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The Wicked Game: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and the Story of Modern Golf

The Wicked Game: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and the Story of Modern Golf

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by Howard Sounes

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Golf is sometimes referred to as "the wicked game" because it is fiendishly difficult to play well. Yet in the parlance of the Tiger Woods generation, it's also a wickedly good game — rich, glamorous, and more popular than ever.

When we think about golf — as it is played at its highest level — we think of three names: Tiger Woods, the most


Golf is sometimes referred to as "the wicked game" because it is fiendishly difficult to play well. Yet in the parlance of the Tiger Woods generation, it's also a wickedly good game — rich, glamorous, and more popular than ever.

When we think about golf — as it is played at its highest level — we think of three names: Tiger Woods, the most famous sports figure in the world today, Arnold Palmer, the father of modern golf, and Jack Nicklaus, the game's greatest champion.In this penetrating, forty-year history of men's professional golf, acclaimed author Howard Sounes tells the story of the modern game through the lives of its greatest icons. With unprecedented access to players and their closest associates, Sounes reveals the personal lives, rivalries, wealth, and business dealings of these remarkable men, as well as the murky history of a game that has been marred by racism and sex discrimination. Among the many revelations, the complete and true story of Tiger Woods and his family background is untangled, uncovering surprising new details that inspire the golfer's father to exclaim, "Hell, you taught me some things about my life I never knew about!"Earl Woods and other members of Tiger Woods's family, his friends, girlfriends, caddies, coaches, and business associates were among the 150 people interviewed over two years of research. Others included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, fellow champions such as Ernie Els, Gary Player, Tony Jacklin, and Tom Watson, and golf moguls such as Mark H. McCormack, billionaire founder of the sports agency IMG.

The Wicked Game is a compelling story of talent, fame, wealth, and power. Entertaining for dedicated golfers, and accessible to those who only follow the game on television, this may be the most original and exciting sports book of the year.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sounes approaches a journalistic expos of the modern business of golf from a biographical perspective. Through riveting portraits of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the author of biographies on Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan turns the spotlight on the game's evolution, from country club pastime to a multibillion-dollar business, with multimillionaire players holing out and cashing in. The "wicked" in this game is in its documented history of discrimination against minorities, women and the less-than-rich who can't afford the country club dues. (The "Caucasian clause" existed in the rules of the PGA of America from 1934 until 1961.) In modern parlance, it also refers to being wickedly difficult to play and wickedly fun. With the advent of charismatic players such as Palmer and Woods, and the rise of sports marketing pioneered by the late Mark McCormack and IMG management, golf became accessible to the average player and attractive to big business by way of endorsements. McCormack realized that "most people who follow golf also play the game." He figured they would pay to own equipment and clothing endorsed by their favorite players, pay to get advice from them and pay to watch demonstrations. With his handsome, folksy charm, Palmer created a new type of golf image and, with McCormack calling the shots, readily cashed in. Nicklaus's prodigious talent and latent appeal upped the odds and the purses. Now Woods has run with the ball further than anyone could have imagined. Sounes, who lives in London, chastises the PGA and the players for not being more politically active or correct; he chastises Woods for being the only player not to give him a personal interview. A slightly sensational style can be forgiven in light of the thoroughness of the research. For those tired of the numerous golf books written by players and coaches, or of those written by sports magazine journalists (many of whom depend on their good relationships with the players to get a story), this no-holds-barred history will be a breath of wickedly fresh air. Agent, Russell Galen. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Wicked Game

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and the Story of Modern Golf
By Sounes, Howard

William Morrow & Company

ISBN: 0060513861

Chapter One

Mister Palmer's Neighborhood

The hands are large and unusually strong, with the leathery feel of a workingman's hands. With hands like that a fellow could be a smith in a steel mill, which might have been the fate of Arnold Daniel Palmer had he not trained his fingers into the Vardon grip at an early age and swung himself into the history of golf. The hands were resting on the controls of the golfer's jet as he descended through the rain clouds to the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. There was a time, thirty or so years ago, when Palmer was the only professional golfer successful enough to afford a private airplane, dispensing with those wearisome road trips between tour events. Now there is so much money in the game that practically every tour player flies to work. Still, few own their planes. Even Tiger Woods leases. Palmer owned this $16 million Cessna Citation X and, at the age of seventy-two, he was the pilot.

When he made contact with the control tower, it was the slow, sonorous voice of a thousand television commercials -- for Pennzoil and myriad other products -- an instantly recognizable and engaging, though slightly too loud voice, for Palmer is a little deaf. The tower welcomed him home and gave N1AP permission to land; he lifted the flaps and the jet came roaring in over the rooftops of this gray steel town southeast of Pittsburgh. It is not the prettiest town in America. In truth, Latrobe has a tired look. Its vitality has been seeping away since the 1970s, when the steel industry went into recession, and the population has dwindled to less than nine thousand. But Latrobe still has its pride. Rolling Rock beer is brewed here. And, of course, Latrobe has Arnold Palmer, or one might say that Arnold Palmer has Latrobe, for he owns great swaths of the place and much of the rest is named in his honor.

Each spring, when he returns after wintering in Florida and California, where he also has homes, Palmer collects a new Cadillac from the parking lot of the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. It is left there for him by Arnold Palmer Motors, the local General Motors dealership. In late April 2002, he picked up a Cadillac Escalade and drove down Arnold Palmer Drive into Youngstown, the neighborhood he grew up in, and where he is very much a king of all he surveys. Many of the houses along the road are owned by Palmer or members of his family, and much of the surrounding land is his, including the wooded hillside in the distance, land that Arnold and his late wife, Winnie, acquired so developers could not spoil the countryside. Since Winnie's death from cancer in 1999, Palmer has also established the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve at the edge of town, a fond tribute to a beloved spouse. They were a famously close and happy couple, though some friends were taken aback when he started dating again soon after her death, keeping company now with a well-preserved woman in her early sixties by the name of Kathleen Gawthorp, who looks more than a little like Winnie did: petite and pretty and brunette. Arnie always had been popular with women.

Soon the fairways of Latrobe Country Club came into view, the golf course where Arnold's father worked as greenskeeper and club professional. Arnie owned the club now, and his kid brother, Jerry, managed it. Turning left opposite the entrance, Palmer powered the Escalade up a steep, tree-lined road to a parking area in front of a low, whitepainted building. These were the stables where his daughters, Amy and Peggy, used to keep ponies. Now that the girls are grown, with children of their own, Palmer has had the stables converted into offices. The welcome mat is embossed with his corporate logo of a multicolored golf umbrella. Inside are bright, interconnecting rooms, offices to five assistants led by Donald "Doc" Giffin, an owlish former Pittsburgh Press writer who has been Palmer's man Friday since 1966. Adjacent is the ranch-style house Arnold and Winnie built shortly after they married. This compound and the club across the road are Palmer's summer base, and it is a homely place without any of the obtrusive security young Tiger Woods needs to surround himself with in Florida. Palmer is protected by the fact that he is part of the community here in western Pennsylvania, where he was born and raised, and local people like him. They remember that when he became famous and reporters asked him where he was from, he didn't say he came from a place near Pittsburgh, as others would have, because almost nobody had heard of Latrobe. "Near Pittsburgh was not a phrase Arnie used," says Bob Mazero, his school friend and now doctor. He was Arnold Palmer of Latrobe. He was proud of the place, and that made people proud of him.

Virtually every day of Palmer's life is filled with business, with the golfer speaking frequently by telephone with his assistants and associates across the country, including Ed Seay, who runs the Palmer Course Design Company in Florida. Of the plethora of celebrity golfers in the lucrative industry of golf course design and construction, the most successful are Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, with Palmer's company building more courses, though Nicklaus's are considered superior* and are usually more expensive. Still, a Palmer course is hardly cheap, costing up to $500,000 per hole, and, with 250 courses in thirteen countries, this is one of the reasons he is so rich.

Another major source of income is endorsement work. The day after Palmer returned home, there was a photo shoot for the International GLUV Corporation, one of many companies he is contracted to. The cameras for the shoot were set up in the office foyer, the centerpiece of which is an array of trophies representing his ninety-two wins, including seven professional major wins.


Excerpted from The Wicked Game by Sounes, Howard Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Howard Sounes was born in 1965. He is the author of five works of nonfiction, published in thirteen languages, addressing diverse subjects. Each book is based on a huge amount of research and exclusive interviews conducted over a number of years, revealing a great deal of new information. Sounes's recent books include a celebrated biography of the American poet Charles Bukowski and Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. Sounes lives in London.

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Wicked Game: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and the Business of Modern Golf 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the most unusual golf books I've ever read: angry (about prejudice), passionate (about the great tournaments), melancholy at times (Earl Woods: fascinating), and sometimes funny (booze-hounds, infated egos, randy players and multi-million dollar business cockups galore). It's a hard book to sum up. Nothing like you expect. But, finally, very good indeed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Simply the best book about golf I have read since A Good Walk Spoiled. Sounes takes on the whole history of modern golf: the big names, the great championships, and the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that the golf scribes don't dare write about. Brilliant and entertaining.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is no denying that the golf world has endured elitism, racism, sexism, classism and, surely, other 'isms'. This book seeks to catalog them all. And, it provides a useful antidote to a lot of the gushy, gee-whiz golf journalism out there. But the author refuses to let the history stand on its own, defaulting all too often to what seems like petty moralization. In the end, the book just wasn't all that enjoyable.