I stayed up late a couple Saturday nights ago to finish this novel. The payoff came immediately, with a Sunday round the next day that was 6 strokes under my handicap.
A Mulligan for Bobby Jobe is not really a golf instruction manual in disguise. However, the redemption story of a PGA golfer returning to competition after being blinded by lightning happens to include some great playing advice for golfers of all types.
That’s just a side benefit to the real intent of the novel.
Cullen explores the ways that people recover from what happens to them, through an unusual collection of characters.
As the novel begins, Bobby Jobe is trying to beat two things at once during the final round of the PGA championship—other golfers, and his own tendency to choke under pressure while in the lead. Jobe, whose immaturity is set out with a few deft passages, becomes distracted by some female eye-candy in the gallery, much to the annoyance of his caddie Henry Mote, the narrator. Jobe’s inability to focus leads to disaster, both during and after the round.
Mote has his own problems. His own immaturity causes him to react unprofessionally in reaction to Jobe. It leads to a major flare-up, his departure from the course back to his home, and to some extent Mote’s guilty feeling that he helped create the conditions that led to Jobe’s blinding.
Mote’s home situation after he leaves the Tour is no bed of roses, either. His mother, Eudora, struggles to keep the family’s little 9-hole public course going, despite the poor economy in the Virginia coal region. Henry’s father Clayton, a professional golfer himself, abandoned the family when Henry was a young teen in at least two ways—literally and mentally.
Cullen displays unusual sensitivity in describing the insidious effects of the mental illness that afflicts Clayton. The fractured relationship between the father and the son is another focus of the novel, and will be all too familiar to many readers in several respects, even without the added element of psychiatric trauma.
Angela Murphy, a rehabilitation counselor, works with Jobe to recover from his accident. She determines that not only should Bobby return to golf, he should also use Henry Mote to assist him.
Though talented in her field, as shown with several vivid examples throughout the book, Angela herself has a troubled past, especially in her relationships with men. Henry is attracted to her, but can’t help notice that the counselor is intrigued by the charismatic Jobe. Henry’s often painfully lame efforts to change her romantic focus are not only frequently funny, but also illustrate how much Henry has to learn about relationships on and off the course. Fortunately, he’s a fairly quick study.
In preparing for this novel, Cullen worked as a caddie on the PGA Tour, and also drew upon his previous work with Bob Rotella in the series of books starting with Golf is Not a Game of Perfect. During those years Cullen became acquainted with Pat Browne, a winner of many U.S. Blind Golfer’s Association Championships, and the novel clearly draws upon those contacts.
For the formerly sighted, at least, blind golf requires an intense focus and a highly developed ability to visualize. Initially that sounds a bit cruel when writing about blindness, but as Cullen describes Jobe’s recovery and rehabilitation, that’s what comes across. Mote narrates how he learns to set Jobe up for his shots, and learns how to describe the surroundings so that Jobe can make his shot.
The reader discovers that the process of preparation is not really different for blind golfers than it should be for those who can see. It just requires a close relationship between the caddie/coach and the player. The novel’s primary story line develops this theme, and is the reason why it’s also a useful guide to playing golf.
For example, Jobe learns a tip I first read in Golf is Not a Game of Perfect. Fred Couples described for Cullen that when he has a particular shot to make, he simply remembers his best similar shot in the past, and tries to repeat it. I can personally vouch for the fact that this tip works.
One of the other nice things about this novel is the way Cullen fits real PGA golfers into the action, such as David Frost and especially Jay Delsing. Cullen’s prior experience in working with and writing about the Tour players shows in the novel, even when he creates a fictionalized player or two. Readers learn a bit about what it’s really like to play golf at that level, for the Tour player and his caddie.
Cullen’s prior work as a novelist also shows here, in that the characters that should be three-dimensional meet that requirement. That can’t be said for others who attempt fictional treatments relating to golf. No character is wholly good or wholly evil. Instead, they are fully realized, flawed human beings, whose stories remain intriguing throughout the book.
This is a truly enjoyable golf novel that goes well beyond the normal confines of sports fiction. I highly recommend it.
Review Date: June 2, 2001