As each year goes by I fear the true sporting spirit of match play is less and less in evidence. We find a growing disposition for play to concentrate on the figures that are registered at a hole rather than on the question of whether the hole is lost or won in a purely friendly match.
The fourth edition of Golf Illustrated is out and while the print edition is another beautiful journal full of wonderful photography that makes a great gift, there is a solution for non-UK buyers who were scared by the high price: an iPad edition for $13.99. The app is free and a one-year subscription is $49.99.
Included in the latest issue are profiles of David McLay Kidd, Archie Baird and Lee Trevino interview. Features include a look at Royal St. George's, a story on five club secretaries and a fantastic Dale Concannon story about the first Ryder Cup.
Ron Sirak pays tribute to Dan Jenkins and there is no way you can pass up a column quoting the single greatest lede in the history of literature.
And there was this from Sirak about Jenkins' place in the world of sport:
But even more than his best-selling novels, Jenkins joined journalists Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind in the WGHOF because he reinvented sports writing. If the late Hunter Thompson gets credit for creating "Gonzo Journalism" -- the art of immersing yourself in a story and making fact read with the entertainment of fiction -- Jenkins is the guy who brought that attitude to sports, although he will hate to have his name mentioned in the same sentence with Thompson. Both blew up the form and invented a new one.
If you are in search of the perfect summer biography to sink your beach reading chops into, look no further than Don Van Natta Jr.'s study of the short but incredible sporting life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
A correspondent for the New York Times who has previously written about our golfing presidents in the fantastic First Off The Tee, Van Natta answered questions via email while on tour promoting the release of Wonder Girl. His stops included a Beaumont, Texas visit last weekend on what would have been the Babe's 100th birthday on Sunday. He filed this excellent Times story from Babe's hometown and site of a museum dedicated to her feats.
Van Natta also reads from Wonder Girl and was interviewed by NPR's All Things Considered.
Van Natta sifted through many accounts and remembrances to present a tight, highly-readable and definitive look at a life cut short by cancer at 45, but not before Didrikson-Zaharias had mastered numerous sports and even tried her hand at stage performances. Her golf accomplishments are particularly astonishing: she once won 14 consecutive tournaments, was the first American to win the British Women’s Amateur Championship, first woman to play and qualify for a PGA Tour event, three-time U.S. Women's Open winner, co-founder of the LPGA and winner of the 1953 U.S. Women's Open by 12 after major cancer surgery.
GS: What prompted you to do a book about the life of The Babe?
DVN: In 2004, after publishing my first book, First Off the Tee, I wanted to write another golf book. At the time, I was living in London and considered writing about St. Andrews or, perhaps, the great Bobby Jones. But my friend, Rand Jerris, an author and historian at the United States Golf Association, suggested a biography about Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Babe is Rand’s hero.
I had vaguely recalled hearing Babe’s name from my father, who admired her grit. The more I investigated Babe’s life, the more impressed and inspired I became. She wasn’t just America’s greatest female athlete; she is arguably the greatest all-sport athlete, male or female, in American history. And when I first visited Babe’s hometown of Beaumont, Texas, I was surprised and saddened to see her museum was empty, and would go many days without anyone stepping foot inside.
Despite her many athletic achievements and super-stardom – and being the top-ranked woman athlete of the 20th century -- Babe had become America’s all-but-forgotten sports superstar. Even in Babe’s hometown, she was largely unknown. Most young people don’t know her name, but when they hear about her achievements, they’re awed and want to know more. During my first visit to Beaumont, I became more motivated to do my best to bring the Babe’s inspirational story to a new generation of readers.
GS: It seems every story about her life and particularly her start in golf has multiple versions, how did you go about researching the book and separating fact from fiction?
DVN: Babe is an enormous challenge to her biographers because she lied about so much of her past history. She told fibs about her age, her background and her athletic achievements. Her 1955 autobiography, “This Life I’ve Led,” is littered with half-truths and fanciful stories. When she died, The New York Times reported Babe was 42 years old (she was, in fact, 45). As an investigative reporter, I saw her story as a challenge to try to separate fact from fiction.
Babe counted on reporters to regurgitate whatever story she told them without looking deeply into her background. And she had the audacity to tell many contradictory stories about how she began golf – from picking up a club on a whim in her early 20s to becoming inspired to play after watching a round played by Bobby Jones. None of these stories were true. The truth had less sparkle: Babe learned to play at a young age at Beaumont Country Club and for two years she was a member of the Beaumont High School golf team.
GS: You open by painting a picture of her vaudeville show and asking the question of whether there was anything she could not do. Was there anything she did not do well?
Only five months after winning two gold medals and a silver at the 1932 Olympic Games, Babe was performing vaudeville because there was no other way for the world’s greatest athlete to make money.
Babe was a multi-sport athlete who excelled at every sport and game she tried. The one thing she was not good at was sportsmanship. She would show up in women’s clubhouses and tell her competitors, “The Babe’s here! Who is coming in second?” When she stepped off the train in Los Angeles before the 1932 Olympic Games, Babe told reporters, “I came out here to beat everybody in sight -- and that’s just what I’m going to do.” Well, the only athletes in sight were her US track and field teammates, who bristled at her declaration.
After helping to create the LPGA, Babe rubbed her leading money-winning success in the noses of her competitors. One golfer, Shirley Spork, another LPGA founder, told Babe, “If it wasn’t for us pigeons, you wouldn’t have a tour.” Babe just laughed, telling Spork and her other fellow golfers: “Let me tell you girls something – you know when there’s a star, like in show business, the star has her name in lights on the marquee? Right? And the star gets the money because the people come to see the star, right? Well, I’m the star and all of you are in the chorus. I get the money. And if it weren’t for me, half of our tournaments wouldn’t be.”
Babe was right, of course. But if she had kept such things to herself, she might have won a few less tournaments and a few more friends.
GS: Her spat with the USGA over amateur status seems so petty, especially when you see today's "amateurs" fully outfitted in logoed clothes and receiving free gear. A recurring theme of the book seems to be the surprising amount of struggle and backlash she received despite her vibrant personality and incredible athletic skills. What do you attribute this to?
DVN: The “amateur” ideal for athletes, who were never paid a nickel to compete, was revered in the 1930s and 1940s. No one tried to uphold this ideal more than the leaders of the Olympics, who stripped the great Jim Thorpe of his gold medals because he was paid a few bucks to play semi-pro baseball. But more than just that was working against Babe. Her poor background and coarse manner offended the wealthy, high-society Texas women who didn’t like losing to Babe in the mid-1930s. After Babe defeated one of those women, Peggy Chandler, in the 1935 Texas Women’s Amateur, Chandler and her friends complained to the USGA that Babe was a professional athlete masquerading as a golfing amateur. This was based on Babe being paid for endorsements and to play semi-pro basketball. The USGA agreed, and disqualified Babe from competing in amateur golf tournaments for three years. The penalty made Babe even more determined to come back and win. It also inspired her to soften her image and her manners in a bid to win acceptance to the gilded golf world that had so rudely snubbed her.
One of the things that most amazes me about Babe was her incredible will to succeed. She was constantly told what she couldn’t do and who she couldn’t be, and she just flat-out refused to listen. This was seen most dramatically after Babe’s cancer diagnosis in 1953. Doctors told her she would never play professional golf again. Babe believed it, at first; she tried to give away her golf clubs to a friend. But she quickly became determined to not only play again but win again. And fifteen months after a colostomy, Babe won the U.S. Women’s Open by 12 strokes at Salem Country Club in Massachusetts. It was one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports. And during her victory speech, she shared in her great triumph with her doctors and the thousands of strangers who wrote her get-well cards and letters. By then, Babe felt as if she was playing to win not only for herself but the cancer patients who looked to her as a strong role model.
Babe’s lessons for young people today are simple: Never give up. Never let anyone tell you who what you should do or who you should be.
GS: She met George Zaharias when she entered the LA Open in 1938 when there weren't any real restrictions, but qualifying in 1945 and making the cut was a genuine accomplishment that essentially was ignored a few years ago when Suzy Whaley and Annika Sorenstam played PGA Tour events. It seems as if the lack of respect for her accomplishments continues. Wouldn't she have her own magazine, ESPN channel and syndicated show if she were around today?
DVN: American sports fans love two-sport athletes. When Michael Jordan retired to play a year of minor league baseball in Birmingham, Alabama, Americans were fascinated by his quest. Never mind that Jordan hit .202 and returned to the hard court to win more NBA championships. Fans were transfixed by a legendary athlete struggling to master a second game. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders are other two-sport athletes who fired Americans’ imagination.
Well, Babe was an all-sport athlete who conquered every sport and game she played – basketball, track and field, baseball, swimming, tennis, bowling. I agree that there is a startling lack of respect these days for all that Babe had accomplished and had to overcome. If she were around today, she would likely have her own sneaker line, like Jordan, and a syndicated TV show. She would also want to kick everyone’s butts. Babe not only was a great athlete but, like Ali and, more recently, Shaq, she was a born entertainer who knew how to keep the members of the gallery laughing and shaking their heads with wonder.
Here's a link to a book "trailer" featuring some excellent footage of Babe playing golf.
Remember, I just copy and paste this stuff and slap it under the you-can't-make-this-stuff-up-files. From Titleist PR:
FROM STICKS AND STONES: AN ESSENTIAL READ FOR ALL GOLF ENTHUSIASTS
Former USGA Technical Director Frank Thomas Details the Evolution of Golf Equipment Rules
Fairhaven, MA (May 25, 2011) – One of the men most involved in writing the rules that set the boundaries for today’s golf equipment is setting the record straight in his new book, From Sticks and Stones, a comprehensive history and analysis of golf’s equipment regulations and their effects on the game.
Wow, how courageous, he's going to reveal how he blew the pooch! Got to love a good tell-all.
Written by Frank Thomas with Valerie Melvin, From Sticks and Stones dissects all the equipment-related provisions in the Rules of Golf, and explains why they were written, what they were meant to achieve and evaluates their relevance today.
I'm sure that'll have quite the honest, forthright look. It's not like Wally himself is contributing a press release blurb or anything.
"Frank Thomas has written the definitive book on the evolution of equipment as it pertains to the Rules of Golf,” said Wally Uihlein, Chairman and CEO, Acushnet Company, manufacturer of the Titleist and FootJoy golf brands. “As the Technical Director of the United States Golf Association for more than a quarter century, Thomas was at the forefront of the decision-making process by the game's ruling bodies during the most active and critical periods in the history of golf. He always kept the best intentions of the game top of mind and provided a voice of reason, often in the face of criticism. From Sticks and Stones is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the game and how golf equipment has evolved over the past century."
Well, at least I know what'll be my light, whimsical summer reading.
Here is the remainder of my email Q&A with Adam Schupak, author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force.
Q: Beman righthand man Tim Finchem seems to be under-represented while many other Beman cohorts share all sorts of great memories and insights. Did you interview the current Commissioner?
AS: Finchem cooperated. He’s a busy man so at his request we spoke by phone. On each occasion, we ran over the allotted time. When I realized I hadn’t touched on his role in The Presidents Cup and some other topics, he squeezed me in and gave me some good details. Perhaps I didn’t direct quote him as much. I’m not sure he gave the most colorful quotes. He did tell me about the photo of the two of them on his office wall with Beman’s inscription, which I ended up using both in the book and as the inside-cover photo. And I sensed sincerity when Finchem told me he wished Beman had stayed longer and that he wasn’t lusting for the job. Finchem said he expected to have to go elsewhere to run a business.
If there was a disappointment, Finchem didn’t provide many recollections on grooves or the intimate details from the negotiations I hoped for from someone who served as the Tour’s point-person on that topic. Then again, he didn’t get where he is today by baring his soul to writers.
Q: Beman says he wouldn't have retired when he did had he known the governing bodies and tour would drop the ball on regulating distance. But wasn't he weakened by his decision to take on PING?
Beman already was moving forward to conduct additional research in grooves and golf balls after he settled with Ping. He felt he was in a stronger position because Ping had agreed to the terms of an equipment advisory board. Sure, there were more hoops to jump through, but as long as the Tour didn’t act in an arbitrary nature and convinced the independent group that a rule change should be mandated, the Tour had the authority to make its own rules. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve been told that it would be much more difficult to prove an antitrust suit under such circumstances.
Q: How was he to work with and how did your interview sessions work?
He was a journalist’s dream in that he kept everything, and entrusted me with board minutes dating back to the Joe Dey era and his personal records. They provided me with the supporting documents that added depth to my reporting and detail to the narrative. As one of his former lieutenants said to me, Deane Beman doesn’t do anything halfway. He devoted himself to explaining his story, which sometimes meant repeating the same story several times, and the book is all the better for it.
Q: Where can we buy it?
“Deane Beman: Golf’s Driving Force,” is available at Amazon.com (See Geoff’s “Current Reading” for a direct link), the Kindle store, Golfsmart.com, and any club pros or off-course retailers who want to carry the book should contact The Booklegger.
I reviewed Adam Schupak's new book on/with Deane Beman in last week's Golf World and to synopsize: it's fantastic. When I first heard that Schupak was penning Beman's memoirs I figured we'd get the typical reimagination of history. Instead Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force is full of insider information, lively storytelling and a rare look into the mind of a shrewd negotiator and those he dealt with. Beman is actually just part of the book thanks to Schupak's research, which turns the book into both a history of the PGA Tour over its twenty most interesting years, but also a look into the minds of those on Team Beman and those who battled with the man.
I can't recommend this book enough. Oh and one other reason to buy it: publishers passed on it. Yet it's precisely the kind of intelligent, entertaining and practical sports business book they used to publish and sell with ease. Now they are publishing John Daly's fourth wife.
Here is part one of a two part email Q&A with Schupak, the former Golfweek writer who put this impressive piece of work together over several years.
Q: This book seemed to come out of nowhere, what's the backstory?
AS: Deane Beman tried to get a publisher in the late ‘90s with the assistance of IMG’s literary division. The talented author Steve Eubanks drafted a sample chapter. There were no takers. Beman showed me a file of rejection letters. They said he had waited too long and had missed his window. Why did he wait? Beman didn't want to be seen as second-guessing and making a difficult job any more difficult for Finchem, his successor.
So the book idea died for a while. I approached him in 2005 with a proposal after I finished grad school. I still owned my little place in Ponte Vedra and writing a book on Beman was my plan to return there. He turned me down. I got a job with Golfweek and put the Beman book on the backburner. He fiddled with the idea again and one day in 2009, Beman emailed me. It was one line: “I’m ready to do a book. Are you still interested?”
He gave me permission to tell agents I had his cooperation and he gave me time and access to info as I wrote sample chapters and a treatment for a book effort. I talked to some big name agents in the business. One prominent agent was a family friend, another had a stable of perennial best-selling authors, and a fellow writer recommended his agent. No one believed in the book. This was pre-kindle, economy in the tank, and publishers were only signing off on slam-dunks. I was an unproven commodity and Beman’s window they said had long passed. What little interest I generated amounted to transforming the book into something entirely different for sales purpose with Beman as a recurring bit character. It wasn’t the story I wanted to tell so I decided to do it my way.
Q: Did he place restrictions on what you could write or who you could talk to?
AS: The very first thing I said to him was that I didn't want to be his stenographer. He cut me off, and said, “Good. I don't want you to be. Go talk to anyone you want to. I know there are some people who still think I did everything wrong. I'm comfortable with my record.” It was the voice of a confident man, not an arrogant one, and he lived up to his promise.
Q: It's an unusual format in that you are doing an authorized biography, yet Beman's views seem to be maybe 30% of the information you share on each topic, the rest is your research along with the recollections of others to form what is essentially a history of the PGA Tour and also a business book. How did you envision telling his story this way?
AS: I never set out to write a classic biography of Beman. If you want the Konica Minolta BizHub analysis of his childhood, you’ll be disappointed in this book. I weave in some stories from his childhood that show how even then he thought big. I touch on his playing career because it’s important for the reader to understand that here was a decorated amateur champ, who walked away from a successful insurance practice to turn pro, and then after finishing 26th on the money list (Tour Championship qualifier in today’s terms) decides to become commissioner.
My premise for the book in a nutshell is everyone knows the Tour is a success today, but very few know how it became one. To me, the main figure in the making of the modern-day Tour is Beman and I treated his 20-year tenure the way David Halberstam treated the 1946 baseball season.
Q: The chapter on grooves and PING is particularly fascinating because it's the most complete re-telling of that saga, complete with some great stuff from Frank Hannigan. It's also remarkable how Beman was vindicated by the USGA's recent rule change. How did you go about researching this?
AS: That was the toughest part of the story to tell. It is so complex. I hope I added some insight but I made a strategic decision that it was worth telling the story of Round One so-to-speak in the groove wars between the USGA and Ping to understand why Beman and the Tour chose to take on this fight. I had to establish for the reader why he assumed this cause and why it was such a bedrock issue for him.
I call the chapter on the groove battle between the Tour and Ping “Soldiering on Alone,” because that’s what Beman did. He took a beating in the press. Some of the very players who pushed him to fight this fight disappeared when it got a little hot in the kitchen. Not Beman. Whether you agree with him or not, I think you have to admire a man that stands up for what he believes in when so many others are casting stones.
This was a fascinating section of the book to research. You have these two proud men – Beman and Karsten Solheim – who lived their lives on their own terms and both believe in their heart of hearts that they are right. I think they met their match in each other. They ran into the one other person as committed to winning. Then you have a brilliant lawyer, Leonard Decof, who is winning the case in the court of public opinion. You have the USGA whose role as the rulemaking body for the game is being challenged, and wants to preserve its place. A lot was at stake. There seems to be this assumption that the Tour would’ve lost a jury trial. I’m not so sure.
One of the great disappointments in writing this book was I did not get to speak to Decof. A Tour pro told me Decof was ill and I better get in touch with him soon. So I called his Providence, R.I.-office and I was told he was in Palm Beach, Fla. and to expect a call. I was delighted. I thought, “I may get to interview him in person.” If he’s willing, I’m driving south to meet him. Two days later, I logged on to your site and read your “RIP Decof” headline. As the British would say, I was gutted.
That disappointment was offset, in part, by John Solheim and his team of lawyers spending 2 ½ hours with me so I understood both sides of this story. John is an underrated interview. He is always candid. When he said his relationship with his father was scarred by the grooves settlement with the USGA, I could feel the pain that inflicted. I don’t think we can underestimate how big a role that played last year when Ping waived its rights to the Ping Eye2 exception to the 2010 condition of competition for grooves.
To be continued tomorrow...