Saturday, April 25, 2020

Books: "From The Links" On Golf's Grand History

On The Links: 
By Joshua Shifrin
Lyons Press; paperback, 256 pages; $18.95

Billed as "a golf hall of fame, shame, and arcane, From the Links is the perfect book for people who miss playing and watching the pros battle on television on weekends.

Joshua Shifrin has collected over a hundred great moments from the history of this great game in a compact volume. Some of these moments are famous, while others have been forgotten, taking the reader from the links in Scotland in the 1800s to the 1938 U.S. Open, the 1954 U.S. Women's Open to the Martini Invitational in 1971 to the 2010 Masters.

These stories, told in an anecdotal form, star the giants of the sport and feature triumphs, classic matchups, heart-racing final rounds, amazing holes-in-one, monumental breakdowns, hilarious gaffes, and other events you will never forget.

There's the time Jack "The Golden Bear" Nicklaus and Gary "The Black Knight" Player were attacked by killer bees on a course in South Africa in 1966; when Babe Zaharias won the U.S. Women's Open in 1954 just one month after cancer surgery; and when there were four holes-in-one on the same hole at the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club in under two hours.

Shifrin writes about one of golf's best-known events, The Skins Game, and one of its most memorable years: "Indian Wells, California, was the site of the annual Skins Game, held from 1983 through 2008 at the end of the official PGA Golf season, and one of the most unusual and lucrative events in golf history. Although the tournament was recognized by the PGA and featured eye-popping prize money that reached $1 million, the earnings didn't count toward the official tour money list. Even so, because the contest featured the tour's brightest stars, and because and obscene amount of money could ride on a single hole, the Skins Game was a crowd favorite and rarely disappointed.
Out of the nearly twenty-six contests, by almost all accounts the most incredible one ever played was not in Indian Wells, but rather in the adjacent town of Indio, at the Landmark Golf Club in 2001. Memorable for several reasons, this year's Skins Game included a controversial rule: For a player to cash in on a hole, or win a 'skin,' he had to back up that win with at least a tie on the following hole.
The four participants for that year were Tiger Woods, Colin Montgomerie, Jesper Parnevik, and Greg Norman, each of them a superstar. When the foursome set out for the day, the formidable Tiger Woods was the clear favorite. But of course anything can happen. As they say, 'That's why they play the game.'
As the game progressed it was becoming more and more evident that the players were having an extremely difficult time cashing in on the fruits of their labor. Even when one of them scored a rare win on an individual hole, he was unable to at least halve the following hole thus losing the opportunity to win the skin. As the money continued to roll over, the potential payout grew to astronomical level, motivating each player to fight tooth and nail to claim the prize.
It was on the sixteenth green when Parnevik sank a 21-foot birdie, placing him in position to win a cool $630,000 dollars if he could either win or tie for the best score on the seventeenth. But Norman wouldn't hear of it. His 10-foot birdie putt found the bottom of the cup to win the hole outright.
Now they come to the eighteenth with a huge payday on the line, and Greg Norman lived up to the moniker of The Great White Shark by halving the hole with a par, thus devouring his opponents to claim the $800,000 skin the biggest single-hole paycheck in the nineteen-year history of the contest. But then, because the eighteenth was halved, the foursome would go on to a sudden death format. After the first hole left the matter unsettled, Norman struck again by sinking a 4-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole and netted the final $200,000.
The forty-six-year-old Norman, who had a reputation for failing at the biggest of moments, rebuffed the young lions to stake his claim to the entire $1 million purse. It was the only time this had been done in the history of the Skins Game, and in doing so The Great White Shark put himself into the history books once again."

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