Originally drawn to the game by his father, Carl wisely quit golfing in 1973, when Richard Nixon was hunkered down like a meth-crazed badger in the White House, Hank Aaron was one dinger shy of Babe Ruths all-time home run record, and The Who had just released Quadrophenia. But some ambitions refuse to die, and as the yearsand memories of shanked 7-ironsfaded, it dawned on Carl that there might be one thing in life he could do better in middle age than he could as a youth. So gradually he ventured back to the dreaded driving range, this time as the father of a five-year-old sonand also as a grandfather.
What possesses a man to return in midlife to a game at which hed never excelled in his prime, and which in fact had dealt him mostly failure, angst and exasperation? Heres why I did it: Im one sick bastard.
And thus we have Carls foray into a world of baffling titanium technology, high-priced golf gurus, bizarre infomercial gimmicks and the mind-bending phenomenon of Tiger Woods; a maddening universe of hooks and slices where Carl ultimatelyand foolishlyagrees to compete in a country-club tournament against players who can actually hit the ball. Thats the secret of the sports infernal seduction, he writes. It surrenders just enough good shots to let you talk yourself out of quitting.
Hiaasens chronicle of his shaky return to this bedeviling pastime and the ensuing demolition of his self-esteemculminating with the savage 45-hole tournamentwill have you rolling with laughter. Yet the bittersweet memories of playing with his own father and the glow he feels when watching his own young son belt the ball down the fairway will also touch your heart. Forget Tiger, Phil and Ernie. If you want to understand the true lure of golf, turn to Carl Hiaasen, who has written an extraordinary book for the ordinary hacker.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 41.
- Review Date: 2008-03-03
- Reviewer: Staff
Hiaasen (Skinny Dip), an admittedly woeful golfer, recounts his clumsy resumption of the game after a 32-year layoff. Why did he take up golf so long after quitting at the age of 20? “I'm one sick bastard,” he writes. Hiaasen interweaves passages about his return to the game with diary entries covering more than a year and a half on the links. He mixes childhood memories of playing with his father, who died prematurely, with anecdotes, including the time he and a friend ejected an invasion of poisonous toads from his friend's patio with short irons. His analysis of his lessons, hapless rounds and gimmicky golf equipment is hilarious, and his vivid descriptions are vintage Hiaasen, such as golf balls that are designed to “run like a scalded gerbil.” Hiaasen also touches on topics he writes about in his novels and newspaper columns, lamenting the overdevelopment of Florida and skewering crooked politicians and lobbyists prone to lavish golf junkets. He finishes his journey with a detailed round-by-round account of his pitiful play in a member-guest tournament on his home course (his discouragement is cheered, however, when his wife and young son joyfully take up the game). With the satirically skilled Hiaasen, who rarely breaks 90 on the links, this narrative is an enjoyable ride. (May)
Even if your father isn't out to relive the glory days of college athletics, chances are there's at least one sport he believes he can mastergolf. The fancy that getting a little white ball into a small round cup can't really be that hard has a surprising hold on the human psyche, as Carl Hiaasen admits in The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport. With biting humor, Hiaasen shares his personal quest for the weekend golfer's Holy Grailbreaking 80 (well, 90)amid challenges like alligators, hostile eagles (the feathered kind), monkeys, wayward golf carts and seductive, treacherous golf clubs (the kind that fit in a bag, not the kind you join). Hiaasen has a tendency to veer off-course in his narrative (usually into leftist politics), but he punches back on quickly enough, and his insights into the insane lengths a golfer will go to in hopes of a lower score are always entertaining. If you've been bitten by the golf bug, you'll appreciate every moment of Hiaasen's magnificent obsession. If you haven't, read The Downhill Lie and laugh at those of us who have.