There’s a doomed romance and a life-lesson for a teenager in Coyne’s ninth novel, but the game’s the thing, with a hole-by-hole analysis of two rounds of golf.
It’s the summer of 1946, and 14-year-old Jack Handley is feeling lost. His father was killed late in World War II, and his mother has lost the will to live. The two reside on a small dairy farm outside Chicago, with Jack’s big sister. Jack is a first-rate caddie at the nearby golf club, where the assistant pro, charming, happy-go-lucky 20-year-old Matt Richardson, is like his big brother. Matt is beginning a romance with Sarah DuPree, daughter of the club president, who does not consider the hired help to be eligible in-law material, so Matt passes messages to Sarah through Jack, his go-between. In an awkward frame device, an elderly Jack returns to the club years later to talk about his book on Ben Hogan and that summer of ’46. At the time, Hogan burned as bright as Tiger Woods does today, so it’s a big thrill for Jack when Hogan lets him caddie for him during a practice round. The last nine holes Hogan plays against Matt. (Thanks to the transparency of the author’s prose, even a non-golfer who wouldn’t know a birdie from a bogey will catch his drift, though the detail can be overwhelming.) The second game to be dissected is the first round of the Chicago Open, for which boy-wonder Matt has qualified. There had been some question whether Jack would caddie for Hogan or Matt, but Hogan the guru teaches Jack about loyalty and responsibility; no question, he must caddie for Matt, who will be the surprise winner, setting the course record. He won’t win his girl, though. Sarah’s father foils their planned elopement and there’s a fatal accident and perfunctory wrap-up, in stark contrast to the leisurely description of the games.
Pleasant reading for golfers, slim pickings for everyone else.