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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Review -- Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer's Quest to Play with the Pros

I fashion myself a golf junkie. I like to play, I like to watch, I like to read about it, I like to talk about it, and I like to write about it. However, it appears as though I'm no match for golf writer, Tom Coyne, who is the author of Paper Tiger.

I root for Coyne to do well as an author, not just because I like his books (he also wrote the coming-of-age novel, A Gentleman's Game), but because he was a year behind me at Notre Dame. I met him a couple of times, and he seemed like a funny guy. Actually, one time he and I were the platonic dates of two girls who were friends, and Tom spent much of the evening telling bizarre but entertaining stories about how the house he grew up in was haunted.

I don't remember too much of that night other than his stories. He was adamant that every once in a while his dining room table would lift off the ground and spin around. Household objects flew about the room and the lights flickered. The family just watched this happen and became accustomed to it. I couldn't figure out if he was serious or pulling our legs, but he was convincing enough that I sort of believed him.

We were both English majors, yet I'm not sure if we were ever in a class together. I have a fuzzy recollection of him being in my Dante class, but I could be imagining it. Either way, we crossed paths over ten years ago, and several years later I came across A Gentleman's Game without making the connection until I saw his picture. For good or bad, tall, red-headed guys who grew up near me (the Philadelphia area) and tell ghost stories with as much fervor as he did are tough to forget. Since A Gentelman's game, I've followed his career closely, but at a distance.

With Paper Tiger, he sucked me in so that I can't wait until his next book, A Course Called Ireland, which he's been promoting through a series of journal entry-type articles for Golf Magazine online. Paper Tiger is truly experiential writing. It's sort of a reality show for mid and low handicappers who think they might be able to play on Tour if they just removed every excuse for being mediocre and did everything in their power to get better.

What did Coyne do to get better? He dropped everything, moved to Florida, hired a big-time teacher, a mental guru, and a trainer, and he lived and breathed golf. He shaved his handicap from more than 14 to around a +1 . . . in just over a year. I won't ruin the rest of the story for you, but let's just say it's worth reading. You will become totally psyched up to improve your game. It's that inspirational for a frustrated golfer.

Coyne has a terrific writing style. Since he's telling his story of trying to play with the big boys via Q-School, it's quite conversational and very self-deprecating. He mixes in an intriguing sub-plot about his girlfriend that really ties the story together and keeps it from being simply a journal or a how-to on what one should do to play off scratch. I found myself laughing out loud several times, and I felt like I could relate to many of thing things he put himself through.

What I like most about Paper Tiger is that Coyne didn't just talk about how good he could be if his situation were ideal -- he actually created an ideal situation for himself and went for it. No what ifs, no excuses. It's a nice analogy for how we should all live, golf or no golf.

Early in the book, he recounts how he tried out for the golf team at Notre Dame and blew it on the back nine. In my freshman year, my friend Jim Borger and I were going to try out for the team as well. Neither of us had much of a chance to make the team, but we thought it would be a good experience. The night before the tryout, we decided to have a party. Needless to say, we overslept our tee times by about two hours. End of story. I never regretted missing the tryout because I thought I would make the team, but rather I regretted it because I didn't even give it a shot. Coyne had the skill to make the team, but he didn't do what was necessary when the chance was there. However, he gave it his all. I think you'll agree that he gave this book his all, and unlike his tryout for the Fighting Irish, he succeeded by writing a funny, heartfelt, and compelling book.


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