5 golf books to put on your summer must-read list

By Edgar Thompson
Published on
5 golf books to put on your summer must-read list

The late George Plimpton once theorized that the smaller the ball, the better the book.

While that can be debated, there is little argument here. Since the days of Francis Ouimet's improbable U.S. Open in 1913, golf has delivered rich characters and inspired superlative sportswriting.

Here are five suggestions for a golfer's summer reading list:

--THE MATCH (By Mark Frost, November, 2007; $20.92 hardcover, $9.99 Kindle, 260 pages)

Ben Hogan continues to carry as much stature as any player. Yet in 1956, Hogan and other professionals still were not universally respected. Many were viewed by the country-club set as vagabonds and hustlers, while amateur players were held in higher regard.

At a cocktail party on the eve of Bing Crosby's "Clambake" at Pebble Beach, local car dealer Eddie Lowery bet fellow millionaire George Coleman amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward -- who worked for Lowery -- also remained the better players. Lowery, who coincidentally was Ouimet's 10-year-old caddy 43 years earlier, tells Coleman he can bring any two players the next day to face Venturi and Ward.

Coleman shows up at exclusive Cypress Point Golf Club with the legendary Hogan and Byron Nelson. A match -- and story -- for the ages ensues.

Frost intersperses riveting hole-by-hole action with the histories of each player. The tragic tale of the lesser-known Ward -- a two-time U.S. Amateur champion whose career was derailed by alcohol and financial problems -- is particularly compelling.

This page-turner is as flawless as Nelson's swing.

--AMERICAN TRIUMVIRATE (By James Dobson, March, 2012; $14.25 paperback, $13.99 Kindle, 378 pages)

Ouimet's victory popularized American golf. A year earlier, in 1912, the three men who would usher in the modern game were born months apart.

Hogan, Nelson and Sam Snead grew up poor in the South and were introduced to the game as caddies, but emerged from the Depression Era to find fame and fortune in an elitist sport. Their personalities, talents and approaches were distinct, but their rivalry bound them.

At the time of his retirement, at age 34, Nelson was the most accomplished of three -- a winner of a record 11 straight events in 1945. He had a swing so sound and repeatable that a robot used to test clubs is known as the Iron Byron.

Hogan was the late bloomer and a tireless worker who popularized practice. He overcame a seemingly incurable hook to develop control of the golf ball every player envied. Hogan also returned from a life-threatening car wreck at age 36 to win six of his nine major championships, including three of his four U.S. Open titles.

Snead was the most talented and owned a syrupy, effortless swing. While a U.S. Open win frustratingly eluded him, Snead won a record 82 times on the PGA Tour, his final victory coming two months shy of his 53rd birthday.

Each man's story is worthy of its own book -- and Dobson wrote one on Hogan. In this case, Hogan, Nelson and Snead are best enjoyed together.

--THE BIG MISS (By Hank Haney, March, 2012; $19.24 hardcover, $11.99 Kindle, 262 pages)

During his prime, Tiger Woods was the most recognizable athlete in any sport. He also was the most guarded, determined to maintain his privacy amid a 24/7 news cycle.

In this tell-all book, former swing coach Hank Haney pulls back the curtain to reveal Woods' obsessive drive to win, personality quirks, insecurities and self-destructive behavior. But this is a story that needed to be told, not tabloid journalism.

Ghostwritten by the incomparable Jamie Diaz, "The Big Miss" documents Haney's six years with Woods (2004-10). It was a period when Woods ruled the game; won his final major championship, the 2008 U.S. Open, despite playing with a torn ACL; lost his father and idol, Earl, to cancer; and lost his way and become embroiled in a high-profile sex scandal.

Woods was a childhood prodigy who played golf like no one ever had. Yet, Haney shows a man at times conflicted by a game that made him the first billionaire athlete. Woods' Navy SEALs training, for example, became more than a hobby and might have led to injuries that would derail his career.

Woods and his camp felt betrayed by Haney's account, but sports fans are richer for it.

--SLAYING THE TIGER (By Shane Ryan, June, 2015; $20.10 hardcover, $12.99 Kindle, 414 pages)

Timing is everything in life, and Ryan picked a good time to embed himself for a season on the PGA Tour. While Woods was sidelined by injury, golf's next generation of players filled the void. Ryan, one of the brightest young writers in the business, tells their stories -- good and bad.

Ryan made headlines reporting Patrick Reed's cheating accusations in college and questioning Bubba Watson's Christian beliefs relative to his volatile on-course behavior.

Ryan also offers well-reported, beautifully written profiles of the game's young guns: Jason Day, who rose from a hardscrabble upbringing in Australia; Rickie Fowler, a trend-setting Californian with an extreme sports background; Jordan Spieth, a preternaturally mature 21-year-old on the cusp of greatness; Dustin Johnson, a freakish talent battling personal demons; Martin Kaymer, a U.S. Open winner with the soul of an artist; and Rory McIlroy, the engaging Northern Irishman poised to become the game's next superstar.

The pecking order on Tour has changed since the book's release last June, but the game's future stars remain the same and have more interesting back stories than a casual fan might realize.

--TITANIC THOMPSON: THE MAN WHO BET ON EVERYTHING (By Kevin Cook, November, 2010; $19.45 hardcover, $9.99 Kindle, 272 pages)

Alvin C. Thomas left the Ozarks as a teenager seeking fame and fortune. Along the way, he would become the greatest golf hustler of his day and one of the more colorful characters of the 20th century.

Thompson traveled the country with .45 revolver, a set of golf clubs and a suitcase full of cash. Cook, a former editor at Sports Illustrated, claims Thompson killed as many men as women he married (five). He also won and lost millions of dollars playing golf, pool and cards -- and any game of chance, though Thompson always looked to sway the odds.

Golf was Thompson's forte, and he could shoot in the low 70s right-handed and left-handed. In 1965, he famously arranged a match between two young players named Lee Trevino, then a caddie, and Raymond Floyd, a rising Tour pro. Thompson backed Floyd, and lost.

But another wager and "mark" always were on the horizon until Thompson passed away in 1974, somehow having survived until age 80.

This article was written by Edgar Thompson from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.