Texan sportswriter Shrake is probably best known as Harvey Penick's co-author (Harvey Penick's Little Red Book and If You Play Golf You're My Friend, 1993), but he’s also written eight novels solo (The Borderland, not reviewed, etc.) before this brief coming-of-age tale.
Like his close friend, fellow Texan, and occasional co-author Dan Jenkins, Shrake has an affinity for the golf courses of his home state and the heroes who walked their fairways, particularly Ben Hogan, who plays an important role here. The title figure is a 16-year-old boy who, at the story’s outset, has come to Fort Worth in the early 1950s with his handsome, raffish widower father, a drinker, gambler, rodeo champion, WWII vet and golfer. But when daddy Troy loses their entire savings in a dice game while drunk, Billy leaves him in a rage. Troy reenlists in the Army with tragic results. In the meantime, Billy has taken a job caddying at Colonial Country Club, where he is buffeted by the winds of wealthy eccentric Dr. Sandpaster, Sandpaster's gorgeous granddaughter Sandra, and the arrogant young club champion Sonny Stonekiller. One night Billy finds a mysterious 7-iron in the grass in a public park and is adopted by its owner, a no-less-mysterious man who claims to be John Bredemus, the legendary designer of Colonial and countless other Texas courses. Shrake spins his tale in a warm, burnished prose that has the glow of fond memory, with charming cameos by such Texas sports and gambling legends as poker whiz Amarillo Slim and even Shrake's own golf mentor Harvey Penick. Although the finale, with a tense golf match between Billy and Sonny, with Billy's future riding on the outcome, is a little predictable, the result is a book of considerable charm.
Sentimental but never treacly, sweet but not cloying: a sprightly jeu d’esprit, with some solid golfing advice thrown in for good measure.