Men in Green by Michael Bamberger
I was very excited to read this new offering from Michael Bamberger. I’m an absolute nut for golf books, especially ones that provide some insight into the inner churnings of the game. Self-evident that the portrayals we see on television aren’t always a true depiction of the “man” inside the ropes. It builds the drama on Sundays during the heat of the tournament as we pull for the underdog or root heavily against the perceived villain. For instance, Sergio Garcia may be my least favorite player on tour. I don’t know the man, but my perception is decidedly skewed due to his depiction over the years on television. Also hurts him that I’ve been a pretty big fan of Tiger…just saying. I’d be willing to bet, Sergio probably isn’t the lout they make him out to be and he is more than likely a decent human being if you got to know him. Conversely, Tiger could be the devil.
So back to the book. Bamberger does a nice job of creating a loosely woven accounting shedding light on relatable characteristics of some of the game’s biggest legends. Arnie, Jack, Irwin, Floyd, Venturi, they all play a part, all stops along the way on this great road trip through professional golf. Immediately, my mind conjured an image of a map thumbtacked, marking places of interest along this historical journey. Fragmented pictures linked by the details overlapping as one story breeds another. Plenty of fascinating anecdotes that further humanize these great legends.
Diving deeper into the book you will learn of the smaller players within the game. These characters are truly the back bone of the tour…at least during the time period. Mike Donald the consummate tour professional grinding out a livelihood chained only to the game of golf. A passion to keep his card playing event after event. His close call with greatness and the candor at what it all means so many years later. Dolphus “Golf Ball” Hull, poignant portrayal of a man who lived for the day. Stoking the fire of his most famous employer, hall of famer Raymond Floyd. “Golf Ball” playing his part in a 2 man theatrical play teetering precipitously between tragedy, comedy, and the adventures of a comic book superhero. Those relationships, the outcomes, the results of life’s trials drive the tenor of this book.
Perhaps the one character I wish the author could have portrayed further was Mickey Wright. I say character with a little tongue and cheek. She is a mammoth figure within the history of the LPGA. 13 majors and 82 tour victories. Truly legendary. She has purposely dropped from the public eye so her story was pieced together through some of her contemporaries and her current friends. I knew little of her life and accomplishments, but her inclusion within this book caused me to seek further information. What a fantastic champion with one of, if not “the”, flawless swings to ever grace professional golf.
Mr. Bamberger depicts the tour in the 70’s and early 80’s as a family. Players still traveled together, shared hotel rooms, actually breaking bread from time to time. Many of the stories centered on real relationships forged strong by human interaction. My only real beef with the book? The stories featuring Ken Venturi. The chapter and subsequent references left me a little confused. To error is to be human as the saying goes….so I get some of the sugar free details, essential to the truth about the man. The author was just keeping it real. Mr. Venturi undoubtedly had his warts as all amongst this planet surely do. I just felt a little let down as things were left a little close ended, directing a fairly bleak conclusion to be drawn about Ken Venturi the person. Granted, an olive branch was offered to help soften that overall view, Mr. Venturi was very good to those in need, it just felt forced in the end.
Well, I have to say overall….this was an excellent book. Provided you are an avid fan of the game or just interested in historical perspectives about still living legends, this book will entertain you. I recommend this book to all golf enthusiasts. As an aside, I hope one day Michael Bamberger will convince his friend Mike Donald to write a book about the real tour pro. Mike Donald strikes me as a solid gold personality, straight shooting, and a man who is the real salt of the earth. The kind of guy in the trenches who has a trunk full of stories…that need to be told and I’m certain would be well received. One can only hope that day will come, I’d read it for sure.