BOOKS; Two tomes put reading golfer in the swing

BOOKS; Two tomes put reading golfer in the swing

Bob Clark

“The Wicked Game: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and the Story of Modern Golf” by Howard Sounes (William Morrow, $24.95)

“A.I.M. of Golf: Visual-Imagery Lessons to Improve Every Aspect of Your Game” by Mitchell Spearman with Harry Hurt III (Rodale, $24.95)

When Arnold Palmer won his first pro golf tournament, the Canadian Open in 1955, first-prize money was $2,400. It was a big payday for Arnie and his young wife, Winnie, who’d been living out of a trailer as they traipsed across North America from event to event.

Before Tiger Woods had even played his first round as a pro, in 1996, he signed a $40 million, five-year deal to endorse Nike shoes and clothing. (He also had a deal with Titleist for a few million more.) And in Tiger’s first eight years as a pro, the total prize money at stake in tour events more than tripled to $225 million.

In “The Wicked Game,” Howard Sounes traces golf’s evolution into today’s multimillion-dollar enterprise by focusing on the three seminal figures of the era – Palmer, Woods and the bridge between them, Jack Nicklaus. Or that is what he purports to do, anyway.

Somewhere along the way, alas, Sounes loses sight of the big picture, and “The Wicked Game” becomes his often-wicked take on Palmer, Nicklaus and Woods.

In one gratuitous aside, Sounes pokes holes in Nicklaus’ reputation as a golf course designer. Both Nicklaus and Palmer are chided for their shortcomings as businessmen. More substantively, they are criticized for doing little to advance the cause of black golfers.

But Sounes saves his sharpest barbs for Woods – and his overbearing father, Earl. Tiger, we are told, is arrogant in his dealings with the public and the press (including blowing off the author’s interview requests), not so giving of his time and money to charitable causes (especially when contrasted with the large amounts he is rumored to lose at the gambling tables), ruthless with employees and – like Palmer and Nicklaus on racial issues in an earlier time – disinclined to dirty his hands on the question of women’s admittance to all-male clubs.

And Sounes reveals poor Earl to be a bit of a fraud and a liar, exposing holes in his personal resume and in the Tiger biography he so carefully constructed.

What all this has to do with how Palmer, Nicklaus and Woods brought big money to pro golf is unclear. Sounes should have stuck to that theme – or dropped it altogether in favor of something more breezy and anecdotal. As it is, “The Wicked Game” is buried in deep rough.

And if you spend a lot of time in the deep rough, you might want to take a look at “A.I.M. of Golf” – instructor Mitchell Spearman’s system for using visual imagery to improve your game.

More than 200 photos illustrate Spearman’s techniques, which the promotional material says can lead to “dramatic improvement in a relatively short period.” Having put the clubs away in frustration about 25 years ago, this nongolfer will pass on testing that claim.

Bob Clark is a Herald wire editor.

Copyright 2004

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