.As the name suggests, this time around Coyne is expanding his golfing
expedition to the United Kingdom.His 57-day sojourn will take him to 83 courses, including all 14 British
Open venues in Scotland and England.
Coyne, who sets off on April 25, has already
begun previewing the trip on his blog, A Simple
Game. (He has added two courses to the itinerary since his last blog post).
Some of the best parts of A Course Called Ireland didn’t occur during one of Coyne’s rounds
but rather as he walked the entire country, from course to course, village to
village, pubs and B&Bs.For
this book, the UK is too big to walk.
"Not walking, no way," Coyne said in an
email.He plans to blog about his
planning and preparations for trip on his own blog, then blog during the trip
Here is Coyne being
interviewed about A Course Called Ireland
on WHYY’s Radio Times.
is Coyne and me being interviewed about the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion on Radio
Coyne is actually inviting golfers to join him
for legs of the trip.Sounds
Now I turn the challenge to you and
your itinerant golfing friends. This map is crowded with plenty of golf;
it now needs to be populated with people. Please check out the map (click
on the courses for dates) and plan on joining me for a round or ten.
I will be joined by family in St.
Andrews and East Fife where we are dropping anchor for two weeks, but I will
need companions for the rest of the way around. Bad golfers encouraged to
come along–they are funnier
in print. I can offer you free golf and immortalizing in the book (after
you sign your life awaya waiver).