In Pursuit of Golf's Holy Grail
By John Feinstein
Little, Brown and Co., $24.50
There are many entertaining vignettes in The Majors, which microscopically examines last year's Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA golf championships. The problem is finding them. Feinstein is a dogged reporter with a talent for extracting amusing anecdotes from his subjects, but those stories are often buried under an avalanche of old news and overly detailed play-by-play. For instance, before he addresses the Masters of 1998, we must wade through the following: The course was once a nursery called Fruitlands; Arnold Palmer won his first green jacket in 1958, Jack Nicklaus won his first in 1963; Augusta National's greens are slick; and there's an annual champions' dinner. Oh, and in 1997 Fuzzy Zoeller caused a brouhaha with crude remarks after Tiger Woods won. No surprises here.
The same is true of Feinstein's accounts of the other three majors. The U.S. Open is cause to remind us in detail of the Casey Martin uproar last year and of Tom Watson's famous chip-in at Pebble Beach's 17th hole to win in 1982. Remarkably, in his preamble to the British Open, Feinstein wanders a circuitous path that somehow winds up describing Watson's play at Pebble's 18th hole in 1982.
But there are some golden nuggets that even the most avid followers of the game might not have mined. At the start, Feinstein describes David Duval at the Masters being shepherded into the Bobby Jones cabin to await a possible playoff. Duval thinks he has a one-stroke lead over Mark O'Meara and is aghast when CBS reveals mat the two men are, in fact, tied. When O'Meara hits his approach 20 feet right of the pin at 18, Jack Stephens, then chairman of Augusta National, tells Duval to relax. "Nobody makes this putt," Stephens says. O'Meara does, of course, and Stephens is on his way out to congratulate the winner, leaving Duval feeling, in Feinstein's words, "as if someone had kicked him hard in the stomach."
Feinstein reveals that David Fay, the executive director of the USGA, was a cabin boy one summer on an ocean liner. Among his duties was to clean up whenever a passenger got sick. One day, responding to a call, he knocked on a cabin door, and there stood a slightly green Duke of Windsor. Sometime later, Fay bumped into the duke again, at the Tuxedo (N.Y.) Club. When the duke eyed him curiously, Fay reminded him of their previous encounter. "Oh, yes," said the duke wanly.
Feinstein's books have a way of creeping onto best-seller lists, and this one probably will, too. Followers of the game to whom the name Eldrick means nothing will enjoy it.