Comic, allegorical first novel in which a bumbling contender learns that even if golf is a poor substitute for life, life has its moments.
After four years of progressively worsening scores, Brian Schwan realizes that his dream of being a professional golfer has sunk into the sand trap of no return. Finishing shamefully behind his rival, the dashing South African autodidactic ornithologist Jim “Bird” Soulsby, Schwan retires to a seedy motel room, where he doesn’t even succeed in drinking himself into oblivion. Instead, he lets fly some rants about how he has failed everyone: Dad, who lived his dreams of golfing glory through his son; Mom, who didn’t complain when Brian ducked an art history major at college to try his luck on the pro circuit; and Rosa, Brian’s adoring, born-again wife, who has tirelessly supported him but now wants to have a child. When he runs into a pretty TV newswoman who wants to interview Bird Soulsby, Schwan gives into “bad craziness” and pretends to be his rival, then arranges a liaison with the reporter that promises to put him in her bed. But who should invade the post-game flirtation at a picturesque Charleston, South Carolina, tavern but Soulsby himself . . . pretending to be Schwan. While Schwan fumbles and mopes, Soulsby dazzles the reporter with his wit and erudition, leaving Schwan to ponder if, by pretending to be him and walking off with his date, Soulsby might be demonstrating that pretension, like faith, can loosen up a stiff swing. By chance, Soulsby and Schwan are again paired off the next day, with Schwan’s father watching on the sidelines, for a game in which Schwan discovers why golf attracts so many people who believe in miracles.
A few too many teeth-gnashing flashbacks, but on the whole a funny, winning portrait of the artist as a frustrated, helpless, but not completely hopeless young duffer.