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'The Caddie Who Played With Hickory' by John Coyne

By: Dr. John Wagner


After picking up this book, I thought, Oh well, another writer trying to make it big on a golf novel. This time, I feel John Coyne succeeds to a good - though not quite great - degree. But he writes well enough that I really enjoyed his latest effort.

This is the story of an 18-year-old just out of high school. He was the past state champion in golf who had been a caddie at Midlothian Golf Club in Chicago since he was 12. The year is 1946 and Walter Hagen has announced he is returning to Midlothian, the site of his U.S. Open win in 1914 where he beat Chick Evans by one stroke. Hagen is going to play a final round and will use hickory-shafted clubs.

What I found most interesting are the author's descriptions of these ancient clubs and how he weaves golf history into a decent novel. Plus, Coyne throws in a bit of his own philosophy of love and life. At one point, Tommy, the book's protagonist, says: "Love is holding someone close to your heart, nurturing it without squeezing it, and having the patience to wait your turn, for love will find you when it's your time." That's pretty good.

Coyne injects these views throughout. Some of it is quite good, especially when he discusses America's class system in the mid-1940s. There is also a lot of golf and some good subplots. The book continued to hold my interest because as soon as I thought I had the story figured out Coyne gave it a new direction. Though I figured out the end result, he made it fun to get there.

One small thing that bothered me was his lack of recognition of the Evans Scholarship program, which is run by the Western Golf Association, based in Chicago. I was surprised to find that this caddie never even considered becoming an Evans scholar, as Tommy certainly would have known about it.

But this was a small oversight and certainly not enough to avoid reading the book, which contains much history and an interesting ending. One thing the obviously knowledgeable author tells us is that great hickory players moved their hands before the clubhead moved. I still don't understand how they could do that.

"The Caddie Who Played With Hickory" by John Coyne, Thomas Dunne Books, ISBN-13; 978-0-312-3724-6.

Dr. John Wagner has been a Seattle dentist for 37 years. He's been published in several dental journals as well as had several articles appear in the turf magazine for Pacific Northwest golf course superintendents. John has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Washington Business School for several years and as a guest lecturer for several dental societies. Dr. Wagner is the co-designer (with Steve Shea of the Berger Partnership) of a golf course in Japan that cost over $120 million and was built by Wadsworth Golf Construction. He's a Past President of the Washington State Golf Association and a Trustee of the Pacific Coast Golf Association. John is currently a Member of the USGA Green Section and a Director of the WSGA.