Match Made in Heavenby Bob Mitchell, Mel Foster (Read by)
That’s the question Elliott Goodman hears in the OR as he’s about to have emergency surgery following a heart attack. But it isn’t Elliott’s surgeon who’s asking. It’s God. As in the Almighty. And God has a wager for Elliott. He challenges him to an eighteen-hole golf match. If Elliott wins, he is saved; if he loses…So begins this witty, insightful, and very funny novel about golf and life and the lessons learned from both.
To be fair (isn’t He always?), God sends down eighteen legendary opponents to play against Elliott and hopefully teach him a few tricks along the way. From Leonardo da Vinci (nice clubs) to Marilyn Monroe (nice…everything), Babe Ruth (pass the hot dogs), Abraham Lincoln (cheater!), and fourteen other luminaries, including Moses, John Lennon, Joan of Arc, Picasso, W.C. Fields, Socrates, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Beethoven, Gandhi, and Shakespeare, Elliott squares off against some of the most extraordinary people who’ve ever lived. As shots are analyzed, balls enter bunkers, and Freud drives the cart (control freak), Elliott has a chance to examine his life and his form, to see what he can correct or improve before facing his ultimate adversary.
Bighearted and delightfully original, Bob Mitchell’s Match Made in Heaven is a grand celebration of golf and a profound parable of traveling our own personal fairways in a game where no effort is wasted, and every failure is just another chance to try again.
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MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
By Bob Mitchell
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Bob Mitchell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNice Clubs
WHEN HE OPENED HIS EYES, Elliott was astonished to find himself not in the OR or even the ICU, but in the men's locker room at Inwood Country Club, on Long Island. Wearing nothing but Jockey shorts, he was seated on a smooth wooden bench in front of a locker that sported a strip of adhesive with his name carefully scrolled in red marker pen: GOODMAN, E.
So it did happen! So it was God!
Elliott's mind was cluttered with desultory thoughts and questions. He was breathing normally and, best of all, felt no pain. In fact, he'd never felt better in his entire life. Somehow, God must have healed him, at least for the time being, presumably in a grand gesture of fair play.
He must also have read Elliott's mind (again!) and known that he'd chosen Inwood, the site of the '23 U.S. Open where Bobby Jones came from three strokes behind on the seventy-second hole to force a playoff, then beat Bobby Cruikshank 76 to 78 the next day, as his course of preference. After all, that's where he'd learned to play the game as a kid, and he knew the golf course like the back of his hand.
Then the torrent of questions.
How am I supposed to beat God? Are we going to play even, or is He planning to give me some kind of handicap-you know, the one a person gets when he has to pit his skills against those of ... the Supreme Being? If so, how many strokes per hole will I be granted, to compensate for miracles? Let's see, last time I played, I was a 10-handicap. Does that mean I'll get five strokes a side, or is God less than a scratch golfer? Is He a plus-10, for instance?
Is God going to hit from the blue tees and I from the red? If He is perfect, does that mean He'll have a hole-in-one on every hole and shoot 18? On the other hand, what would it be like to watch God flub a shot? Has He ever played Inwood before? Are we going to use a cart, or will we walk, accompanied by caddies? Does God need a caddie? Why did the Almighty choose golf as the game upon which my salvation depends, rather than, for instance, tennis or squash or racquetball or badminton or billiards or bowling or ping-pong or pennyball?
Shrugging off these questions, Elliott concentrated on getting dressed and preparing mentally for the match. He opened the locker and found, hanging neatly on hooks, a pair of olive Dockers, a golf visor with the inscription MASS GENERAL HOSPITAL, BOSTON, and a light green hospital patient's collarless V-neck scrub shirt with his name embroidered on the left breast. On the floor in front of the locker were some forest green socks rolled up in a tight ball and resting comfortably on a pair of brown-and-white-saddle FootJoy golf shoes.
How very spiffy!
Elliott put on his togs with great care. As he slowly tied his shoes, he grew aware of a complex of feelings coursing through his veins. Relief, from being out of the hospital and out of the pain and anguish of the infarction. Nervousness, from the ramifications of the imminent match. Confusion, from his ignorance of the rules. Most of all, exhilaration.
He put his head in his hands and tried to gather his thoughts, to catch his breath, to give himself a little pep talk. Okay. This is it. You can do it....
Holy kamoley! I'm playing golf against God! With my life hanging in the balance!
Despite the jitters, Elliott pursed his lips and screwed up his face. He was a fighter, and nothing was going to keep him from giving this his best effort.
As Elliott walked toward the exit door, he noticed that he was wearing the conventional metal spikes he used to wear and not the soft ones presently required by most golf clubs. This made him smile, because he'd always loved the sound of the spikes against a hard surface. The tiles of a locker-room floor. A concrete cart path ...
It occurred to him that, like the adhesive on the front of the locker and his feeling of complete health, the spikes might just have been another nice touch by God, and a sporting one at that.
When Elliott stepped outside, he was greeted rudely by a stiff breeze. Situated smack on Jamaica Bay, Inwood could be a bitch of a course when the wind picked up. It could add ten strokes to your score, easy. Elliott figured God just wanted to enhance the challenge and that it would be the same for him as for his Esteemed Opponent, so he didn't give it a second thought.
Instead, he headed toward the pro shop to get some tees and a scorecard. Awaiting him there was none other than Al Peppe, the old caddiemaster at Inwood who had, in fact, passed away in '77. Elliott was astounded to see Peppe, but then, in light of everything else that had just happened, he assumed it was simply one of those things God could do.
Boy, it was good to see ol' Peppe again! He was the same jovial guy, with the body of a sixty-year-old and the spirit of a teenager. His face was, as always, filled with character and the wrinkles of joy. Dotted with birthmarks and imperfections, it had a magnificent dark olive hue, reflecting both its Mediterranean roots and its constant exposure to the sun. As a kid, Elliott could always count on Peppe for an encouraging word and a quick tip before he teed it up on number one.
"They's waitin' for ya, kid," Peppe said, in his Italo-Brooklynese accent. "I knows ya can do it. They ain't got a chance!"
Elliott smiled and gave the caddiemaster a wink as he left the pro shop and walked confidently toward the tee-box at number one. It bothered him, though, that Peppe had referred to his opponent in the third person plural.
Approaching the first tee, he looked up and saw a cart with two bags strapped to the back. The course was empty, except for a lone figure on the tee, his back to Elliott, taking practice swings. Noticing from behind a longish white beard, Elliott naturally assumed that the figure was God.
On closer inspection, the beard appeared to be longer than the one he'd seen in the OR. Longer, and less kempt.
When the figure turned around, Elliott could swear he'd seen that face before. The long, scraggly white beard. The tousled white hair, nearly bald at the top, just like Alastair Sim's in A Christmas Carol. The bushy eyebrows. The rings under the eyes. The ruddy complexion. And, protruding from the weather-beaten face, the noble nose that erupted, like Etna from the Sicilian countryside.
Of course! It wasn't God at all. It was ...
Elliott could scarcely believe it. That face, just as it appeared in the famous self-portrait he had studied for hours in his carrel in Widener while preparing his "Imagination and Literature" seminar! His opponent wasn't God at all, but ... homo universalis, the prototypical Renaissance man, the genius from the village of Vinci.
Elliott felt a huge sense of relief. He didn't have to play against God after all! Not for the first hole, anyway. But another question had just been added to the heap piled up in his brain.
Having spent a good deal of research time in Italy over the years and having taught texts by writers like Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Leopardi, and Pirandello, Elliott knew enough Italian to get by. Walking up to the great thinker, he doffed his visor and smiled nervously.
"Buon giorno, signore, e come stai? Mi chiamo Elliott."
"Bene, bene, io so ... ma ... parliamo inglese," Leonardo answered, with his scratchy yet noble voice.
Elliott felt like a total doofus.
Of course Leonardo da Vinci speaks English! Du-uh! Along with twenty or thirty other languages, probably!
He couldn't believe he was getting ready to tee off against possibly the greatest thinker the human race had yet produced.
"Excuse me," he began. "I hope I'm not offending you, but may I ask why you're here? I was expecting to be playing against God, actually."
Leonardo smiled his wise smile. "Ascolta. God has decided that to make even the field of play, he would not make you to play against Him. Instead, in His wisdom, he is sending down eighteen of us-how to say?-substitutes to play against you, one for each hole."
Elliott almost burst out laughing, not because of the information Leonardo had just imparted to him, but because the severe Tuscan accent had summoned to his mind's eye the image of SNL's Father Guido Sarducci.
Once recovered from his near hysteria, he wondered why God had chosen Leonardo in particular for this opening hole, and who would be his (equally extraordinary?) opponents thereafter.
"The honor, she is yours, I think."
Elliott accepted, although he couldn't figure out why he would be given the honor over Leonardo. Had God given it to him because, after all, it was his life that was at stake? Would it be the last time in the match he would have it?
Determined not to be bothered by these negative thoughts, as well as by all the jetsam bobbing around in his head, Elliott approached the cart, grabbed a Big Bertha Titanium 454 driver from his bag, and walked to the tee-box. As he Velcroed on his off-white FootJoy StaSof glove and propped up his Titleist NXT ball on a yellow tee, his eyes slowly surveyed the terrain ahead of him.
The first hole at Inwood is pretty straightforward, a short, 345-yard par-4. (They'd be playing the blue tees today.) Most of the trouble is on the right, in the form of an expansive driving range that Elliott had gotten to know intimately in his slice-filled youth. For some reason, it had been designed immediately adjacent to the first hole.
Farther down lurks a massive area of marshland and reeds, beyond which is the dreaded Bay. Definitely OB. A sliced drive is obviously big trouble. Your ball would either land in the driving range, surrounded by thousands of old range balls with those thick red circles painted around their circumferences, or, if you really tagged it, be lost for all eternity in the mucky fen.
The left-to-right wind picked up considerably, making a slice even more disastrous, as Elliott took his stance. He was trying hard not to be overwhelmed by the aura of his opponent, or by what was at stake in the match. On the take-back, he thought only about pronating his wrists and drawing the ball, or at least not slicing it.
Keep it straight or left-fairway. Turn your wrists. Back to the target ... back to the target ... back to the target!
Just as Elliott uttered the penultimate syllable, his wrists exploded at impact, pronating as he had wanted them to, a fraction behind his lower body. This enabled him to avoid opening his clubface and slicing the ball. He couldn't control every drive this way, but to his relief, he did this time.
The ball jumped off the tee like a rocket and described a magnificent arc that he had effected in the past only occasionally. Starting out to the right, it corrected itself at about a hundred yards, veering gently to the left against the wind. A perfect draw!
To Elliott's delight, his Titleist landed 240 yards down the fairway, center cut.
It was Leonardo's turn now, which allowed Elliott to make a more detailed study of his opponent. He noted that Leo-he liked the idea of calling the great man Leo, if only to himself-was clad in surprisingly modern garb, all Italian, of course. A stylish navy-and-white-striped polo, by Fila. White Armani slacks. A pair of handsome cream-colored leather golf shoes, obviously handcrafted in the land of Buonarroti, Garibaldi, and Valpolicella.
My God! It is him! I'm playing against the creator of the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and The Virgin of the Rocks! The author of The Notebooks! The student of anatomy, botany, optics, mechanics, geology, aerology, hydrology, and meteorology! The creator of the underwater diving suit and the flying machine! Painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, scientist, musician, innovator, inventor!
Elliott had to calm down from the realization that he was actually playing against this icon. Watching Leonardo tee up his ball, Elliott reflected that, in a bizarre twist of irony, a mere six months ago he had been driving through France-Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley-on a research grant and had stopped for an hour to gaze upon the rectangular stone tomb, at the château at Amboise, of ... Leonardo himself!
He ruminated on a few other things as he watched the man from Vinci take his practice swings.
He's a lefty. Of course he is, which is why he was so good at that mirror writing. His tempo isn't as smooth as Bob Charles's or as athletic as Russ Cochran's or as compressed as Mike Weir's or as pure as Phil Mickelson's. In fact, it's sort of gawky! Short, compact backswing, a bit herky-jerky through impact, off-balanced at the follow-through ...
What concentration! I've never seen anyone so completely into the moment, so totally focused.
And those clubs! Made of ancient wood, maybe an Italian analogue to hickory? They're gorgeous, but primitive-looking, and the grooves on the driver have almost disappeared, probably from many centuries of use.
I wonder if ... Could Leo have designed them himself? Could it be? Did golf thus originate in the late fifteenth century in the rolling hills of Tuscany, and not around the same time in Scotland, as common knowledge supposes? Am I actually observing the man who, along with all the other impressive items on his résumé, is also the inventor of ... the golf club?
Leonardo was set. While Elliott observed, unprepared for what came next. Leonardo's swing may have looked a bit odd, but there was something calculated about it, as if it were the result of a great deal of observation and thinking. After an unprepossessing waggle, the arms took the club back crooked-sorta like Miller Barber's or Jim Furyk's backswing, Elliott thought-but returned to the ball on precisely the same arc, not one degree higher or lower.
Then-tock!-the club propelled the ball into the fairway, as if it were thrown by some great, primitive catapultlike contraption. Elliott looked at the moving sphere in awe. It was not a great shot, nor even a pretty one, but he had never seen a golf ball sent forward into a blustery wind as straight or as true. It was as if, rather than hit the ball, Leonardo had projected it the way an assembly-line machine would expel the product of its fabrication.
The ball landed softly in the fairway, a modest 180 yards from the tee, but in what seemed to be its precise mathematical center.
While Elliott watched the drive, a quote surfaced in his brain (as one often did), from Leonardo's Notebooks, the section discussing mechanics and its various components-weight, force, percussion, movement, impetus. Elliott had never realized it, but when Leonardo wrote about force 500 years ago, he might just as well have been talking about golf: "Force is nothing but a spiritual energy, an invisible power, which is created and imparted, through violence from without, by animated bodies to inanimate bodies.... Retardation strengthens, and speed weakens it. It lives by violence and dies from liberty."
Elliott realized that he was actually witnessing the powerful idea in practice!
"Molto bene. Nice shot." Elliott didn't wish to appear patronizing or starstruck, but, after all, it was a nice shot. The two replaced their drivers in their respective bags, and Elliott got behind the wheel.
"Mind if I drive?"
"Per piacere, I beg of you."
Despite the distance advantage his drive had given him, Elliott felt queasy.
Was the pressure of having to win already starting to take its psychological toll? Perhaps it was the strangeness of playing against you-know-who? Or not knowing what to say to this awesome personage?
To break the ice, Elliott proffered the following profundity:" So ... nice clubs!"
As soon as the words tripped off his tongue, he realized how banal and idiotic they sounded.
What kind of a moron are you? What could you be thinking? Here you are, sitting beside arguably the world's most creative mind ever, a genius about whom you've often lectured, and you ask him not about how nature works or the artistic organization of the cosmos or even how he had developed the painterly technique of atmospheric perspective.
But ... nice clubs?
Leonardo, however, seemed pleased by the compliment.
"È vero. They are nice, no? I designed them myself, around 1485, I think, in the private forge of my friend Ludovico Sforza. They are pretty old, but they still work pretty good."
Excerpted from MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN by Bob Mitchell Copyright © 2006 by Bob Mitchell. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Bob Mitchell is a dedicated sports fanatic and the author of seven nonfiction books. He studied at Williams, Columbia, and Harvard, where he received a Ph.D. in French and Comparative Literature. He was a French professor for eleven years at Harvard, Purdue, and Ohio State; served as a creative director at a number of New York ad agencies; and spent a year in Tel Aviv as a special consultant on commercial film writing and production. He lives in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife, Susan.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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What a delightful book! It is poignant as well as extremely funny. I recommend the book highly and only wish that I could apply the wonderful life lessons on a daily basis to my own life.
Match Made In Heaven¿s improbable premise, a life or death golf game orchestrated by God, is matched only by it¿s surprisingly clever conclusion. The story contains as many intricate twists and turns as the best designed golf course. This is a book about golf for the golfer and non-golfer alike, with as much to say about life as golf, perhaps more. The philosophy and character of its all-star cast, ranging from Leonardo DaVinci to Babe Ruth, Beethoven to John Lennon, Picasso to Marilyn Monroe, is impeccably captured by an author who is as insightful as he is creative. Sprinkled with a generous dose of light humor, MMIH is a must-read page-turner unlike any other. It should be this year¿s runaway best-seller. Five stars.
Match Made in Heaven is a compelling read.After finishing a chapter,I always needed to know who was going to appear on the next tee. Once I found out, I couldn't put the book down, continued reading, and devoured the book in short order. The cast of characters assembled by the author was wonderfully diverse.The philosophies they espoused gave a superb insight into what is truly important in life. I am on my second read now because I'm afraid that I missed some of MMIH's nuances.
Once my wife and I started to read this book, we couldn't put it down. A totally unique story line that features wit and laughter balanced by moments of wisdom, insight and poignancy. In a disarming way, this book teaches us once again that in the game of life (like golf) fulfillment is found not in winning or losing,but in the character of one's struggle in playing the game.
Witty, learned, and unpretentious: even a non-golfer can take something away from this whimsical novel. The Socratic dialogue and the encounter with Freud were my favorites.
Golf?God?Not for me. I thought. However I was intrigued enough to pick it up.Luckily, it took me3 chapters to finish my grande mocha latte and by that time I was hooked.I loved seeing such familiar characters in such a unique way. It's funny, warm and reflective. I loved it!!!!!!!
Whether you're a golf nut, a history buff or just a great book lover, Bob Mitchell has written Match Made in Heaven for you. The raw power of a life and death outcome, the unimaginable handicap of playing against God and the constant distraction of a parade of the most colorful characters in history (DaVinci, WC Fields, Shakespeare and John Lennon to name but a few) make this not only a novel idea, but a great novel. Storytelling from the blue tees.
Somewhat dry reading. Did not care for Shakespeare's chapter. All poetry. One really has to be a golfer to appreciate this book. Nice ending.
Bob Mitchell's novel, 'Match Made in Heaven' is a wonderfully creative tour de force describing a life or death 18-hole golf match between God and and one man Elliott. If Elliot succeeds in winning the match over God's 18 'designated hitters,' he will receive a reprieve from imminent death. His opponents happen to be some of history's most famous personages, e.g. Leonard da Vinci, Moses, Freud, Bethoven, even Marilyn Monoe, from whom Elliott derives valuable lessons, mostly unrelated to the golf game. It's a far out premise that Mitchell handles extrememly well with humor and insight and from which the reader can derive something about competition itself but even more about human frailties and strength.