Wednesday, August 29

Armchair Q&A: John Coyne, Author of 'The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan'

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It’s been a few weeks since I completed The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan, a novel by John Coyne. Coyne is the author of more than 20 books, most of them horror novels, and a few of them golf books.

I admit I was skeptical when I began reading John’s story set at the Midlothian Country Club in south Chicago, a real place where John caddied during his teens. How would I feel about the legendary Ben Hogan in a fictional account?

It worked, and not just because Coyne is a gifted storyteller. John knows his subjects – golf, country club life in the 1940s, caddieing and Ben Hogan. To find out more, visit his site.

Last week John answered my questions about Hogan, Tiger Woods and other golf topics.

Armchair Golf: What do you think is important for golf fans in the Tiger Woods era to know about Ben Hogan?

John Coyne: Well, the most important thing is that there were other great players. Golf didn’t begin with Tiger!

Tiger knows that. In fact, in the last years of Hogan’s life, Tiger called up Hogan, and Hogan back then — this was the late 90s — had seen Woods playing on television. Also, everyone in the golfing world knew these were Hogan’s last years and they were paying their respect. Tiger was paying his respect to one of the men who made professional golf a worthy and wealthy career.

Armchair Golf: What parallels do you see between Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods?

John Coyne: There are several. Their desire and need to win. They both shared the same ability to come back from defeat to victory. Their respect for golf’s history, and this was a small, but important aspect, the presentation of the winning trophy.

Hogan, for example, would always have his dress clothes in the locker so that if he won, he would look like a champion. You see that same respectfulness from Tiger. But perhaps what is important is the way they continue to work at their game. Here Tiger is at the top of his game and he goes out and reinvents his swing. Until he could no longer play, Hogan was always working on his swing, as well as, working on making the perfect club.

Armchair Golf: Can you provide a snapshot of what golf was like in the 1940s?

John Coyne: My novel is set in the summer of 1946, the year Hogan won his first major. Hogan and all the pros were just getting out of the army. Nelson, McSpaden, Ed Dudley, Harry Cooper, Joe Kirkwood, Gene Sarazen, and a few other pros never were in the army, so there wasn’t much competition during the war years in the few events that were staged.

Nelson, however, made the point in a 2006 interview with Golf Magazine that in ’45 when he won 11 straight that Ben Hogan played in 18 events that year, and Snead played in 26 tournaments. And at the PGA Championship, which was then match play, Nelson beat Gene Sarazen, Mike Tunesa, Denny Shute and Claude Harmon.

By the end of war, there were only about a dozen pros who did nothing but play in tournaments. They weren’t home pros. Most of the pros made a living as home pros. There just wasn’t enough money in the way of prizes to keep a pro playing all the time.

Armchair Golf: Why was that?

John Coyne: The big problem for the touring players was that the home pros of the PGA controlled the tournaments, prizes, and everything else, and the touring pros felt that they couldn’t make a living just playing golf.

The only real money in terms of a golf event was the one sponsored by George S. May. He put on the All-American Open first in 1941. He also had amateur championships for men and women at his Tam O’Shanter Country Club in the northwest suburban of Chicago. He also had an invitational championship for a dozen pros with a winner-take-all purse of $10,000.

So there weren’t many pros playing full time nor was there much money. Also, according to the PGA, in 1946 — the summer of this novel — there were only about four thousand golf courses in the U.S. and about two and half million players.

Armchair Golf: As a novelist, you’ve said that story characters take on a life of their own. As you researched Hogan and then placed him in a fictional setting, did anything about him in real life or how he emerged in your book surprise you?

John Coyne: Yes, the affection Hogan had for children, young caddies, his niece. Valerie and Ben did not have children. My guess is that they couldn’t imagine having children and devoting their lives to the tour. Playing the tour in those early years was a tough job. No private jets. No campers. Hogan, in his later years, took an interest in the caddies at Shady Oaks, took an interest, too, in young pros trying to make it on tour. So, it wasn’t much of a creative stretch to think of Hogan befriending a young caddie and sharing with him his [Hogan’s] philosophy of life.

Armchair Golf: Did you ever have any encounters with Ben Hogan?

John Coyne: No, my connection with Hogan was as a fan and knowing pros that played with Hogan. Both Jimmy Walkup, the pro at Midlothian Country Club south of Chicago, and Tony Holquin, the assistant pro, who then became the head pro, were from Texas and had played with Hogan. Later in life I came to know Jules Alexander — he did the photos for a golf instructional book I did with pros from the senior tour entitled Playing With the Pros — and he has a wonderful collection of Hogan photos, as well as stories about Hogan. Also, I got to know Harry Cooper in the last years of his life. Harry lived to be a hundred, and had been a pro from Texas who knew Hogan. And all of them had their own stories about meeting the Hawk.

Armchair Golf: Can you share a personal caddie story that was particularly memorable for you?

John Coyne: One small item comes to mind. In my novel, on page 252, I have young Jack checking the golf balls with a small ring. We would do that as caddies back in the forties and fifties because golf balls weren’t as well made as they are today, and might be banged out of shape. Also, the course I had them play, where Jack caddies, is the course where I worked, and I used those holes as my course, as well as, the design of the clubhouse.

Armchair Golf: As a former caddie and longtime student of the game, what life lessons has golf taught you?

John Coyne: Oh, I guess I would use the words that I put into Hogan’s letter to Jack Handley; it comes towards the end of the novel, on page 269, when Hogan writes:

After all these years, I am not so sure of all my comparisons between golf and life. But I do still believe if you live your life like you play golf, from the back tee and without any mulligans, you can stand taller and look anyone in the eyes.

That’s good advice for anyone.

Monday, August 27

Crazed Statistician Highjacks CBS Golf Coverage

Sergio Garcia at The Barclays. (Photo courtesy of John Coyne)

I like the new high-tech PGA Tour scoreboards as shown alongside Sergio Garcia in the above photo. I had read about them but didn't see them live until I attended the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro a week ago. They add a nice dimension to the tournament experience.

As for the crazed statistician, did anyone else wonder why CBS considered it necessary to display the projected FedEx Cup rankings for seemingly every stroke played in the final round of The Barclays?

(Birdie, 19th. Par, 85th. Bogey, Nationwide Tour.)

Look, I like the idea. I just don't need to see it on every putt.

Q&A: Author John Coyne
This week I will have a Q&A with John Coyne, author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan. Read it tomorrow at Down the Middle. Read it here on Wednesday.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, August 24

Tournament Photos from The Barclays

Author John Coyne is attending The Barclays at Westchester Country Club this week. He graciously contributed the tournament photos (below).

John is the author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan, a recent golf novel. I will publish an interview with him soon.

Westchester Country Club in Rye, NY.

Teeing off.

Phil time.

The loop begins here.

It's the playoffs. Sort of.

Thursday, August 23

Will Mickelson Be Next FedEx Cup Defector?

Citing exhaustion, Tiger Woods isn't playing The Barclays this week, the first of four consecutive FedEx Cup playoff events. Now has reported that Phil Mickelson might not play all four events. (The original article was in the New York Post.)

Phil Mickelson pushed the door ajar yesterday with speculation that, like Tiger Woods, he might not play in all four FedEx Cup events. "I'm not sure how it's all going to play out," said Mickelson, who expressed concerns about being stretched with his schedule and his family.

That wouldn't surprise me. Lefty doesn't like to play much golf after the PGA Championship.

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, August 20

My Day at the Wyndham Championship

Few of the top 50 were at the Wyndham Championship this past weekend. But it didn’t spoil my day in the gallery on Saturday at Forest Oaks Country Club just outside Greensboro, North Carolina.

I got an up-close look at Brandt Snedeker, who won his first PGA Tour title by shooting 66-63 on the weekend. I also followed Jason Gore, Nathan Green, Will MacKenzie, Lucas Glover and several others.

For my tournament musings from Tobacco Road, head over to Down the Middle.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, August 17

Oops! Armchair Golf Misquotes Maya Angelou

“Golf is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time.”
(not said by) Maya Angelou

Biographical note:
Maya Angelou is a poet, author, educator, historian and civil rights activist.

This misquote brought to you by The Armchair Golfer.
Getting it wrong for the love of the game.

Wednesday, August 15

I Broke My Putter

I broke my putter today. No, I didn't throw it. I didn't snap it over my knee or bend it a la Woody Austin.

(I don't throw clubs. If anything, they should throw me.)

A Slotline putter similar to the one pictured, I leaned on it while retrieving my ball from the first hole and the head snapped off just below the shaft.

I was shocked. I guess I wore it out.

I bought the putter in 1987 in the pro shop of Jackson Municipal Golf Course in Seattle. That's a lot of history with one putter. The last time I used it two weeks ago I made about everything I looked at, which is unusual for me.

Now I think I know why. It was our last hurrah.

I need a new putter by next Wednesday. Any suggestions?

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, August 13

Watching the PGA on the Sly

I’m a dedicated golf guy. I’m also a dedicated family guy.

Sometimes the two come into conflict – like this weekend. When they do, family guy wins. I’m OK with that.

This weekend we were in Fairfax, VA (Washington DC area), for a children’s choir at George Mason University. My oldest daughter got to sing in an honors choir with kids from four states. It was one of those proud parent moments.

Consequently, keeping up with the PGA Championship took a back seat, although I did try to watch as much as I could. For example, when I took the kids to the hotel’s indoor pool on Saturday afternoon, I noticed a screen in the workout room that was tuned in to the PGA. I sneaked over to the workout room for several updates. Later, I watched about an hour and a half of coverage in the hotel room while my wife and the kids went to Whole Foods.

Unfortunately, I was shut out on Sunday. No final round action for me as we went to Mount Vernon to tour George Washington’s home (my idea), then hit the interstate for the six-hour trip home.

In case any of you also missed it, Tiger Woods won. For a few of my post-PGA observations, head over to Down the Middle.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, August 10

John Daly, the PGA and a Golf Folk Song

With John Daly in contention at the PGA at Southern Hills, it seemed like the right time to dust off these ridiculous verses I wrote a while back.

JD, I’m still waiting for you to put some music to them.

John Daly, Golf Ball Driving Man

(Based on the folk song, “John Henry, Steel Driving Man”)

John Daly was a golfer
He gripped and ripped and let fly,
“Tee 'em up and swing from the heels,
I'll out drive you or I'll die.”

John Daly's caddy came to him
With a driver in his hand,
He laid his hand on John's shoulder and said:
“This belongs to a golf ball driving man.”

John Daly's caddy said to him:
“I believe a storm's coming in!”
John Daly said to his caddy: “Oh, Lord!
That's my golf ball you hear in the wind.”

John Daly said to his caddy:
“I play for the common man,
When this old life beats me down,
I'll die with a driver in my hand.”

The Armchair Golfer

Monday, August 6

Song Dedication for Rory Sabbatini

I wouldn’t expect the relatively young Rory Sabbatini to know the work of the 1970s singer-songwriter Jim Croce. But after watching parts of the final round of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, I would like to point out the chorus of one of Croce’s many hit oldies to the brash South African:

Chorus of “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”

And they say you don’t tug on Superman’s cape
You don’t spit into the wind
You don’t pull the mask off an ‘ole Lone Ranger
And you don’t mess around with Jim

There’s a message in there somewhere.

The Armchair Golfer

Friday, August 3

Annika Sorenstam Has the Book on St. Andrews

As well as having a friendly rivalry, Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam are golf pals, which is why Tiger offered the former world’s No. 1 woman golfer his St. Andrews yardage book before her departure for Scotland.

“He said, ‘I have my yardage book. Do you want to use it?’” Sorenstam told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “I replied, ‘I would love to. Are you sure?’”

Not only does Sorenstam have good yardages and notes on St. Andrews, she also appears to have her game intact after opening rounds of 72 and 71. Annika is three under for the tournament and currently trails leader Lorena Ochoa by four shots. Three-time Women’s British Open champion (including last year’s winner) Sherri Steinhauer is tied with Sorenstam in fourth place. Wendy Ward and Catriona Matthew are currently second and third.

An Ochoa-Sorenstam showdown would be splendid theater for the women’s first major competition at the Old Course. No. 1 and former No. 1 trading shots down the stretch at the home of golf -- now that would be fun to watch.

The Armchair Golfer

Wednesday, August 1

Q&A: Cristie Kerr


TOMORROW THE WOMEN will make history when they tee it up at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, for the Women’s British Open.

The site of 27 men’s British Opens, it will be the first time the storied links course hosts a women’s tournament.

Reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr, who made some history of her own by winning her first major a month ago at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club, is looking forward to the opportunity – both personally and for women’s golf.

On Monday Cristie reflected on her recent Open victory and shared her thoughts on playing at St. Andrews.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Has your U.S. Women’s Open victory completely sunk in, or do you still pinch yourself sometimes?

CRISTIE KERR: I was fortunate there was an off week after Pine Needles which allowed me to celebrate with friends. It’s very different than my other tour wins because the Open is what I’ve dreamed about since I started competing. I think it will take a while to sink in.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Have you located that “very, very special place” in your house for the trophy? Any special lighting effects yet?

CRISTIE KERR: It’s funny but we just shipped the trophy back and my husband and I just bought a home in Scottsdale and we haven’t even been there to think about that. It will undoubtedly have a special place for this year. Then we get a replica.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Everyone talked about the putter you bought in South Korea. But your long game also had to hold up well on an Open course. What made the difference for you?

CRISTIE KERR:I worked very hard on my short game leading up to the Open. I made a lot of great pars the last two days. I think I only had two bogeys over the past 45 holes. I think grinding out the pars was important for me. The closing holes were tough and I played them well, especially 17. I think I was 1 under for the week. My putting has always been my strength, which was quite good that week.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: What is most exciting to you about being the U.S. Women’s Open champion?

CRISTIE KERR: I think it’s a personal validation for me that I can win at every level. I think it has put me at another level amongst my peers, in a way. I got a lot of calls and sincere congratulations from some very special people, which shows how special the Open is. It’s historic.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: You’ve had high finishes in the last two Women’s British Opens. How do you feel about your game as you head into the year’s last major?

CRISTIE KERR: I really enjoy links golf and obviously St. Andrews is another one of those historic golf places. I am looking forward to the whole experience. I am hitting the ball better than I did at the Open funny enough, but not scoring as well. I am very hopeful of a good week.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Do you think your game is especially well suited for links golf?

CRISTIE KERR: Links golf forces you to be creative and to think your way around. Good putting, staying out of trouble, and a bit of links luck are important to be successful. I have done well in those conditions.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: What do you think about playing at St. Andrews?

CRISTIE KERR: It’s been highlighted on my calendar since the announcement. It’s arguably one of the best things to happen for the women’s game for some time. We are all looking forward to playing the course and seeing all of the rich history – and making some history of our own.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: How many more events do you plan to play this year?

CRISTIE KERR: I am actually playing all events except two in the states and two Asia events. I am looking forward to my defense of the Canadian Open after the British and playing in the Three-Tour Challenge with the men in Las Vegas and then the ADT Championship.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: How is your work for Birdies for Breast Cancer going?

CRISTIE KERR: Very well. We are raising awareness and money and we have met terrific people along the way. We just dedicated $100,000 to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona for their research work.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Any final comments?

CRISTIE KERR: I am looking forward to seeing everyone out on tour!

−The Armchair Golfer