You know, there's little that's more tiresome in golf than hearing fans of a certain age complaining about how things used to be better back when, how Jack and Arnie and the rest of their ilk weren't in it just for the money or the fame or the diner waitresses. It's a myth, of course; the golfers of yesteryear were every bit as greedy and self-interested as those of today, it's just that they didn't have checks with extra zeroes or media broadcasting their every twitch.
But then you see what happened at the Ryder Cup recently, with the United States going into full meltdown mode, and you read about what happened at the same event in 1969, and you think that maybe there's a little something to these crusty old tales of better-back-when. "Draw in the Dunes," a new book from Neil Sagebiel, tells the story of an astonishing act of sportsmanship at the Ryder Cup, and does so in compelling fashion.
There's an old saying that the smaller the ball, the better the writing about it. That no longer holds true; much of the most vibrant sportswriting of the 21st century focuses on basketball. (Volleyball and kickball, alas, have seen no such boost.) What's undeniable is that there remains a literary allure to golf writing; if you're of a certain mindset and willing to lose yourself in the pages of a sports book, good golf writing can transport you from your couch right to a faraway windswept green or tension-wracked tee.
The story: for decades, the United States had owned the Ryder Cup competition. (I know, seems like forever ago, right?) But Great Britain had mounted a serious charge in 1969, and at this particular Ryder Cup, the entire tournament came down to a singles match between Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin. How did it end? Well, golf historians already know, and you can probably guess by the title. But Nicklaus' explanation of why he did what he did, an act that angered many of his teammates, is an exemplary demonstration of good sportsmanship, the best of what golf wants to believe it is.
Sagebiel had to work without the benefit of complete telecasts in setting his stage, and he does so magnificently, from the varying personalities to the varying locales charted in the story. He draws on the recollections of the participants, and even got Nicklaus and Jacklin to write a foreword for the book. Simply put, this is the definitive account of one of golf's great stories of sportsmanship and honor.
If nothing else, Sagebiel deserves to stand as a beacon for all aspiring sportswriters. He continues to update his Armchair Golf Blog nearly every single day, and he's parlayed it into two nationally recognized books, as well as an association with golf's greatest luminaries. The Internet is the U.S. Open of literary ventures; everyone can enter, but only a very few can succeed. With "Draw in the Dunes," Sagebiel proves he's cracked the code ... and delivered another great book besides.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter.
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