Wednesday, April 14, 2010





This is not your parents' golf game.

Duff Colhane has just won his first professional golf tournament. It should be the celebration night of his young life. But he'll be spending it in Miami Federal jail.

Last weekend’s Masters golf tournament – won by Phil Mickelson with some astounding golf shots (the one from behind a tree to the green was as brave a golf shot as I’ve ever seen) – inspired me to pick up and reread this diamond-hard gem of a novel.

I don’t play golf – I play at golf. Once or twice a year, I wack a ball around eighteen holes with my son or a friend, never keeping score and simply enjoying the beauty of being on a golf course. I read about golf far more than I play it. I have over a hundred sports pulps containing golf stories from the ‘30s and ‘40s, which are all pretty cool, and I have over fifty golf fiction titles on my bookselves opposite my similar collection of boxing fiction. If there is a new golf novel published, chances are I’ll buy it and read it.

That said, golf novels usually fall into three categories – sharp-tongued humor fests featuring wacky characters and wackier situations (usually written by Dan Jenkins or Mike Lupica – both of whom can make me laugh out loud); smalzy, mystical quests seeking to provide salvation through golf (think The Legend Of Bagger Vance); or attempts to cross the golf novel with the mystery genre, which are rarely able to serve both masters (there are exceptions, in particular, Keith Miles’ Alan Saxon novels).

I’d read Robert Upton’s previous golf mystery, Dead On The Stick, the second in his Amos McGuffin private eye tales. It was mildly amusing, one of the neither fish nor fowl golf mysteries. Fortunately, Upton’s The Big Tour is something completely different – the first golf noir novel, a cocaine fueled lightening jag into the heart of one man's darkness.

The difference in the two books is remarkable. One is a lightweight, disposable mystery – forgotten immediately upon turning the final page. The other is a classic example of hardboiled literature, which I’ve thought about often after reading it. It was as if Upton went to bed as Agatha Christie and woke up as Cornell Woolrich.


In the hard-drving world of professional golf, even a golden boy must learn to win . . .

Son of a barroom-brawling Montauk fisherman, Duff came across as a gentleman born to wealth and privilege. A brash, cocky golden boy and darling of the media they compared to Nicklaus. Golf was his greatest pleasure in life, the one thing he did perfectlyly, a poor boy’s ticket out – pure. Until he saw it played like a rigged game on grass where the only rule was not getting caught and big money was for the taking.

But after a golf lesson Vegas Mob-style all but shatters his pro dreams, Duff struggles desperately to regain the old form only he believes he can recapture. An unscrupulous Dr. Feelgood prescribes a witche’s brew of performance-enhancing drugs, and Duff is bankrolled by his high school sweetheart – a model with no portfolio but plenty of cash and cocaine and some very dangerous friends. If drugs don’t put an end to Duff – she and the Feds will . . .

By never letting his characters take the easy way out, and by forcing them to experience the consequences of their actions, Upton drags us over a crude eighteen hole course of betrayal and dispair in a foursome with Jim Thompson, David Goodis, and James M. Cain – you just know bad things are going to happen.

Don't expect sportsmanship and Rockyesque endings here – this is a wild ride through the rough where you bet with you life and and every club shaft in your bag is a serpent in disguise.


Kent Morgan said...

I may just go grab this off a shelf in my basement and start it today. Last night I must have picked up and put down a half dozen books as nothing appealed to me. I'd love to see your list of both golf and boxing fiction with recommendations to see what I've missed.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Have you read TRAIN by Pete Dexter?

Kent Morgan said...

allstar14Yes, I've read Train, but think I must have missed something as I don't understand the raves it received. But then Dexter has never done much for me. I've had Deadwood waiting to be read for years. I recently took his book of non-fiction out of the library, but it went back unread.

bish8 said...

Patti ~

Train didn't do it for me either. Part of the problem I had is golf had little if anything to do with the story and the rest for me was just a mess.

Kent ~

I'll get a list of Golf and Boxing fiction titles together, but off the top of my head, you should check out Every Time I Talk To Liston by Brian DeVido . . .

Evan Lewis said...

Never thought of reading a golf novel, but this sounds pretty good. Looking through a 1924 issue of Sport Story Magazine the other day, I discovered a story called "Golf is Golf" by Carroll John Daly. Race Williams on the golf course? I don't know, but I'm going to find out.

bish8 said...

Evan ~

I have that issue of Sports Story. I came into collecting pulps thtrough the sports pulps. I have around 200 of them, many with golf stories.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Fer-de-Lance had a golf background. Like you, Paul, I was just a duffer who took to the links for fun (haven't even done that in 20 years).
A friend and I got roped into playing with some serious guys once so when one started to tee of I yelled, "HEY, BATTER, BATTER, BATTER..." They told us to go ahead of them. I wonder why?