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Until now. In The Scorecard Always Lies veteran Sports Illustrated golf correspondent Chris Lewis reaches past the results, stats, and sound-bites to focus on the personalities and personal lives of the sport's top players. While embracing all the drama and excitement of the 2006 PGA Tour season, he takes us inside the locker rooms, hotel rooms, and private planes to deliver an unrivaled, behind-thescenes look at the Tour and the men who play it.
Lewis spent thirty weeks of the 2006 season on the road with the best golfers in the world, exploring their backstories, motivations, and preoccupations, and collecting telling, character-revealing tales. He bore witness to both the hard work and the privilege that frame their lifestyles. But he also discovered a Tour that to this point remained largely unknown -- one where a player while pursuing dreams of glory might also be suing his agent, going through a messy divorce, or looking to throw down in the locker room with one of his peers.
There's John Daly trying to explain how his wife has just been taken off to jail. There's Chris Couch making a midnight, barefoot run through a derelict district of New Orleans, fearing he was about to be kidnapped, and taking refuge in a tattoo parlor.
We watch as Tiger Woods tries to deal with losing his father to cancer, while refusing to abandon his fondness for blue humor. We see Phil Mickelson hanging with rock stars, sharing a Masters victory gift with a national championship-winning college football coach, and hooking up a sportswriter with a would-be groupie's phone number. All in all, we get a rare glimpse of the off-course lives of the Tour's stars and their supporting cast.
At turns humorous, touching, and insightful, the book sheds new light on every aspect of Tour life, from easygoing Tuesday practice rounds to feverpitch Sunday showdowns, always taking care to show how their off-course concerns inform their every swing.
Fans will savor the fullest portrait yet of a group of players who, throughout their successes and struggles, remain unfailingly smart, funny, and engaging, and make up the most intriguing subculture in all of sports.
The idea for this book came out of a clock radio one morning in a hotel room in Chicago. In town to cover the Western Open, I was sitting at my computer drinking coffee and checking my email, with the radio dial (thanks to the room's previous occupant) tuned to one of the city's innumerable sports talk radio stations. That morning's guest was a local baseball beat writer.
During the call-in portion of the show, the listeners were unconcerned about results, stats, and standings. Instead, they wanted to know about the reporter's close-quarters experiences with the players. Who, they asked, were the easiest to deal with? The toughest? Which were the nicest, and the nastiest? In essence, these were all variations on the same question: What are these guys really like?
It wasn't surprising. Sportswriters and our television colleagues are expected to supply such inside dope at every impromptu conversational occasion -- in elevators, on airplanes, at cocktail parties. But hearing those questions often enough, it's hard not to notice in the subtext a subtle accusation -- that we media types aren't doing our jobs. Fans want from us a sense for the personalities of their favorite athletes. But they evidently aren't getting it from standard TV, newspaper, and magazine coverage.
The athletes deserve part ofthe blame. Sports' new riches have made it unnecessary for them to use the press as a promotional tool. And why open up to strangers, when a stray unwise remark can result in brand-damaging embarrassment? But bland reporting is the media's fault, too. Publishers, editors, and TV execs -- claiming that in the Internet age, immediacy is everything -- care little about going behind the scenes, especially since it costs money to send reporters and camera crews to players' homes for in-depth profiles. And by keeping it short and sweet, they say, they're only giving their audience what it wants. Who cares if the voices on the hotel room clock radio argue otherwise?
This book aims to satisfy, if only a little, that lingering desire for up-close-and-personal reporting. A fan myself, I believe that spectator sports are far less interesting, even tedious, without a real feeling for the people playing the games -- their backstories, habits, idiosyncracies, and their off-course preoccupations and behavior. Its goal, in other words, is to humanize at least a small group of professional athletes, and to provide a broader, richer, more personal context for the numbers they write on their scorecards.
It's ironic, in a way, that the book's subject is pro golfers. Traditionally, these athletes have been far better than others at sharing their private lives. Arnold Palmer set the modern standard, hanging in hotel bars with reporters until all hours of the night. Similarly, Jack Nicklaus spent interminable periods standing in front of the scribes, answering their every last question. As recently as the mid-nineties, John Feinstein, who was then a generalist (and whose book A Good Walk Spoiled was, in a sense, a model for this one) could alight on the PGA Tour and expect unlimited time with a dozen of golf's biggest names. The players -- whose incomes, historically, lagged far behind those of their sporting peers -- knew that courting the press was the best way for their little boutique sport to garner extra attention. They indulged sportswriters in order to show fans that there was more to them, and to the game, than was immediately apparent.
But that, along with everything else in the game, changed with the arrival of Tiger Woods.
Woods' first professional tee shot, in August 1996, had the socioeconomic exit velocity of a NASA rocket. It carried golf far beyond its usual demographics, growing its spectator base across lines of class, age, and race. And that meant more money. Between 1996 and 2001, the Tour's television revenue, its primary purse-feeder, nearly tripled, growing from about $85 million to $215 million per year.
Raw numbers, however, didn't describe Tiger's impact nearly as well as the way he altered the day-to-day business of the sport, and the lives of his peers. One summer evening in 2003, Woods, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, and Phil Mickelson found themselves standing on the 17th green of a golf course in the hills overlooking San Diego. They were bathed in temporary floodlights. The occasion was a Monday night prime-time telecast placed strategically where, in colder months, football would be. The match they'd just played, The Battle at The Bridges, was the fifth in a series of Tiger-centric made-for-TV affairs. Mickelson and Garcia, the winners, collected $600,000 apiece -- more than was earned by the thirty-first highest player (Nick Price) on the 1995 Tour money list. The losers, Woods and Els, took home $250,000 each -- not bad for a day's work.
Conducting the postgame interviews was Ian Baker-Finch. After trading a few words with Woods and Els, he turned to Mickelson, who had been playing a home game. He was a member at The Bridges.
"So," Baker-Finch asked, "do you think it was a little bit of local knowledge that helped you out tonight?"
Mickelson gave a brief, innocuous answer, and then took a detour. "You know, I'd just like to say one thing," he began. "On behalf of Ernie, myself, and Sergio, and all professional golfers, we want to thank Tiger for making this possible. Because, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't be playing in prime time, and we just appreciate the opportunity to do that."
Mickelson's ring-kissing seemed weird, but he was dead right. Baker-Finch backed him up, remarking that Woods had made golf "a sexy sport." More seriously put, it was because of Tiger, as Tour commissioner Tim Finchem once said, that the game was now positioned "to become one of the premier mass sports."
As Tiger mainstreamed golf, the new cash influx remade the Tour from top to bottom. Foreign players flocked to the U.S., pushing aside the American-born sons of country clubbers who used to fill its ranks. The number of people who could make a living on the game's periphery -- swing coaches, sports psychologists, trainers and the like -- grew exponentially. Even the nature of the Tour caddie was transformed. Once, the men who carried the pros' bags were ordinary joes whose love of the game far outstripped their hopes of financial security. Now, more often than not, they were players' relatives or college buddies, who knew they might make more caddying than they would as bankers or lawyers.
The players themselves -- even the moderately successful ones -- now enjoyed lifestyles worthy of a Robin Leach voice-over, with private jets, multiple residences and multiple nannies, some of whom even took care of children. Indeed, their only headaches were the effects of raising their kids in such luxury. In a hotel room one day, Jim Furyk heard the son of a fellow pro say, "This room stinks -- there's no mini-bar!" Lee Westwood's five-year-old son, Sam, once turned to his father during a rare commercial flight and said, "Daddy, what are these people doing on our airplane?"
Nothing, however, changed more than fan expectations. Before Tiger, golf had never (apart from two or three Sundays per year) been much of a spectator draw. And for good reason. True excitement was rare. The pace was slow, and the competion, even on television, was hard to follow. The subtleties of the game were elusive: while everyone recognizes how hard it is to dunk, few appreciate the difficulty of a 60-yard bunker shot. And there was little opportunity for casual sports fans to develop a feel for such nuances. Unless you lived at a country club, you couldn't just run out into the backyard on a Sunday afternoon after watching your heroes in action and try to imitate their feats.
Further, unknowns too often emerged from deep in the field to push familiar names out of the spotlight. In no other sport could a mystery guest like Craig Perks or Todd Hamilton win a marquee event, because in other sports, they weren't invited in the first place. When the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met in the NBA finals, you could be reasonably sure the Buffalo Braves wouldn't storm out of the locker room and steal the trophy. But in golf, that sort of thing happened all the time.
Woods, however, rewrote most of those rules. The first six years of his career were one long highlight film, producing nonstop SportsCenter moments. The hole-outs and fist-pumps obviated any need for a deep understanding of the game. He also eliminated, to a fair extent, the problem of lesser-known winners. On Sundays he showed up as regularly as the Dallas Cowboys, and never seemed to lose. By way of explaining his own winlessness at major championships, Colin Montgomerie once said, "It's difficult to win majors in this era, because every year, Tiger takes two of them." Monty's accounting was exaggerated, but only slightly. And the ratio wasn't much different if you included regular-season Tour events. By the end of 2006, Woods had won a whopping fifty-four of his 200 Tour starts.
If Tiger turned golf into a one-ring circus, no one complained about it. Through most of his first decade as a pro, it was financially healthier than ever. The money was so good, in fact, that the game had to do virtually nothing to sell itself. The necessity for players like Palmer and Nicklaus to court the fans through the media had disappeared. Not even the lowliest players needed such attention. They too were getting rich, even though few fans knew their names.
But in late 2002 -- shortly before Mickelson's speech at The Battle at The Bridges -- a certain downside to Woods' hegemony was coming into focus. His decision to undertake a swing change, leading to a stretch of substandard play, resulted in a steady decline of the Tour's television ratings. Each year, viewership for its Sunday broadcasts (including majors) slipped by about five percent. It became clear that interest fell through the floor when Tiger wasn't at the top of the game. And there were no second-tier stories to fall back on, since Woods had no real rivals. It didn't help that his dominance had stunted the development of young American pros. They rarely glimpsed the winner's circle, and faltered when they did, because they never had a chance to learn how to finish off a tournament.
Worse news came in 2005. Woods began to rebound (winning six tournaments, including two majors), but the ratings continued to fall. Compared to the previous year, the average Sunday viewership for events -- not just any events, but those in which he played -- dropped fifteen percent. When Woods won the British Open at St. Andrews, about as compelling a scene as the sport could muster, U.S. ratings were only marginally better (fewer than 100,000 households) than for little-known Todd Hamilton's victory at the previous year's Open.
The novelty, it appeared, had worn off. And the television executives noticed. Later that year, Disney, the parent company of ABC, owners of that Monday night prime-time franchise, pulled the plug on the series, declining to renew the $50 million, five-year deal that secured Woods' participation. The unthinkable had happened. Tiger got fired.
To be sure, the swoon in his and golf's popularity showed a volatility in the sport's new Tiger-curious golf audience. Excellence wasn't enough, especially for young male viewers increasingly distracted by the Internet, Grand Theft Auto, and next-door neighbors who looked and behaved like Britney Spears.
The Tour responded by revamping its product, announcing a schedule contraction that, beginning in 2007, would bring the top players together more often, and a new season-ending playoff series, the FedEx Cup. Both were good ideas. But neither did much to optomize the sport's greatest resource, the players themselves.
Pro golfers are a special breed. The personality traits that they bring to the game, or are inculcated by the game, make them far more interesting than other athletes: they are at once fiercely analytical and creative, confident and humble, self-critical and good-humored. On top of that, they, like the game itself, tend to be relentlessly social. They usually make good use of their plentiful downtime, using off-weeks to indulge off-course interests, and, during tournament weeks, taking in ballgames, concerts, and dining out, all in the country's liveliest cities and toniest resort towns. That means they always have something outside of golf to talk about.
And despite all the Tiger Era's changes, they can still be remarkably open and candid. While they resist reporters they only see a few times a year, they are, with the beat writers who travel the Tour with them, more willing than the average athlete or even layman to let their guards down. Names as big as Vijay Singh and Ernie Els are still capable of giving cell phone numbers to reporters who cover the Tour on a weekly basis. In close company, even Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson can come across with jokes, anecdotes, and well-placed pokes in the belly. Their behind-the-scenes stories, and those of their peers, never really went away. They just went underground and were still waiting to be told.
Copyright © 2007 by Chris Lewis
Excerpted from The Scorecard Always Lies by Chris Lewis Copyright © 2007 by Chris Lewis. 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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Posted May 28, 2008
I picked up this book looking for something that would shed a little light on the golfers we watch on T.V. I enjoy reading about the golfers more than books on instruction, but found this book lacking to a degree. Some of the stories, though interesting, seem to lack any details to prove their authenticity. It is as if the author read some magazines or newspapers and then just put together a book of stories we've all read about before. It also seems as if the author may have heard about the stories indirectly and not have the personal connections that are claimed. The idea of a book like this has such great potential yet this one comes up very short. Most surprisingly of all the downsides to this book is the number of grammatical errors, mistypes, and mistakes in the book. It is hard to believe a company would send this to print without a better job proofreading it. This alone makes a reader question the validity of the publisher as well as the author and his information.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 7, 2007
Posted August 4, 2007
Enjoyed the book, especially Lewis' deep dives into the players' personal lives and stories. Makes Sunday afternoon tournament viewing on tv that much more enjoyable - you know who you're watching. Definitely worth the read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.