The Secret of Golf comes out on June 9. As you can see above, I got my first copies of the book this week … and I must say they look really good.
If you preorder now anywhere — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your favorite indie bookstore (or mine) — you can get a free bookplate for your collection or Father’s Day or, well, who am I to tell you what do with your bookplate?
Anyway, for your free bookplate, just fill out this form.
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I started writing this blog eight years ago, which — like most things — sometimes seems like long ago and other times seems like yesterday. I had no idea that this blog would become such a big part of my life. I had no idea that it would lead to numerous opportunities and challenges, that it would be so rewarding and so pointless, that it would lead me to write about Pixifoods and Snuggies and iPads and what body part we dry first after showering and Roy Hobbs and Harry Potter World and so, so, so much baseball.
I had only two vague notions about blogging then:
1. I would use this so-called blog to write whatever stupid thing struck me.
2. I would use it to promote the heck out of my book The Soul of Baseball.
Eight years ago. The Secret of Golf is my fourth book — fifth, if you count my collection of columns “The Good Stuff,” which I generally do not because those were columns I had already written. I suspect it won’t surprise you to know that each of my books have been deeply personal; writing books tends to be like that. You give up a little piece of yourself to write a book. Sometimes, the piece isn’t that small.
When I was writing The Soul of Baseball, my homage to Buck O’Neil, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was driven daily by my love and admiration for Buck. I have written many times that I don’t believe in writer’s block because my father worked in a factory most of his life and he never woke up with factory block. But there were many times in the process of writing Soul where I did not know where the book went next. And then I would think of the Red Dress story, my favorite story in the book (and one of the inspirations behind the Royals and Negro League Museum’s awesome “Dressed to the Nines” day).
We were in New York at the end of a long and painful day. Buck and I walked together from the car to the hotel. When I stepped inside and turned around, though, he was gone. I looked back out through the sliding glass doors, and saw that he was talking to a woman in a stunning red dress.
They talked and laughed for a good while. And then Buck came back into the hotel, refreshed and alive and ready for the night.
“Did you see that woman in the red dress?” he asked me. I nodded. He shook his head as a rebuke.
“Son,” he told me, “in this life, you don’t ever walk by a red dress.”
That story sustained me, inspired me, motivated me to finish the book. See, every book begins with an idea and an ideal, and every step of writing takes you a little bit away from both. I don’t know an author who hasn’t, at numerous times in the book writing process, thought: “This is terrible. This is nothing at all like what I had in my mind. I need to start all over. I need to try a different idea. I need to get a real job. This is dreadful.” I think this is why so many people start books they never finish. It takes some of your soul. And you need something to keep you going.
My something was Buck O’Neil, the man who never walked by a red dress or a child wearing a baseball glove or a table where people were eating a good desert or a person who wanted to tell him a memory. He was galvanized by the beautiful things in life. And he refused to believe the ugly things defined us. It was his energy and hope that pushed me over the rough edges.
When I wrote my next book, The Machine, about the 1975 Reds, I tried to transport myself back to my childhood. I listened only to music from 1975. I cannot tell you how many times I listened to “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Jive Talkin’.” I hear those songs still in my sleep. I tried to watch 1975 television shows and movies. I tried to read a different 1975 newspaper every day. I don’t have any idea if any of that helped or worked its way into the book, but it was what kept pushing me forward, kept prodding me to the finish.
My third, Paterno, has been subject of many opinions about the book and about me. Of that I will only say it remains the proudest professional achievement of my life. I believe the book is true, and I believe it stands stronger over time. The inspiration that drove me through that book was to not let the fury of the moment overwhelm what I came to do. I came to write the remarkable life of Joe Paterno. I believe I did that honestly and through a roaring wind.
My fourth book was, as you might expect, a lot easier. The Secret of Golf is about golfer Tom Watson and his rivalry and friendship with Jack Nicklaus. There are numerous things that make a great sports rivalry, but I think the biggest thing is that there have to be classic confrontations. The rivalry between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, for instance, never was a rivalry because they never really had great battles. They were just great at roughly the same time. That’s coincidence, not rivalry. Elway and Marino and Montana were the great quarterbacks of the 1980s but they did not have many memorable clashes. Maddux and Clemens did not really battle each other. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather called each other rivals, but they were not. They did not fight each other in their primes and the one time they did fight was a dud.
In this way, a rivalry is something more … there’s something almost mystical about it, the way one rival brings the most out of another, the way their styles interlock, the way they just keep running into each other in their journeys toward excellence. If you close your eyes, you can see Navratilova charging the net and Evert setting up to hit the passing shot. You can see Frazier beginning the big left hook and Ali sticking the jab in an effort to stop it. You can see Brady, all cool and calm and confidence, and Manning, arms flailing as he shouts out signals and nonsense in an effort to daze and confuse. You can see those things because they all had so many moments together on the biggest stages.
Three times, in three very different places, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus brought out something magical in each other. Those three tournaments — the 1977 Masters, the 1977 Open Championship and the 1982 U.S. Open — are the core of the book. But the inspiration, the thing that pushed me past the constant doubts and cynicism, was something else, something in the admittedly odd title: The Secret of Golf. There was something I was looking for, something that I think I’m always looking for when writing about sports.
In any case, here we are eight years after I started this crazy thing, and I can’t imagine my life without this blog. Yes, I sometimes wonder — and my wife Margo OFTEN wonders — why I spend so much effort and energy writing about silly things for free. I don’t have a great answer for that except to say that I love doing it, and I love the community that has built around this thing, and, right, the blog gives me a chance to say this:
Hey, buy The Secret of Golf.
It’s like the great Bob Feller (next book subject?) once told me: “Hey, if you’re not going to promote yourself, who will?”Like