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‘Follow the Wind’ by Bo Links
This is the third golf novel I have read that was written by a lawyer, involves a fantasy, and essentially deals with Bob Jones. Where the book becomes an enigma wrapped in a riddle surrounded by a mystery (thank you, Mr. Churchill), Ben Hogan is the catalyst for what transpires.
Before even entering the portal of the book there is a grabber quote from Tommy Bolt. “Somebody asked me once, ‘Who’s better – Nicklaus or Hogan?’ My answer was, ‘I saw Nicklaus watch Hogan practice but I never saw Hogan watch Nicklaus practice.’ ”
Written in the first person, the author has sneaked onto a muni course in Berkeley, Calif., and, after some fine drives, hits one into the trees out of sight. As he searches for the ball he is enveloped in fog, which grows thicker, and he emerges onto a tiled floor where – Omigod! – Ben Hogan is washing his hands. It is a bathroom and Hogan admonishes the author about wearing spikes into the john.
From here the author comes upon a cast of players from the past. It is a club in which he’s a member and Walter Hagen is tending bar. Bobby Jones is in the corner chatting with Old Tom Morris and Tom the Younger. Little Eddie Lowrey, Francis Ouimet’s caddie in the 1913 Open, is a waiter and go-fer.
As the day wears on our hero sort of learns that he has been “chosen” to enter this ghostly hall of fame. He is not certain of his mission, but it somehow centers on Hogan, whom he finally meets on the range where bloody-handed Ben has been banging balls for hours. Unlike his reputation for more than taciturnity, Hogan engages in conversation with the protagonist (let’s call him Bo) and is both warm and then abruptly cool. Of course there is advice on hitting the ball. But why is the Wee Ice Mon forsaking the company of the other greats and practicing so hard?
Turns out that the entire company of immortals is fearful Hogan may be preparing to replay the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic, where Jack Fleck tied him and went on to win the tournament. Hogan was in sorry physical shape for the playoff after walking the final 36 the day before on crippled legs, the result of his famous auto accident. If he should replay the tournament of ’55 and win, it will change history, which will have a trickle-down effect on the club’s inhabitants.
The book is interspersed with headlines and newspaper stories about Hogan and Jones, and these are a nice break from the narrative.
Overall the book is a real good read, with a lot of apparently well-researched matter both biographically and in regard to many major tournaments. Bo Links seems to overplay Hogan’s famous near-fatal accident, and like a pro football replay, presents it from a variety of vantage points at various times. That part was a bit much for me.
My major quarrel with the book is when Links engages in a conversation with a character (I will withhold the name) who was one of the original Scottish shepherds using his crook or staff to hit rocks into the scrapes. My objection is based upon too much mysticism. (In all fairness, I must note I’ve tried reading “Golf in the Kingdom” seven times and have never gotten very far. My only regret is not that I never finished the book, but that I ever began it in the first place).
Also, this author, like many others, feels compelled to offer this stuff in phonetically written prose. “Ef ya doona ken aboot what ‘tis I spake off, thin yer nae lawnly, Aim spaken to ye raders.” And so on. I skipped most of the mystical secrets of golf because I couldn’t deal with the translation. But other readers might enjoy this stuff.
As a whole I liked the book – save for the above objections, and it’s one I’m certain I’ll read again.
“Follow the Wind” by Bo Links, Simon & Schuster, 1996, $16.95, ISBN 0-671-51058-4
Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he’s back to being a fanatical golfer. Now a contributing editor for Cybergolf, Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob’s most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultraprivate Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.