Two good golf novels, revisited
November 21, 2008
With freezing blasts and snow flurries hitting the Cape Region this past week, some local golfers might be more interested in reading about their favorite game instead of slogging their way around their home course in less than ideal conditions.
Two golf novels that first appeared on the bookshelves in 2001 and were reviewed previously in this column are well worth revisiting. They remain available through Amazon.com and other book outlets.
Bob Cullen is known to many golfers for the best-selling series of instruction books he co-wrote with Bob Rotella, beginning with Golf is Not a Game of Perfect. He’d written fiction before, and then tried his hand at golf fiction with A Mulligan for Bobby Jobe.
Jobe is a struggling PGA Tour pro with a passel of problems at home and on the course. The caddy-narrator, Henry Mote, has his own difficulties with helping Jobe remained focused on the task at hand.
A burst of lightning changes everything in an instant.
The now-blinded Jobe has to figure out a way to make his way in the world, and decides to keep on golfing, with the help of his rehabilitation counselor and Mote.
Cullen prepared for his novel by working as a caddie on the Tour, and by spending time with Pat Browne, a multiple winner of U.S. Blind Golfer’s Association Championships. The novel significantly draws upon those experiences.
For the formerly sighted, 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 simply requires an even closer relationship between the caddie/coach and the player. The novel’s primary story line develops this theme, and is also why the book happens to be a useful guide to playing golf for the sighted.
Another good golf story is Spikes, by Michael Griffith, a first-time effort for him.
Brian Schwan is suffering a young adult crisis. At only twenty-six, and four years out of college, Schwan is floundering his way to oblivion on a professional golf tour that is itself nothing special.
His fellow mini-tour players call him Clutch. As he explains in this first-person narrative, the nickname is intentionally ironic, earned by his impressive record of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in a few well-drawn incidents.
His wife Rosa’s sense of purpose and drive to see her husband succeed is colored by her born-again Christianity and her mystical dream interpretations. The problem is that Schwan keeps thinking his salvation lies in golf, while Rosa thinks his salvation lies in coming home, starting a family, and using his accounting decree.
Along the way, Griffith treats the reader to a moodily funny portrait of America’s Southeast. For example, he gives us a dead-on portrait of the endless string of golf courses in the Carolinas, financed by time-share sales to northern rubes, with Vegas-like billboards touting their raw charms.
Considering how many of those resorts are now in deep financial difficulties, these passages are even funnier than when this book first appeared.
The story of how Schwan met Rosa is a great short story by itself. It blends a charming romance with a satirical look at college golf, mixed in with a classic rendition of a uniquely American archetype, the college sports booster.
For much of his life, Schwan has been essentially passive. He let others dictate the terms under which he lives and strives for success. As the story moves on, Schwan begins to see a way out of the traps he’s set for himself by living that way.
As the novel concludes, Schwan is moving toward taking active responsibility for what he does and how he does it.