The Match: The Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever - Book Review

May 20, 2013

imageThe Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever
by Mark Frost

Grade A
Teacher’s Comments: A good golf book, but short of Frost’s earlier work, The Greatest Game

Mark Frost’s The Greatest Game Ever Played, an account of the legendary 1913 US Open, in which amateur Francis Ouimet beat the great Harry Vardon is one of the best golf books ever written. More than an account of a tournament, it uses the event to cast a light on the era’s problems of social class and distinction. In that, it’s not just a great golf book—it’s simply a great book that has been enjoyed by everyone I’ve shared it with, golfers and non-golfers alike.

The Match in some ways picks up on that story. Years after the Open, Ouimet’s former caddy Eddie Lowry heads west, where he becomes a multi-millionaire car dealer, and a golf patron. In particular, Lowry “sponsors” a collection of outstanding amateurs by giving them jobs at his dealerships. The amateurs, including Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, work at selling cars in the morning and golf in the afternoon. In this, Lowry skirts a fine line between amateur and professional—a ruse which has tragic consequences later.

Lowry also has become friends with Bing Crosby, and it’s at a party for Crosby’s 1956 Clambake (now the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am) that he makes a bet with fellow millionaire George Coleman: that Venturi and Ward can beat anyone in the world. Coleman takes Lowry up on the bet (the size of which still is unknown) and rounds up his own pair of players: none other than Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. A private match is scheduled before a practice round of the Crosby Clambake.

It’s a concept so fabulous—so phantasmagorical—that I had, and still have, a hard time believing it. It’s one of those tales that is so outrageous it could only be true. Think about it: a private match between the teams of Hogan and Nelson, and Venturi and Ward to settle a bet made by Francis Ouimet’s caddy.

Even more amazing is that I don’t ever recall reading about it before. The Golf Blogger is very well read on the history of golf, but this was off the radar screen.

I won’t tell you the outcome of The Match, for that would spoil the suspense in the hole-by-hole account. But in truth, it really doesn’t matter. Win or lose, the Match represented the last gasp of the amateur golfer as a contender on golf’s biggest stages. As the book’s subtitle suggests, the Match was a metaphorical “Day The Game of Golf Changed Forever.” Prior to the era of The Match, there still was some hope that a brilliant amateur would return the game to the realm of Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet. It was rapidly becoming clear, however, that wouldn’t happen.

The bulk of the book covers the match itself, but Frost also offers brief backgrounds on the principals: Lowry, Hogan, Nelson, Venturi and Ward. The material on the first four offered nothing that I haven’t already read in other biographies of those players (although if you have not read their biographies, this book covers the basics well). I was more intrigued by the fate of Harvie Ward, who suffered through a series of difficulties connected to his involvement with Lowry. The background, however, does not equal that of The Greatest Game. And in that, The Match is a somewhat lesser book—and one that may not appeal as much to non-golfers.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly to golfers, and especially to those for whom the names Nelson and Hogan still carry some magic. Fans of The Greatest Game also may find it interesting as a sort of sequel. But I can’t see it reaching the greater reading audience.

Posted By The Original Golf Blogger

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Comments

  • Yes, it is a fine book, indeed. I have not read Frost’s previous work on Ouimet yet, so I can’t comment on your view that The Match comes up a little short. Quite simply, I loved the book. Especially Frost’s intense characterization of the four protagonists.

    In fact, I conducted an interview with Mark which you can listen to if so inclined.

    You can find it at http://www.eagleparbirdie.com/50226711/the_match.php.

    Chris Henry
    eagleparbirdie.com

    Posted by Chris Henry on 12/31

  • That’s a VERY good interview, and I like it even more because it seems to validate much of what I had in my review. I was glad to see that I had picked up on the themes that Frost had intended and I agree with him that Ward is the most interesting character in the book. I would like to see a full-blown biography of Harvie Ward; heck, he doesn’t even have a real bio in Wikipedia.

    The information on the suicide of Hogan’s father, however, is not new, nor is the early relationship between Hogan and Nelson. I have read those accounts in several places; I am almost certain that one of them was Sampson’s book on Hogan—but since I have read several bios of the man, they all seem to blur into one.

    As for the Ouimet book—The Greatest Game—run, don’t walk, to the bookstore and get a copy. Mrs. Golfblogger, who is not a golfer, thought it one of the best she’s read in ages. It’s a book that reaches far beyond the game.

    Posted by The Original Golf Blogger on 12/31

  • My Uncle loves golf and I particularly like books that let you see the other issues with the times the real event takes place like you noted. It is always interesting to see how events and social issues collide…that’s why Forest Gump was so great; showed you all the different social issues with some events.

    Posted by Matthew A. on 02/07

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