on March 10, 2004
Golf is the cruelest sport, and "A Good Walk Spoiled" is a probing look at what beats inside the hearts of those who play it for a living. Author John Feinstein chronicles the 1994 PGA Tour season through the experiences of several pro golfers, stars like Tom Watson and Davis Love III as well as those trying to make the grade.
If you watch pro golf at all, even just occasionally tune in on the final round of a major, this is a book for you. It gives you a taste of why the Tour is so absorbing to those who follow it week-in, week-out. The first 100 pages pull you right in with scenes from two pressure-cooker events from opposite ends of the bell curve: The 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry resort in England, where America's best golfers compete with those from Europe for a much-coveted trophy; and Qualifying School, where the wanna-bes vie simply for the chance to compete on tour. Both are nervous narratives, and highly addicting.
Feinstein is no elegant prose stylist, but he's not a short-order cook, either. He writes in a deceptively easy-going way, not beating you over the head with all the words he knows or quoting from great works of literature to describe how John Cook felt about trying to make a certain putt. He just puts it all together and makes it gel, sometimes throwing in a clever metaphor. About the weather at the start of the 1994 British Open: "Turnberry had the feel of a schoolyard on the first warm day of spring, everyone excited and rejuvenated by the gorgeous weather." On the work ethic of the pros: "On any Tuesday and Wednesday on tour, the [driving] range looks like the exchange counter at Macy's on the day after Christmas."
Feinstein is even better as an interviewer. From normally taciturn guys he draws out some personal stories worth reading, like Paul Azinger's fight with cancer and how Curtis and Sarah Strange dealt with an unexplained medical condition she had that hobbled her for months. Some nice catty comments, too, like Davis Love's noting the demeanor of tour legends Watson and Jack Nicklaus: "I'm sure it's subconscious, but sometimes with those guys you feel as if they have to remind you how great they were because they can't show you anymore."
Watson was a revelation for me in this book. He always came off as prickly and distant, but he shared a lot with Feinstein and comes across the better for it. He was still trying to win majors in 1994 at age 44, and coming heartbreakingly close, but maintained a stoic demeanor and a sense of humor throughout.
Feinstein is a friendly-enough golfer's Boswell, but not everyone benefits from his pen. John Daly, working through his personal demons in 1994, comes in for some withering criticism, as does Greg Norman, who plans an elitist alternative to the PGA Tour that never gets off the ground. Tiger Woods is conspicuous by his absence, just a single mention near the end. He was barely on the radar screen in 1994, a teenage phenom noted for his skin color and not much else.
Some say "A Good Walk Spoiled" is the lesser for the lack of Tiger-time, but I enjoyed the opportunity to see what the tour was like before he changed everything. It's a worthy historical record for that alone. And though the book does drag a bit in the last 100 pages, with Feinstein not putting the same level of effort into his writing as he did detailing earlier tournaments, it makes for very pleasurable and edifying reading all the same. Even if you still can't make yourself care about who's squaring off in the last round of the Match Play Championship, you will finish "A Good Walk Spoiled" with a much deeper appreciation for those who live and die by how they play the game.
on December 8, 2003
As I read this very enjoyable book, I felt more like I was listening to a conversation than reading a book. It almost feels like "Did I ever tell you about the time I was playing with Greg Norman, and he..." Feinstein has access to places and people that most golf fans never will, and as such, he has boatloads of great stories about the events and players of the PGA Tour (and the PGA wannabes). Feinstein is great at collecting and telling the stories, particularly the character-revealing ones. For that, the book is wonderful. Specifically, I felt I was in Davis Love's quaking shoes while he was "throwing up on himself" at the Ryder Cup. Feinstein tells the story so well, the reader feels part of the action.
At the same time, I couldn't help but think that the book was poorly organized. Feinstein makes some effort to put the contents into a unified semi-chronological tale, but he fails in that. Most of the events or people that he writes about require going back to cover background info on what set up that situation, or how that player got where he is now. The backgrounding leads to a lot of de-synchronization (? -- throwing off the timeline?) in the book. Many of the background information is also great and enjoyable storytelling, but given the chronological organization of the book, it was hard for me to keep the events straight -- which came first, which story had later impact on what, which ones overlap (two stories about two players at the same event, for example).
There's also a lot of jumping from discussions of one player to another. This works fine for the well known players, but not so well when the reader is trying to remember which of the Q-school players is which. Still, in thinking about it, I couldn't think of a better way to organize it.
Having felt self-imposed "pressure" on the golf course -- if I make par here, this will be my best round ever! -- reading anecdotes about the *real* pressure of Q-school was fascinating. Feinstein gives the reader the feel of needing to make a shot to be able to eke out a living by playing golf, and made me appreciate the difference between that than the pressure of making a shot to take pocket change from my foursome.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. What's not to enjoy, really -- it's good stories about an interesting (to any golfer or golf fan) subject. I give only four stars because I just can't help feeling that the book could be much better organized for a more consistent read.
on September 4, 2003
For any of us out there who still harbor dreams of one day hitting the tour, this book is enough to scare those dreams right out of you. Focusing on everyone from top tier players to rookie scramblers, this is the most comprehensive look at the world of competitive golf I have seen in a long time. For some players, the PGA Tour is a goldmine, where private jets and Florida mansions are the norm, while for others, just winning enough to enter the next tournament is a victory in itself.
Feinstein does an excellent job of getting in the golfer's heads and really conveying what they're thinking as they experience pressure most ordinary people won't ever understand. He was given almost unheard of access to the players, and he makes the best of it. His ability to describe the courses makes you feel like you are right there with Davis Love III, with 148 yards to the pin, or with Tom Watson as he looks over one of the most important putts in his life.
This book is a real gem for any sports fan, and a must for any golfer.
on July 20, 2003
Mr. Feinstein does an excellent job in discussing why (not how) this is such an intricate, wonderful, insane game. His introduction to Davis Love, now re-christened by TV wunderkind as DL3, was excellent. Feinstein's opening with the Ryder Cup battle(s) and Love playing his first Ryder Cup Match reminded me of the Bob Seger line, " . . . and my hand was shaking."
The only caveat I would add is twofold: An executive non-sports oriented Oklahoman might be fascinated by life on a pro football team and be magnetized by the Philadelphia Eagles' tale in "Bringing the Heat." Or a student-athlete cross country star who trains alone, mile after mile at a small high school in Decatur, Georgia, might finally figure out what the obsession is with High School Footbal by reading "Friday Night Lights."
But you have to know a little bit about golf, love it, be addicted to it, hate it, be mystified by it, have an elementary school understanding of it to really enjoy Mr. Feinstein's observations.
And the second problem is that this is all pre-Tiger stuff. And unless you've been living in a cave for the last decade + and your subscription to Sports Illustrated ended because they couldn't find your zip code, the golf world changed A.T., after Tiger. 4 Stars; good read.
on July 5, 2003
Yet another offering from the uber-prolific John Feinstein. He works a continuous three-sport cycle of topics amongst his growing body of work: golf, tennis, and basketball. In my mind, nothing will ever top "Season on the Brink," his seminal work on the mad genius of Bob Knight. But, his golf work is great, too.
I had read Feistein's 'The Majors' before this...and while I do think it is the better read, 'Good Walk' is definitely worth your time. Its publishers obviously think so as well. Almost 10 years after its original publication, you can still find it prominently placed in most airports across the country. If you like golf, its the perfect read for the plane.
The only reason I rank 'the Majors' higher is not due to the quality of the effort, but rather due to its relevancy. Tiger Woods is still two years away from the PGA Tour as the events of 'Good Walk' unfold. As a result, it feels like a quaint period piece. Tom Kite battling Tom Watson, things like that. Interesting, but nothing like what the tour is like these days. In 'The Majors,' although Woods goes 0-for-4 in the 1998 events covered by Feinstein, his presence hangs over every page in the book (indeed, as 'The Majors' was being published in hardback, Woods begins his 'Tiger Slam').
Feinstein's writing style is so fluid. It's enviable. I love his little five-minute chats with Bob Edwards on NPR each Monday morning. He writes just like he talks. No small achievement. We should all be so talented. It's just the right mixture of inside info and folksiness.
Here's a good idea: Interweave some of Feinstein's books with the sports efforts from David Halberstam. It's a great combination. Each of them really knows how to profile sports stars. I still marvel at Halberstam's 20+ page look at Bob Gibson in 'October 1964'. That's the same type of care and diligence you get with Feinstein. Great profiles in 'Good Walk' of a dozen or so golfers, most notably Greg Norman, Fred Couples and Davis Love.
The big surprise was Nick Faldo. He's always been a favorite of mine, but famously close-lipped with the press. Not here. I learned a lot about him that I didn't know. Great job by Feinstein. Definitely my favorite part of the book.
on February 14, 2003
There is no disputing author John Feinstein's proficiency and skill and writing compelling stories about a variety of sports. As with any great author, he has his hits and misses. Though, he more often hits than misses. "A Good Walk Spoiled" is a book firmly in the former category. The title, itself, is very clever because anyone who has ever played a round of golf in their life knows full well its meaning.
"A Good Walk Spoiled" is a fascinating 'fly on the wall' perspective about the ups and downs of life on the PGA Tour. Everyone has a story to tell and Feinstein seeks to tell as many of those stories as possible. There seems to be three separate types of players that Feinstein focuses on. There are the low-level and brand new players to the tour for whom just making it through Qualifying (Q) School and gaining a fully exempt spot on the 'big tour' is their primary goal. The second group he discusses are those middle of the road PGA veterans who are good enough to win a tournament here and there, perhaps even contend in a major, but will never be confused with the top stars in the sport. Obviously, the final group he tells tale of is the superstars, whether it be stars who have passed their prime, are currently at the top of their game, or trying hard to shed the title of 'best player never to have won a major'.
The stories of the Q-School survivors are among the most compelling. The Mike Donald's and Paul Goydos' of the world play the game for the sheer love of it, but also have just enough talent to make a living with it. The dream of the 'big tour' requires lots of time and sacrifice. Q-School is possibly one of the most demanding events in any sport. For players brand new to the professional ranks, they must fight through three separate stages of qualifying with the final stage be a six-round battle royale for the precious 40 slots available on the PGA Tour. Failing to make 'big tour' can relegate a professional golfer the minor leagues of the Nike Tour, a respectable tour were finishing in the Top 10 on the money list guarantees a PGA slot next season, or to any number of mini tours or overseas tours (like the Asian Tour and South African Tour). Having invested so much in the dream of qualifying, anything short of a partially exempt slot on the PGA tour (which would lead to splitting the season between Nike and PGA Tours) has to be considered a disappointment. It's much harder to make back the expenses of playing on the lesser tours and, frequently, these pros come to the conclusion that they might be better off doing something else for a living. For those who do make it, though, it's a dream of a lifetime.
The stories of the middle-range and top-flight PGA players don't carry nearly the same amount of drama (unless you're talking about John Daly), but they still are interesting to read about. In "A Good Walk Spoiled", you get a chance to watch South Africans Nick Price and Ernie Els shed his title of "best player to never win a major" by grabbing both the British Open and PGA Championship. Jose Maria Olazabal finally steps out of his mentor, Seve Ballestero's, shadow to win the Masters and become the pride of Spain. Other stories show legend Tom Watson's quest to add one more major to his already full trophy cabinet. It includes Greg Norman's continuing journey to get the Masters' monkey of his back. There is also the inspirational comeback of Paul Azinger, who was diagnosed with cancer just 2 months after winning the previous season's PGA Championship.
Of course, with any season in any sport, there is controversy to be covered. The very exacting 'Men of the Masters' (and Tom Watson) got CBS golf analyst, Gary McCord, booted from the Masters' telecast for committing the terrible crime of referring to the fast greens as having been 'bikini-waxed' among his other witty comments. John Daly, the surprise 1991 winner of the PGA Championship, and subsequent fan favorite because of his everyman demeanor and Paul Bunyan-esque drives, stirred up plenty of trouble with his continued tendency to bolt tournaments after a bad first round and by making a very ill-advised statement that much of the PGA Tour was using performance-enhancing drugs. The saga of 'Big John' seemed to perpetuate throughout the season. The other big drama covered by Feinstein was the resignation of PGA Commissioner, Deane Beman, after nearly 20 years on the job, ostensibly, just to get back to playing golf. Yet, there was clearly more to it, including an ugly public relations battle with actor Bill Murray from the previous season's Pebble Beach Pro-Am (where celebrities often team up with pro golfers prior to the final round). Beman wanted Murray to tone down his act and Murray didn't take kindly to it. Beman had done many great things for golfers during his tenure as commissioner, but he had also made his fair share of enemies. In the end, Beman just felt it was time to move on.
Feinstein covers so much ground with his narrative, and covers it well. The only criticism to be offered (and what costs the book a 5-star rating) is that Feinstein seems to be too ambitious when it comes to telling all the stories of the tour. There are so many different players to follow that it frequently becomes difficult to keep track of who's doing what and where. That being said, it does pick up a strong momentum that powers it the rest of the way. "A Good Walk Spoiled" is definitely a "A Good Book Read".
on January 25, 2003
This book is one of the best books written about the PGA tour; in particular, the different lives of those at the elite level and those struggling to make it. Those who miss the cut on Friday are the "trunk-slammers", who drive from tour stop to tour stop, some having to qualify instead of giving an exemption, and tread the fine line between making it big and missing out altogether (as contrasted to the star players with huge sponsorship deals and private jets). With the competition getting tougher every year, the life of a pro golfer is a struggle, and Feinstein gives much time to those "on the bubble".
The toughest tournament to play in is the infamous Q-school, where a missed putt could cost a golfer a one-year exemption to play on the tour, and Feinstein takes you inside that pressure packed environment. He also provides great anecdotes about various personalities and tour stops, the optimism of the early tournaments, the heat and pressure of the mid-summer events, and the desperation of the fall tourneys as players scramble to save their very precious tour exemption cards. His follow-up, "The Majors" is also a good read, but read this to get the full spectrum of the PGA.
on April 11, 2002
I am a very poor golfer, if I break 100 I am a happy man. however I do enjoy the game (I am still trying to figure out why). This book takes you trough about a year and a half of life in the professional golf world. Through all levels of the game, the PGA Tour, the Senior Tour, The Nike Tour and Q-School. Through reading this book you learn what a world class golfer must go through to be that good. Realize that in golf, there are no home games so that means enormous amounts of time away from family. Also, golfers have to work everyday to maintain that edge. This is such a tight knit group that competitors will actually give pointers to each other during practice. It was a well written piece that shed a lot of light on a world most of us will never see. However the only reason this book does not receive a 5 is that by page 400 I found myself thinking "If I have to read about one more chip shot, I'm gonna scream." Anyway if you have any interest in the PGA tour, or golf in general, this book is well worth your time.
on July 13, 2001
This is a must read just so you can learn about golfers and the pressures they deal with. I liked the fact that Feinstein talked to golfers of different levels - champion golfers who attempt to regain the glory, golfers who still need to make their mark at the majors, and golfers who are attempting to elevate themselves from amateurs to professionals. He chose a good group to talk to and does a good job detailing the struggles plus the situations of the PGA front office.
This book is way too long - I know he covered basically one whole year and some, but he put in too many golfers and their family type stories. He also weaves in and out from golfer to golfer. For instance, the best part was at the beginning - the Davis Love III story at Ryder Cup, but Feinstein did not write about Love until midway through the book and I did not care for it as much because it was so long ago. Feinstein does not try to grab your attention with details - he just wants to cover every story like he was writing an everyday column.
He could have cut one or two golfers from the story. Still an enjoyable read.
on December 2, 1999
I bought this book for a friend of mine. And in a weak moment (no books to read in the house) I picked A Good Walk Spoiled up. I had anticipated being bored to death... as I am not a golfer and pretty much golf illiterate. What I found was a whole new world I had been missing... and honestly confused by. I have many golfing friends and I never understood what the fascination was all about. From the time Feinstein described Davis Love's urge to throw up in the first few pages... I was hooked and not due to my attraction to regurgitation. The actual angst these guys put themselves through was amazing to read about. Their home lives and what inspired them to live on the road 40 some weeks out of the year in search of that elusive hole in one made me appreciate the sport in a new way. 500 pages later I was surprised not only that I had hung in there but also that I throughly enjoyed the experience. I contribute my positive trip into golf land to Mr. Feinsteins clever turn o'phrase.