October 20, 2000
What are the essential elements of a great hustler?
Troon McAllister explores this question in The Green, his funny first golf novel, now available in paperback (Main Street Books, $12.95 SRP).
According to McAllister, a good gambler possesses several distinguishing characteristics:
A keen sense of one’s own abilities;
The willpower to stay within those abilities;
A keen sense of human weaknesses, especially desire, immaturity, and greed;
The ability to assess which frailties will ensure victory; and
The ability to say exactly what you mean–nothing more, and especially nothing less.
The Green shows its readers the quintessential golf hustler, in the best environment to show how he does his work. Not merely a match game, but the greatest match game in professional golf—The Ryder Cup.
Most tournament golf is an individualized contest against the golf course. The players simply try to make the best score over the usual four rounds. Their focus remains almost always on their own performance and what they have to do to score as low as possible.
When put into a match play contest, however, golfers must contend with another element—their opponent.
Eddie Caminetti is a Florida golf pro. Allen Bellamy, the narrator and the captain of the Ryder Cup team, sees Caminetti in action while Bellamy is enduring a corporate outing. Bellamy is sufficiently intrigued by what he sees to find Caminetti and offer to play him. Bellamy learns a sufficiently painful personal lesson that he decides Caminetti must become part of the American team for the Ryder Cup.
After all, the European team is heavily favored to win the Cup from the Americans. It will take all their talents and then some for the American side to simply tie the Europeans and “keep the Cup.”
Bellamy works out a way to bring Caminetti out of the shadows of golf and into the harsh light of Ryder Cup prominence. How Caminetti makes the team is as intriguing and funny as the Ryder contest that fills the second half of the book.
McAllister takes the time to fully develop Caminetti’s character. Eddie shows a few signs of genuine care and concern for others, to be sure. Nonetheless, there are far more instances where his talent for taking advantage of other’s weaknesses is on full and funny display. In nearly every instance, Caminetti’s competitors hear only what they want to hear, not necessarily what Eddie says. This usually leads to grief, but the reader is forced to conclude that the “victims” brought it on themselves.
Several other well-drawn characters enhance the book. Derek Anouilh is a Tiger Woods-like player, and the side story of his eventual acceptance by his fellow tour professionals seemed eminently plausible. Andrew Firth, a Scotsman in the story, is a caricature of Colin Montgomerie on a bad day (a bad week, really).
One constant theme in the novel is that people do not actually listen to what they are told. Their own cares, concerns, and especially desires impede their comprehension. Caminetti’s teammates and his captain forget that what motivates them may not motivate Eddie. By comparison, Caminetti is nearly totally honest, and his ability to understand others while keeping to his own routine is perhaps his greatest talent.
The descriptions of the action during the Ryder Cup are very good. McAllister either attended Cup matches or spent far too much time in front of a television.
The ending is a bit of surprise, but I’m certainly not going to give it away. It makes sense, but readers will feel compelled to go back to other segments of the novel to see if there were any clues to the eventual results.
The clues are there. McAllister is as honest with his readers as Caminetti is with the people he plays.
I’m looking forward to following Eddie’s example in my next match.