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January 29, 2010

Alan Shipnuck's Mailbag: Great golf books, what's wrong with Kim and Villegas and John Daly's new show

Do you think there's a natural point as a golf fan when you start relating to the senior tour as much if not more than the regular tour? I'm in my mid 30's and never thought it would happen now but watching Freddie and Watson battle it out in Hawaii I caught myself thinking it was more compelling than watching the spoiled tour regulars (esp with the flair-less Bob Hope going on the same week). Couples and Watson were playing for the love and playing for the win. Not for money, not for fame (they already have that). It was wonderful to watch. Am I off base? Am I aging at some unusually rapid pace?
—Mackenzie

Sorry to be the first to tell you this, pal, but you're dying. Slowly but surely. A sudden interest in the Seniors is one of the first clinical signs. But if you've been paying attention to the ads during the telecast, you know there's hope. Cialis, Viagra, Lipitor et al should help you enjoy your golden years.

Alan, I love reading golf books — history, not how-to. Are there any you would recommend?
—Stephen Lavallo

I have many favorite golf books. Not all of them are history, per se, but lemme drop a partial list on you, Stephen, and you can pick and choose. In no particular order:

"Down the Fairway" by Bobby Jones and O.B. Keeler. A wonderful primer on Jones's life and a brutally honest portrait of the exquisite torture of tournament golf.

"To the Linksland" by Michael Bamberger. Another hybrid: a lively account of caddying on the freewheeling Euro tour of the early '90s; an evocative travel guide to Scotland's courses; and a thoughtful meditation on why we love golf.

"Dead Solid Perfect" by Dan Jenkins. It's fiction, but barely, recounting the raucous days of the PGA Tour in the '70's.

"The Confiedential Guide" by Tom Doak. A groundbreaking work about golf course design and criticism, written in a dishy, bitchy, irresistible voice.

"Blasted Heath and Blessed Greens", "Emerald Fairway and Foam-Flecked Seas" both by James Finnegan. These are guides to golf in Scotland and Ireland, respectively. Great resources for planning a trip, but Finnegan is such an agreeable tour guide I often re-read passages just to remember what it feels like to play these great courses.

"The Golf Book" by Sports Illustrated. This is treasure trove from the early '90's of classic SI writing about the game. So many great stories here.

"Hogan" by Curt Sampson. Gripping biography of a complex character.

"Around the World in Eighteen Holes" by Tom Callahan and Dave Kindred. The mother of all boondoggles as two fugitive sportswriters play golf around the globe, along the way delivering many yuks and cultural observations.

"Alister MacKenzie's Cypress Point Club" by Geoff Shackelford. Glorious black and white photos and Shackelford's erudite writing bring to life the creation of a magical place and offer an intimate peek at the genius who created it.

"A Golfer's Life" by Arnold Palmer with James Dodson. This is one of the few player autobios worth reading. It perfectly captures Arnie's conversational storytelling and endless charm.

Question for this week: What's wrong with Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim? A year ago they were the darlings of the golf world. Now they're lucky to get in a good round here and there.
—Golfer in Kilt [Mailbag note: there is no mention of what's underneath the kilt]

I think their maladies are as different their personalities. Villegas is trying too hard, Kim not hard enough. Both had breakthough years in 2008 and then fell off dramatically last year. Kim's year was compromised by weird injuries and what might be euphemistically described as "off-course distractions". His scheduling was also a mess as he chased appearance fees and Dubai money. Kim has as much talent as anybody on Tour but the question is whether he'll find the discipline and work ethic to realize his awesome potential.

Villegas is a different case. He's an overachiever in my mind, brought this far by an admirable dedication. But when I watch him on the course he seems so mechanical; the game doesn't appear to come easily to him. If you could combine Kim's and Villegas's virtues (and vices) you'd basically have Tiger Woods. I hope either Kim or Villegas can find the missing pieces, as each has potential to be a tremendous asset for golf.

Why, regarding L'affaire Tiger, has the media basically ignored Tiger's possible abuse of prescription drugs (Ambien, Vicodin)? I know the sexual aspect is exciting, but the possible drug abuse is something that could actually affect him on the course.
—Anthony Nurse

I agree this part of the story has been largely overlooked, and in many ways it's the most intriguing aspect. Neither drug is illicit but there is certainly potential for abuse. Throw in the shady doc who was treating Woods and there are definitely some unanswered questions. For his whole career Woods was given the benefit of the doubt. His ripped physique? It had to have been earned with punishing hours in the gym. Right? Ever since Black Friday we've had to reexamine all of our assumptions about Tiger. I hope at some point he'll discuss in detail the Vicodin and blood-spinning, but I won't hold my breath.

I've been to a couple PGA tournaments, mostly majors, and while the atmosphere is great, actually viewing the golf being played is, at times, impossible. With 3-D taping being tested in Hawaii and HDTV already in place, what can the Tour do to improve the "patrons" experience at tournaments? —Emile

Hopefully the Tour won't do a thing. I think golf tournaments are the best spectating experience in all of sports. You can't beat the intimacy — all that separates fans from competitors is a slender rope, and on greens and tees you can get so close to the action it's possible to hear hyperventilating. Every hole has grandstands if you want to let the action come to you, while the more intrepid fan can spend hours with their favorite player. Throw in the beauty and serenity of most courses, the vastness of the playing field, and the ability to watch players ply their trade on the range and putting green and I can't think of a better way for a sports fan to spend a day.

Remember this comes with a Euro perspective: This week Rocco Mediate is teeing it up on a sponsor exemption. Over 72 holes he posted the same result as TW in the '08 US Open. Should a result like that (T1) come with a 5-year exemption on Tour [like Woods received for winning the Open]?
—René Andersson

Here in America, it's all about winning, and rightfully so. Rocco didn't tie for first, he finished second. He got some endorsements, a book deal and lotsa kudos, which is probably more than he deserved. Forget an exemption.

Back in the old days players heading to a playoff would sometimes agree to split the first- and second-place money, using Rene's logic that neither player deserved to be paid as a lowly runner-up. One of my favorite Nicklaus stories is that prior to his epochal playoff with Palmer at the '62 U.S. Open, the King magnanimously offered a split. Jack, at the time a winless rookie, said no thanks. Then he went out and won the Open, claiming the cash and more or less bringing the Palmer era to a close. Did Jack's utter self-confidence rattle Arnie? I'd like to think so.

Hey Alan, The Golf Channel has been bragging non stop about it's new look and new programming for '2K10'. If this is true, why are they doing ANOTHER show on John Daly? In case they didn't know, golf is suffering a slight image problem at the moment. How about something a little more positive and new?
—Emmet

Hallelujah! In the early- to mid-90's Daly's travails were gripping melodrama, and one of golf's biggest stories. Fifteen years later? Crikey. There are so many other players I'd like to see with their own reality show: Christina Kim, Notah Begay, Boo Weekley, Ian Poulter, Jeev Milkha Singh, and various others whose lives and career and much more interesting and varied than Daly's white trash soap opera. Hopefully Daly's new show will be a ratings dud and the Golf Channel can move on, once and for all.

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