‘Moment of Glory: The Year Tiger Lost This Swing and Underdogs Ruled the Majors’ by John Feinstein (2010)

Moment of Glory recounts the story of golf’s major championships in 2003 – a year with four first-time major champions. From the vantage point of 2010, Feinstein looks back at the 2003 season and chronicles the careers of the those 4 champions – Ben Curtis, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk and Shaun Micheel.

In 2003, Tiger Woods began work on a complete remodelling of his swing resulting in a dip in performance to the extent that he didn’t seriously compete in any of that year’s majors.  This left a vacuum which was filled by 4 first time winners whose lives would all change.

The most fascinating part of the book was the focus on what major victories meant for the 4 and the comparison with how the runners up fared after the tournaments.  Feinstein also pays close attention to the nearly-men who came so close to winning those 4 majors – none of whom had won a major and all who would be heavily impacted by the experience of coming so close but missing out.  The insight into how a single putt could change two different golfers’ lives really helped to put the stakes at play into perspective.

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For me the book suffers from the fact I have already read, and really enjoyed, two of Feinstein’s other golf books – A Good Walk Spoiled and Q School.  In a lot of ways this felt overly similar in chronicling the challenges of professional golfers outside the very very top rung.  The book is well written and a very enjoyable easy read that benefits from Feinstein’s accessible writing and clear ability to put to interviewees at ease.  I just feel like I’d already read the book before in some ways.

Overall, I’d recommend it.  I think it actually works even better reading it now in 2018 when we have more info at our fingertips on how the players careers have progressed since 2010 as well.  Amazingly, after this book was published, both 2011 and 2016 also saw 4 different first time major winners crowned.

While it isn’t Feinstein’s best book, it’s well worth picking up as the long wait for next season’s Masters begins post Ryder Cup.

Moment of Glory

‘Tiger Woods’ by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian (2018)

Tiger Woods is the second collaboration by Benedict and Keteyian following on from their very enjoyable deep dive into US college football in The System.

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This book is a comprehensive, well researched, biography of the most famous sportsman on the planet.  Building on over 20 previous books and countless thousands of magazine profiles, the authors tell the comprehensive account of the rise and fall (and maybe redemption?) of Tiger Woods.  Woods impact on the game of golf is obvious and well known but his own personal story hasn’t before been told so comprehensively in one volume.

The advance coverage of the book focused on stories of Tiger’s notorious cheapness and rudeness.  In the book, Tiger comes across as a fascinating, if largely unlikable individual – but you get the feeling that the authors have attempted to be fair to Woods.

The book shines a light on the toxic influence of Tiger’s father Earl – the missed childhood as he focused on golf, the willingness to cut people out of his life on his father’s say-so and Tiger’s eventual mirroring of his father’s worst habits.  Tiger appears as a very intelligent introvert who would have been much better served without Earl’s constant boasting that he was going to change the world.  His difficulties with keeping long term relationships – largely through his own neglect of other’s emotional needs – makes me somewhat sympathetic for Tiger who clearly needs affection yet sabotages every important relationships in his life (bar his mother).

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Tiger’s focus and perfectionism are fascinating.  To be able to deal with the hype of being the highest rated and most scrutinised player immediately upon turning pro.  To seek to rebuild his swing almost immediately after his 1997 Masters win is the type of move a mere mortal wouldn’t even contemplate let alone attempt.  To be able to play the best golf of his life while his private life was unraveling behind the scenes was beyond remarkable.   His ability and determination to play through pain is mind boggling.

Tiger’s fall from grace has been well covered, and the stories are well told and set in context here – painting a clear picture of how Tiger managed to remain on the top even when he knew tabloids were on to his affairs.   His attempts since that fateful Thanksgiving to rebuild his career are set out in the last section of the book.  It seems that his DUI arrest and worldwide humiliation in 2017 has proved a catalyst for some actual changes in Tiger – which have coincided with improved health helping him to play golf again.  The book left me hoping that this redemption is real, and long lasting.

It was welcome to see a detailed discussion on the possibility of Woods using Performance Enhancing Drugs – no athlete with such an impressive physique and connections to dodgy doctors should be above suspicion.   There is only so much the author’s can say without any substantial evidence but it does highlight the need for better testing in professional golf.

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I was disappointed to see such little focus on team events like the Ryder Cup (less than a page) although maybe that’s a sign of how little the event meant to Tiger relative to individual honours.

Tiger’s story has always been about the golf first and foremast.  The celebrity off the course has always been secondary to the magic and drama of watching Woods at his best on the big occasion.  One passage best sums up Tiger and the world’s attitude towards him – “As a human being, he might not have been lovable – or even likable –but as a performer he possessed unsurpassed talents that he honed through a lifetime of practice .  On a Sunday afternoon, he shared his gifts with millions enabling them to forget reality and vicariously experience thrills that were more exhilarating than anything felt in a church pew.  Golf had never meant so much to so many”.

The book is well written and very enjoyable.  At times depressing, it is never anything but compelling. Highly recommended.

Chairman Hootie Johnson presents the green jacket to Tiger Woods

‘Tales from Q School: Inside Golf’s Fifth Major’ by John Feinstein (2007)

Tales from Q School tells the story of the 2005 Q school tournament through the eyes of a handful of the 1000’s of PGA Tour hopefuls who competed that year – some famous, others less so.  The book is packed full of interesting anecdotes about the qualifying school that lower-rung golfers had to go through to get to the PGA Tour.

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At the time there were three stages at Q school – first stage, second stage, and finals.  Players paid close to $5,000 for a chance to compete in the tournaments and potentially win a place on the PGA Tour – or at least get playing privileges on the secondary tour.

Since 2012, Q School has stopped offering a route directly to the PGA Tour – instead it is a qualifier for the secondary tour and a separate 4 event tournament offers a route to get to or remain on the big tour.   So while Q school might be a different beast now, the vast majority of pro players operating today will have gone through Q school as it is chronicled by Feinstein.

John Feinstein is one of the most widely read authors of books on US sports with his back catalogue covering american football, basketball, baseball and golf.  It is clear he enjoys telling the stories of the less well known professional sportsmen and women as much as he does the superstar.

Feinstein deals with the human element of the tournament – the solitary and gutwrenching journey that the players faced to try and earn a place at the top table.  As he notes, only in golf can earning half a million dollars a year be considered a failure!

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What emerges is a real sense of the importance of the mental element of the game, and indeed any top level professional sport. The margins are so fine between success and failure – one double bogey or one error off the tee can be the difference between life as a club pro or the opportunity for multiple million dollar riches.

It was a little confusing at times because the narrative jumps around. There is also repetition as players backgrounds are repeated as we encounter them again at a later stage.  While this repetition is understandable given the vast number of characters, it gets annoying if you read the book over a very short period.

Notwithstanding these points, I found the book to incredibly interesting and utterly absorbing. The stories of players missing out by one shot or one hole were heartbreaking.  Players who signed for the wrong score and missed their one big shot just like that.  Players who collapsed on the final 9 holes after playing masterfully for 13 and half rounds before then.

Feinstein, as is obvious across all his work, is a master interviewer who gets great quotes and detail from all of the golfers he covers.  Overall, a well-written, informative and enjoyable book.