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After sober reflection, I state my conviction that, if I lived the length of a dozen lives, I should never again be the spectator of such an amazing, thrilling and magnificent finish to an Open championship.Mark Frost has already proven himself a terrific writer, with such television series as the great Hill Street Blues and the innovative Twin Peaks to his credit, and a few successful novels, including the excellent Sherlock Holmes homage, The List of Seven>, and a sequel, The Six Messiahs. But I don't know that anything can have prepared even his fans for this book, which, though one must have some reservations about its form, is quite simply one of the best golf books ever written.
To begin with, Mr. Frost has chosen his topic wisely. Harry Vardon (1870-1937) and Francis Ouimet (1893-1967)--both of whom came from working class families, had difficult relationships with their fathers, and learned to golf as boys at the local courses where they caddied, Ouimet in Massachusetts, Vardon some twenty-plus years earlier on the Isle of Jersey--are thoroughly compelling heroes. In 1913 their similar stories converged at The Country Club, in Brookline, MA--the very club at which Francis had caddied--in the United States Open. Harry Vardon was at that time probably the best golfer in the world and in previous visits to America had been instrumental in marketing the game here. But it was to be the young amateur Francis Ouimet's playoff victory over the professional Vardon and countryman Ted Ray that, or so Mr. Frost argues, gave birth to the modern golf era in America.
The book starts with extended biographical sketches of the two men and the events that brought them to the tee for their face-off. Numerous other characters are on hand to lend color--two of whom stand out, and will be the star-making roles in the inevitable movie: the dashing young American professional Walter Hagen (golf's eventual answer to Babe Ruth) and Eddie Lowery, Ouimet's preternaturally self-assured ten year old caddie. Digressions inform us about changes in rules and equipment, the professionalization of the sport, and its popularization. But it is the tournament itself that forms the bulk of the book, particularly the final day, the Monday playoff, when the little known twenty year old, playing before large and enthusiastic hometown galleries, on a course across the street from his own house, had to fend off two of the world's best.
Mr. Frost's prose gets a tad purplish at times, but personally I thought that gave it the feel, of old time sportswriting. Besides, the story is so improbable that the reality seems like a clichŽ, so why not write it like a sports movie? More troubling is that Mr. Frost has chosen to provide dialogue and to ascribe thoughts and feelings to the various players even though he has had to create some of it himself, without ever differentiating which is which. Although it serves his purposes as a storyteller well, fleshing out the characters and letting us see them interact "naturally" with one another, it actually becomes distracting because you can't help but wondering which thoughts and words come from people's memoirs and contemporaneous accounts of the event (which are apparently sufficiently extensive so that much of what's here is genuine) and which are purely made up. It also--though we've seen experiments of this kind in recent years, like Edmund Morris's Dutch--seems more than a little unfair to attribute imagined words and emotions to real people who don't have an opportunity to dispute or confirm them. It would, I think, have been preferable to simply call the book a novelization, in the tradition of Michael Sharaa's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. At the very least, there should be footnotes to indicate where truth ends and fiction begins. From an author or publisher's point of view there may be reasons not to do these things--just in terms of the sales and marketing of novels vs. nonfiction and reader dislike of footnotes--but from a standpoint of intellectual rigor it's somewhat disconcerting.
Once you get past these considerations--and take my word for it, the writing and the story are so exciting that you will get past any questions--you're in for an unbelievably thrilling tale. It's especially recommended for golf fans, who will find the tangential stuff about the clubs and balls they used just as interesting as the championship, but it should really appeal to everyone, in much the same way that Seabiscuit reached past horse race fans to a wide audience. It's a marvelous read and seems certain to make for a great movie.
Other recommended books by Mark Frost:
-The List of 7
-BOOK SITE: The Greatest Game Ever Played
-BOOK SITE: The Greatest Game Ever Played (Hyperion)
-INTERVIEW: with Mark Frost (Allan Hunkin, Written Voices)
-INTERVIEW: Writer-Producer-Novelist Mark Frost (Luke Ford)
-FAQ -> Mark Frost (Twin Peaks Online)
-FILMOGRAPHY: Mark Frost (Imdb.com)
-BIBLIO: The Many Works of Mark Frost (Wow Bob Wow: Twin Peaks Fanzine)
-PROFILE: Mark Frost knew a great golf story when he saw it (BRIAN LAMBERT, Dec. 14, 2002, Pioneer Press)
-ARTICLE: What is 'The Greatest Game Ever Played'?: Author chronicles momentous match that changed golf (Todd Leopold, 12/12/02, CNN)
-REVIEW: of Greatest Game Ever Played (David Owen, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW: of Greatest Game Ever Played (Bill Ott, Booklist)
-REVIEW: of Greatest Game Ever Played (Ron Kaplan, Book Page)
-REVIEW: of Greatest Game Ever Played (Scott Bernard Nelson, Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of Greatest Game Ever Played (Kevin Mitchell, The Observer)
-REVIEW: of Greatest Game Ever Played (Sports Book Review Center)
Book-related and General Links:
FRANCIS OUIMET (05/08/1893-09/03/1967): Francis Ouimet (May 8, 1893-Sept. 3, 1967)
-ART: USGA Portraits - Francis Ouimet
-The Francis Ouimet WGAM/Dolly Sullivan Scholarship
-Ouimet: An American Hero (Lawrence Martin, October 16, 2002)
-MOVIE SITE: Greatest Game Ever Played (Disney)
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