April 1998

Books of the back nine

By Curt Sampson
By Henry Beard
By David Leadbetter
Review by
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Frank Chirkinian, the longtime director of golf telecasts for CBS, once said of the Masters, "There is nothing humorous at the Masters. Here small dogs do not bark and babies do not cry." And, he could have added, black golfers are not welcome. Curt Sampson, author of the Eternal Summer and Hogan, recounts the tradition and history of the most distinguished event in golf in The Masters: Golf, Money, and Power in Augusta, Georgia.

Sampson also offers absorbing profiles of the event's co-founders, the legendary Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts, Jr. Jones, born Robert Tyre Jones in Atlanta, Georgia, was educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at Harvard University, where he majored in law. Winner of the United States Open golf championship in 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1930, he was U.S. national amateur champion in 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, and 1930 and won the British Open championship in 1926, 1927, and 1930. He was the first player to win both the U.S. and British Open championships in the same year (1926), and the only player ever to win both national amateur and open contests in both countries in the same year (1930). Jones's reputation was impeccable. He firmly believed that a Southern gentleman "should be a crack shot, a good drinker, and courteous, especially with the ladies. He should also cultivate his mind, and should not appear too obviously concerned with the matters of commerce." Roberts, on the contrary, was a man very concerned with commerce, having made a fortune for himself and others (including Dwight D. Eisenhower) in real estate and the stock market. And it was Roberts who dominated the way the tournament was run and how its sponsor, the Augusta National Golf Club, dealt with golfers and the media for much of the tournament's history, wielding "power like the Old Testament God, with lots of rules and no mercy." The author also devotes a considerable amount of space to depicting the politics, finances, and racism of Augusta, the Georgia town that has been the site for the Master's since its inception, known for its beautiful gardens and mild winters, the boyhood home of President Woodrow Wilson and the hometown of gospel-soul singer James Brown. Sampson lays open the inside stories behind many of the dramatic finishes, beginning with the first tournament, won by Horton Smith in 1934, to Tiger Woods's record-breaking victory in 1997.

One thing is certain, humorist Henry Beard's The Official Exceptions to the Rules of Golf: Special Titanium Edition has never been or ever will be the official rulebook at the Masters, or any other tournament for that matter. Author of O.J.'s Legal Pad, Beard makes cheating chic with this updated version of the original. In addition to the exceptions found in the original version, 16 new exceptions have been added to assist the most inept duffer and the most hopeless hacker salvage some measure of self-respect. A few of the added exceptions include Temporary Insanity, Junk Ball, Agreement to Re-tee, Ball Renounced in Flight, Paranoid Shot, and Stolen Ball. Beard has given those of us who usually wind up searching for that dimpled, white sphere in the rough or buried in a sand trap the perfect tool for breaking 100 the easy way.

For those of us who prefer a more upright approach to improving one's game, renowned golf instructor David Leadbetter provides an alternative with Positive Practice: Improve Your All-around Golf Game. Leadbetter, who includes among his disciples professionals Greg Norman, Tom Watson, and Nick Price, provides an age-old means for the average club player as well as the Tour professional: practice. But as Leadbetter observes, although practice is undoubtedly the key to better golf, for most golfers practice has usually been ill-disciplined and as a result terribly unproductive. According to the author, the three vital elements of practice are a pre-match warm-up session, a focused technical workout, and mental preparation. The fundamentals of grip and set-up along with the basics of the golf swing are also covered. Over 250 full-color photographs and illustrations compliment the text. Whether your game finds you on the local public course or at Augusta National, Positive Practice offers valuable lessons.

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