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'The Best of Plimpton'

By: Bob Spiwak


If you are at all familiar with George Plimpton as a person, a writer, a quarterback, a pitcher, a boxer, a golfer, a high-wire walker, and wearer of a dozen other hats, you may wonder why this review should be included in a golf-centric vehicle such as Cybergolf. And you would be justified.

George Plimpton was all the above, primarily because he would try anything: for the publicity, experience, recognition, strange or even zany pursuits. Probably best known by the movie "Paper Tiger" - which chronicled his days with the NFL's Detroit Lions, he also pitched part of an exhibition baseball game when the American and National Leagues squared off.

Most golfers I know, and the millions I do not, are all-sports fans. Waiting on the tee, a discussion may ensue about yesterday's pro football or baseball game, or the college equivalents. In this book, Plimpton has elegantly made it simple to pick your game.

It is divided into sections entitled Participation, Personages, [Pro] Golf Caddies, Golf Places and Indulgences. Pick your sport or person.

I first chose Harding Park Golf Course of the two titled venues. Having played there in the mid-1980s, I thought the San Francisco muni was okay but scabrous in places. However, in a recent TV tournament it was displayed as a completely redone course. The author was not writing about the course, however; it was about a tournament where he was paired with Rod Funseth and two others in the group ahead of - gasp - Arnold Palmer.

You may have heard the story. Plimpton drives his ball into the pucker brush and goes to find it, taking a very long time, while Palmer waits on the tee to hit. So long does it take to find the errant shot that Funseth and the other straight drivers walk ahead, leaving Plimpton searching for his ball. Long story short, he finds the ball and sees Arnie swinging on the tee. Ultimately, he picks up his ball as Palmer finally hits and his "Army" swarms ahead of him, engulfing Plimpton, who has to use the Sani-Can, then a fairly new device.

After doing what he must therein, Plimpton opens the squeaky, rusty-hinged door to see Palmer a few yards away over his second shot. Plimpton ducks back into the can and the door squeals shut behind him. He waits. Then there's a knock on the door. He opens it, and there's "The King," who politely asks him to finish up and exit.

But Plimpton ducks back inside hoping to hear footsteps walking away. Only there's silence. He waits for the sound of club striking ball but it does not come. Rather, Arnold comes to the door and again politely asks him to leave. George explains he does not want to disturb the great golfer, who replies that while addressing his ball all he could concentrate on was the guy in the toilet. Plimpton abashedly leaves and Arnold resumes playing.

An adventure at La Quinta had Plimpton playing solo at night on a par-3 course, playing four balls, each of which he ascribed to a person he knew. But the writer stayed out past closing and was playing when the entire course, including George, was inundated by the automatic sprinkler system. There's more to that story, but it needn't be told here.

The very best anecdote is one my friend Bob Cram and I remember when we play together. It must be excerpted here. Every golfer - whether a neophyte or a pro - can identify with it. George was a high-handicap golfer.

He refers to the teed ball as "A spheroid that is barely discernible fourteen stories down on its tee. He imagines a group of Japanese admirals in the bowels of the golf ship. ". . . in their hands they hold ancient and useless voice tubes into which they yell the familiar orders: 'Eye on the ball! Chin steady! Left arm stiff! Flex the knees! Swing from the inside out! Follow through! Keep head down!" . . ."A shank! A shank! My God, we've got another shank.' "

It continues in this fantasy for some time, too much to recite here, and the flavor is in the continuity of reading it. I find the passage hilarious, as we have all been there. It won't cost you much to read these and other excerpts in your very own book. Amazon has them used (as of May 2014) from a penny upwards to $15 for a remaining paperback collector's copy.

My copy happens to be a first-edition, first-printing copy, with an excellent dust jacket. It's yours for a hundred bucks, or a permanent cure to my slice.

"The Best of Plimpton," by George Plimpton, 1990, ISBN 0-87113-391-1

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 while awaiting the Korean War draft. First published at the age of 12, he entered the golf-writing arena in the early 1980s as a freelancer and staff writer for Golf Course News and GolfWeek, all the while freelancing for other publications in the U.S. and abroad. A co-founder of the Northwest Golf Media Association and contributing editor of Cybergolf, he lives below a mountain near Mazama, Wash., with a wife and pets on his former Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf and Flubbers Club. They have unwelcome guests like cougars, bears, deer, and Bob's very high handicap.