September 1, 2000
Bob Cullen is a fine writer and journalist. When he turns his attention to golf, his readers are all the better for it.
The Chevy Chase, Maryland resident was already well known to golfers because of his remarkably successful, four-book collaboration with Bob Rotella, beginning with Golf Is Not A Game Of Perfect. Cullen’s newest offering is his first solo try at golf writing, with an intriguing title—Why Golf? The mystery of the game revisited (Simon & Schuster, $22 SRP).
In his new book Cullen searches for explanations for golf’s appeal to its millions of players. The book’s central theme derived from Cullen’s work with Rotella, when he read Arnold Haultain’s 1908 classic, The Mystery of Golf.
Haultain’s book, still in print, also tried to describe why this frequently frustrating sport attracted so many avid players. Short quotes from Haultain start each chapter of Cullen’s new book.
Cullen drew upon many different resources for his own journey. Few writers would have the temerity to blend Plato and Punkin’ Chunkin’. Fewer still would be able to carry it off with his comfortable prose style.
Punkin’ Chunkin’, for readers not from the Cape Region, or the farm country of Illinois and a few other spots in the United States, is a two-day celebration in the fall. The centerpiece of the festival involves the use of giant homemade compressed air cannons that shoot pumpkins as far as possible. Some go well past a half-mile.
Cullen saw how the Punkin’ Chunkin’ crowds stood in awe of the pumpkins arcing across the sky. He immediately understood the parallels between a 300-yard drive and squash abuse.
As for Plato, Cullen explains the Greek philosopher’s analogy of the shadows on the cave wall, relating to the search for the ideal. Cullen argues that golf appeals to those seeking contact with the notion of perfect control, grace, and power. This leads to intense fan interest in golfers such as Tiger Woods, who gives hints of the ideal in his amazing performances.
Cullen worked up the nerve to ask Woods directly about this notion during a press conference. He did not receive an ideal answer.
Cullen also touches upon several other possibilities. He learns about psychological studies of human motivation. He reviews anthropological evidence to explain the appeal of the golf course landscape.
“What I Learned From Bob Rotella” gives the readers a backstage pass to the collaborative process that led to the popular golf book series. It also shows Rotella’s remarkable personality and drive to help others who truly desire to improve their performance. Cullen describes the allure of a game that fully engages the mind and the body, and how Rotella helps his clients achieve that integration.
David Oakley is the brother of local PGA pro Pete Oakley, Director of Golf at The Rookery. David is not well known to many golfers, but the story of his recent stint on the PGA Senior Tour is the central core of the “Mulligan Boys” chapter. Cullen argues that golf writers who denigrate the skill levels shown on the Senior Tour are missing the point.
Cullen finishes with “Twilight Golf,” in which he takes his children along for a few holes in the final hours of a late spring day. His son and daughter’s contact with the possibilities of accomplishment shows yet another basis for the game’s charms.
Why Golf? is a worthy successor to Haultain’s Mystery of Golf. The essence of golf’s appeal cannot be found in any one explanation. Cullen gives his readers a well-written, comprehensive suggestion of all the likely reasons so many are addicted to the sport.