The smaller the ball, the saying goes, the better the writing.
To be sure, it is a conceit. And, really, who among can say theyve ever read a book or a magazine article on marbles? Or pea-shooting?
That being said, a collection of golf stories recently crossed my desk and caught my attention. This is a feat in and of itself.
For the most part I am not looking to read all the golf books that arrive in the mail. If I did, I wouldnt have any spare time left to read the latest from Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker, John Sandford and Michael Connolly'to name just a few of my favorite non-golf authors.
But it was a piece on Clint Eastwood, of all people, that got me hooked on Robert Sullivans new book: Youre Still Away (Maple Street Press).
Sullivan, the editorial director of LIFE books, has anthologized golf pieces he wrote for a variety of publications. And in the one on Eastwood, he wrote about playing golf with Dirty Harry.
It made my day.
Sullivan on Eastwoods voice:
.it is a tenor, you are surprised to realize (though never has a tenor so possessed the gravitas of a baritone). It was said of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald that their voices blended perfectly, like Jack Daniels and champagne. Eastwoods speaking voice, which is extraordinarily musical, stands at the intersection of Louis and Ella'its got sand in it, and bubbles too. Its friendlier than Harrys.
Harry, for the uninitiated, is Harry Callahan, the name on the birth certificate of the fictional Dirty Harry.
Sullivan, for the uninitiated, has a writing voice that resonates, too. He knows almost as much about golf as he does about writing.
Almost lyrical are Sullivan stories about Bill Clintons mulliganitis; playing golf as a onesome; golf in Ireland; speed golf; caddies, birding, golf handicaps and much, much more.
There are minor annoyances. Like using the word golf as a verb without putting the word playing in front of it. And us golf scribes are pretty picky about writers who refer to playing the game as going golfing.
But by the time you finish Youre Still Away, Im predicting even the stodgiest golfologists will agree that Sullivan is way under par for the book.
In the foreword, the discriminating Brad Faxon points out, Sullivan freely admits he is an average golfer at best. But as a writer, hes scratch. And I dont mean scratch with a handicap of six.
The liner notes feature contributions from the Yale-educated Rees Jones and the Stanford-educated John Garrity. Garrity has combined erudition with humor and made a career out of writing first-rate golf prose for Sports Illustrated.
Of Sullivan, Garrity says, his powers of observation are preternaturally sharp. If youve got Wodehouse, Wind and Jenkins on your bookshelf, youll want to make room for Sullivan.
If youre not sold yet, so be it. Pick up Ulysses and plow your way through the turgid work of James Joyce.
But heres one more Sullivan teaser on Eastwood right from the books pages:
And as for the squint, well thats the one trademark item that is as indelible to the real Eastwood as it is to his movie characters. All day long, his eyes never open; you wonder he doesnt plow E-Z-Go into a tree. In lining up a putt, every golfer in the world squints like Clint Eastwood. But let it here be recorded: In lining up (italics start) his (end italics) putts, Clint Eastwood (start italics) really (end italics) squints like Clint Eastwood.
BY THE WAY: If youre looking for more good golf stuff in book form as the holidays approach, I highly recommend Jim Apfelbaums Golf Unplugged from Tatra Press.
Apfelbaums angle on the game is almost always coming from a different direction without flouting the tradition that caresses golf. Apfelbaum is Texas-based and well-versed in all things Penick, Jones and Hogan.
He doesnt take himself too seriously. And the strength of his book is the varietal nature of the anecdotal troves he has collected in his years observing the sport.
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