Q&A With Jim Moriarty, Author Of Playing Through

Longtime golf writer and photographer Jim Moriarty has penned Playing Through (University of Nebraska Press), his look at the incredible thirty-or-so-year window that has seen massive change and the Tiger Woods influence.

Best known for his revealing Golf World feature stories, Moriarty has used those pieces to weave together a nice overview of the game as it saw major changes. Other writers have put together anthologies, but Moriarty's style makes this one a little sexier than the usual anthology.

If you want a signed copy and to support a great Pinehurst institution, you can buy the book here at the Old Sport Gallery page.

Or, if you just need a good golf read or a smart gift, Amazon also has you covered with hardcover and Kindle editions.

Jim kindly answered a few questions about the book and what he's seeing with Tiger, the state of golf media and the next generation of stars.

GS: This is not an anthology, but a combination of new thoughts and essays on key players over the last thirty years. What made you go this route with the book instead of an anthology of previous Golf World and Digest features?

JM: The concept was pretty simple, which is good because complex thinking isn’t in my wheelhouse. Two of Herb Wind’s books, The Story of American Golf and Following Through (the latter a compilation of his New Yorker stories) taken together do an admirable job of telling the story of golf in America from the Apple Tree Gang to right around Nicklaus/Watson at Pebble Beach. While I certainly don’t — in any way — put myself in Herb’s category, the idea was to more or less pick up where he left off. There are lots of terrific books about a player or a tournament but nothing that sort of covered the field sideline-to-sideline. Then the question was, do I take on the last 30 years chronologically or in essay form, and I chose the latter.

GS: Tiger naturally gets a big chapter, what did you make of his most recent comeback?

JM: Honestly, I'm thrilled. One of the essays in the book is called "Last Acts." The great champions all seem to get a curtain call, discounting Jones and Nelson, who just walked away. I’d love to see Tiger get his. It’s completely unclear whether the body will hold up. The truth is golfers are athletes like any other. A football player blows his knee out. A baseball pitcher loses his arm. Either you can go or you can’t. It’s very cruel.

GS: You continually note the game changing at the hands of technology but insist the essence of elite golf has not been negatively altered. But do you think Tiger and perhaps Phil Mickelson have had their skill advantage dulled by the way equipment is more forgiving?

JM: I think the USGA and the R&A have been guilty of malpractice when it comes to equipment regulation. Do you see them moving the fences back at Wrigley Field? Having said that, what makes Tiger Tiger or Phil Phil is that whatever-the-hell-it-is that allows one to hole a putt bouncing like a Ping Pong ball down the 18th green at Torrey Pines or the other to attack the 13th green at Augusta National out of the trees and off the pine straw. Rocco knew Tiger was going to make that putt because, well, that’s just what Tiger does. In a different time or place someone could have, would have, said the same thing about Jones or Hagen, Hogan or Nelson or Snead, Nicklaus or Watson. In that respect, I don’t think the game has changed one little bit. The message is in the bottle — British version — always has been, always will be. It’s the stuff TrackMan can’t measure that ultimately matters the most and they don’t pass it out in equal amounts.

GS: Where do you see the current young generation of stars in a few years? Do you see shorter careers due to the money, increased visibility and stress compared to previous generations?

JM: I don’t think great players give a damn about anything except beating other great players. And we’ve got some great young players. I hope I live long enough to see them kick the hell out of each other a lot.

GS: Over the last thirty years, when was the game at its (A) best and (B) worst/lowest?

JM: Every time I go to Pebble Beach, the first two things I do are 1) go to the spot where I was kneeling beside the 17th when Watson chipped in and 2) walk around Stillwater Cove to the spot above the 7th where I had probably my longest conversation with Herb Wind. Moments stick out. The ’86 Masters was pretty good. And Tiger at Torrey wasn’t half bad. Same with Payne at Pinehurst. Our’s is a game that sooner or later can’t help but rise to a level above our expectations. This is personal but, to me, the lowest point was the disgraceful way everyone behaved toward Casey Martin. For a long time the sport was looking for the Next Nicklaus. I'll bet we  find the next Woods before we find the next Casey Martin.

GS: Star you most enjoyed covering and star you least enjoyed covering?

JM: They’re both Tiger.

GS: You were a longtime photographer who transitioned to writing. Player profiles were a big part of your career, but now we are down to really only Sports Illustrated still doing deep dives into stars. Do you see this and the overall decline of golf media having any impact on how we enjoy the sport?

JM: Actually, I was a longtime writer who got suckered into photography when I joined Golf World in ’79 as the associate editor. Taking pictures was part of the gig for the last guy on the masthead. As time went on my photographer friends thought I was a writer and my writer friends thought I was a photographer. So, I fooled everyone. And, yes, I’m absolutely gutted that there aren’t more places where writers get the time and space to do what what they do best. Geoff, you and I were both friends of the late, great Frank Hannigan. Remember the piece Frank wrote on A.W. Tillinghast for the old Golf Journal? It was staggeringly good. Where does that story go to be told today?