If you have an interest in the history of the game of golf beyond the current PGA headlines, one of the people whose work you should read is Bill Fields. Fields, a senior writer at Golf World magazine, is a four-time winner of the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual writing contest whose work has also appeared in Golf Digest and the New York Times.
Fields’ new book, Arnie, Seve, and a Fleck of Golf History, is a condensed master course in “How to write about golf”. Of course, the best golf writing isn’t about the score, or who won, or what clubs they used – it’s about the people in the game, whether winners or also-rans, and their journeys to achievement. Fields is a master at identifying and illuminating the essence of a story, whether of a person or a great championship of the game, with tremendous empathy for the people involved, and he has a poetic flair for a well-turned phrase that makes his prose a joy to read.
Drawn from his 30-year body of work, the individual articles which make up the book are segregated into sections on the greats of the game – individual men and women who stand tall in the annals of golf; great championships – competitions that defined turning points or significant moments in golf history; and underdogs – characters from the rich history of golf, some champions, some just obscure names in the agate, who are nevertheless part of the rich weave of the tapestry that is the history of the greatest game.
Some of the people you’ll read about in this book are Harry Vardon, the great English champion to whom 95% of the golfers in the world pay homage every time they pick up a club – he invented (or at least popularized) the ubiquitous overlapping grip; John J. McDermott, still the youngest man ever to win the United States Open, in 1911, at 19 years, 10 months of age – a great champion who repeated the win the following year, becoming the first to complete the tournament under par, and who faded away into mental illness and obscurity in his later years; and Glenna Collett Vare – one of the great champions of the early years of women’s golf in the United States, a woman who combined marriage and motherhood with the accomplishments of a champion golfer.
Fields writes with compassion and understanding, whatever the subject, from well-known incidents like Arnold Palmer’s meltdown in the final round of the 1966 U. S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, to footnotes in golf history such as the first 55 recorded in an eighteen-hole round of golf – and still the only one in a competitive round – a 16-under carded by a little-known Texas pro named Homero Blancas, on an oilfield course in the flatlands of east Texas.
With a foreword by a man who is simultaneously a great champion of the game, and an avid student of its history, Ben Crenshaw, Arnie, Seve, and a Fleck of Golf History is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the history of the people and events of the game of golf.