WHEN I BEGAN READING an advance copy of John Coyne’s The Caddie Who Played with Hickory a few weeks back, I’ll admit I was already a fan. In a nutshell, it’s a fictional story about how a teenage caddie comes to play the great Walter Hagen in Hagen’s final match with a prized set of hickory clubs. Getting to that match is an entertaining journey.
I had read Coyne’s first “caddie” story, The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan, a year ago and wrote at the time that I was skeptical about putting Hogan in a fictional story in a real place, Chicago’s Midlothian Country Club (also the setting for this new book). But Coyne’s storytelling skills (he’s authored more than 20 books, mostly novels) combined with his first-hand knowledge of country club life as a teenage caddie made the golf tale entertaining and believable.
For me, “Hickory” is even better: the story, the characters (more with more depth) and the little plot twists and surprises along the way. Plus, there’s the colorful Walter Hagen, a larger-than-life golf professional who out-earned Babe Ruth! My hunch is that Coyne is more comfortable in what’s looking like a “caddie” series.
I didn’t know much about the hickory era, but Coyne has a way of educating the reader without ever being tedious. That’s great for me because I enjoy learning about different eras and players. The bonus was getting a fun page-turner, with golf matches, a mysterious character and, instead of Hogan, the trail-blazing Hagen, the greatest hickory player of all time. Another legend, amateur Chick Evans, also makes an appearance in the climactic challenge match.
If you read the “Hogan” book and liked it, you'll want to read The Caddie Who Played with Hickory. If you’re new to John Coyne but enjoy golf history in the hands of a gifted storyteller, I highly recommend it. It’s a satisfying read.
-The Armchair Golfer
More John Coyne:
John Coyne Books (and blog)
2007 golf tidbits