Golf in the Kingdom
Let's get one thing straight: Golf is not an 18-hole Rorschach test, nor is it a metaphysical journey during which the open-minded can commune with God and nature. It's a game, only slightly more interesting than Ping-Pong or bowling. The pesky notion that it has a deeper spiritual meaning owes much to Michael Murphy's Golf in the Kingdom, a book that has developed a cultlike following since its publication in 1972. Golf in the Kingdom is a dull tale about a mysterious Scottish golf pro named Shivas Irons, who shrieks during his backswing and boasts a library in which copies of the Koran and Ben Hogan's Power Golf sit spine-to-spine. The first half is a tedious recounting of Murphy's encounter with Shivas. Part 2 is a collection of musings about golf's mystical nature that are esoteric to the point of parody. To pick one example, Murphy, in trying to comprehend the "inner meaning" of the golf ball, quotes Shivas: It is "a smaller waffled version of the crystal ball, a mirror for the inner body; it is a lode-stone, an old stone to polarize your psyche." Funny, I thought it was the little white thing I occasionally skull into drainage ditches.
Down the Fairway
If you think Bobby Jones's golf swing was elegant, wait till you get a peek at his prose. In his autobiography, Down the Fairway—published in 1927, a year after he became the first player to win the U.S. and British Opens in the same year—Jones intersperses riveting accounts of his triumphs with mournful confessions about the toll they took on him. He provides plenty of minutiae about championship golf, but just as memorable are the glimpses into his well-rounded life. The result is the most personal account ever written about the strain of championship golf. Jones begins with an apology, for he was clearly uncomfortable about having published an autobiography at the tender age of 25. We are in the era of another 25-year-old phenom, but while Tiger Woods has built a fortress around his inner self, Jones was all too happy to give a guided tour of the heart and mind of a champion.