THE BACK NINE by Billy Mott


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A one-time golf wunderkind gets his groove back in this would-be inspirational tale.

Though Mott’s debut is set amid greens and fairways, it plays out a lot like a dusty Western. Its hero, Charlie MacLeod, is a restless drifter who blows into town, arriving at a San Francisco–area course with little more than the clothes on his back and a willingness to take pick-up work as a caddy. Recently divorced, he has a checkered past and carries battle scars (his promising golf career as a teen was cut short after an arm injury). And he’s got something to fight for: Once he discovers that his arm has healed well enough that he can start competing again, he’s pitted against a big-money golfer in a climactic duel, while the only woman who understands him (the woman working the night desk at a motel) cheers him on. Sports easily lend themselves to parable-like redemption stories such as these, but Mott’s execution often borders on the inept. He clearly knows the culture of the caddy shack, which is populated with tough-talking carousers, but he does little to differentiate one from another, leading to long and maddeningly static passages of platitude-stuffed chatter. Charlie’s backstory is almost laughably untenable—he practically grew up on the golf course, pushed hard by a father who lived only to work at a Pittsburgh steel mill and dispense advice about putts and drives. And though Charlie occupies nearly every page, he rarely becomes more than a cardboard character cut-out with a hackneyed, third-reel-of-a-tearjerker humility. (“I lost everything. But I found some others.”) Mott injects a bit of tension into the closing chapters, but by then, Charlie has become so thoroughly Christ-like that it’s not hard to place a good bet on the ending.

A clunky affair hobbled by stilted dialogue and Albom-grade sentimentality.

Pub Date: March 29th, 2007
ISBN: 0-307-26536-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2006


by Tony Rosa