‘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

‘A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers’ by John Feinstein (1986)

I could spend months simply reading John Feinstein sports books such is quantity of high quality books he has produced over his career. Perhaps more than any, A Season on the Brink, is the book most would point to as both Feinstein’s breakthrough and most enjoyable work.a season

Feinstein followed the Indiana University basketball team through the entire 1985/86 season – the ups and the downs as the team sought to recover from a terrible performance the year before and regain their place at the top of NCAA rankings.

As Feinstein readily acknowledges, a large part of the brilliance of the book is due the intensely fascinating character of Bob Knight.   During the season covered, Knight had been at Indiana for 15 years, and would remain for another 15 more before his ignominious departure in 2000.

Already a two time national champion and Olympic gold medal winning coach, Knight remained intensely driven and passionate. Innovative and insanely successful, Knight was a controversial figure whose swearing and temper tantrums were already legendary.

Reading this book now, knowing how Knight’s story in Indiana ends, puts on interesting context on Feinstein’s coverage of Knight’s bad behaviour.  In this context, the recent ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, the Last Days of Knight, is a great companion piece for this book – especially to see how the standards of behaviour expected from a winning coach have clearly changed since Knight’s glory days.

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It is fascinating though how, far back in the mid-80’s, so many of Knight’s friends correctly predicted in comments to Feinstein that Knight’s reign would end badly because of his aggressive behaviour. Ultimately, details of physical abuse from ex players saw the Indiana leadership lose patience with Knight who ended up moving to the much lower profile Texas Tech and subsequently to ESPN’s basketball coverage.  Indeed, one of the players chronicled in the book, Todd Jadlow, has published his own book in recent years which includes specifics about the physical abuse he took from Knight – including getting punched in the back of the head with a closed fist.

Feinstein also captures the warm side of Knight – in particular his loyalty and his dedication to his friends.  It seems to me that Feinstein painted a very raw, but very honest portrait of a talented coach who constantly struggled with his temper and ego.

While Knight dominates the book, the players come across with a huge amount of credit, both for their talent and their ability to handle Knight’s abuse.  Steve Alford in particular is the leading man, who would achieve even more the following season by leading Indiana to Knight’s third national championship.

Make no mistake, this is a wonderful book.  Feinstein made the most of his incredible access to write a searing and insightful book that captures the highs and lows of high level amateur sport.  Its so well written that it grips you and is a page turning as any thriller. Feinstein has many great books but I don’t know if he has ever been able to top this genuine and deserved classic.

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‘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.