On the course, Tiger Woods seems almost perfect, and yet there are flaws in his swing, defects in his putting game. He seems so carefree, yet he is riddled with doubts. He seems so controlled, yet there is so much about himself that he cannot control.
His is a familiar story -- the perfect guy who turns out to be a lout, the perfect marriage that turns out to be a sham -- but the tale told by his former golf coach, Hank Haney, puts it all in a different perspective.
Haney calls his memoir “The Big Miss” (Crown Archetype, $26), which is the phrase golfers use to describe bad shots and blown opportunities. Tiger has had a few of those -- although he finally pulled out of his deepest golf rut, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational Sunday for his first victory on the U.S. PGA tour in 2 1/2 years.
This volume provides the view from the clubhouse and from Tiger’s house, and it is of a splendid athlete whose greatest gift, and his greatest flaw, is his ability to keep his emotions in check.
“Whether with friends, business associates, other players, his mother, or his wife -- indeed, with just about everyone except an audience of kids at one of his clinics -- he seemed to keep the atmosphere around him emotionally arid,” Haney writes.
This is no feel-good story with a happy ending. Indeed, at the end, the coach offers a sobering assessment: “I’m sure what Tiger went through will mature him as a person,” he says, “but there’s no guarantee that it will help him as a golfer.”
Plus this: He’s a terrible tipper, from the blackjack tables of Las Vegas to restaurants and locker rooms.
‘When the Garden Was Eden’
By any measure the New York Knicks of the mid 1960s were a forgettable bunch, the mediocrities if not miscreants of the hard court, legends only for their mastery of futility.
Then everything changed. In “When the Garden Was Eden” (Harper, $26.99), New York Times columnist Harvey Araton describes the way Red Holzman assembled “the perfect blend of basketball brainpower and abilities.”
It was a team that changed the National Basketball Association, changed New York, changed the way we look at professional sports and changed each of the players, a dazzling list: Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Phil Jackson, Dick Barnett and Dave DeBusschere.
Young enough to be affected by (or drafted into) the Vietnam War, diverse enough to be centerpieces in the racial tensions of the times, they nonetheless emerged as what Araton calls “the most democratic team in professional basketball history.”
More than that, they became a symbol of unity at a time of great division, even after some of those tensions threatened to split the team, even when injuries threatened their dominion.
These men added a brilliant coda to a New York era when the Mets won the World Series and the Jets won the Super Bowl.
“Only the Knicks could unite the metropolis,” Araton writes. “Only they could link the lunch-pail commuters of the outer boroughs with downtown’s wealthiest power brokers, the denizens of Harlem with those made famous by Hollywood.”
‘Out of My League’
Dirk Hayhurst’s struggles -- and his triumph -- were of a different kind. His memoir, “Out of My League” (Citadel, $24.95), is an insider’s story of the day-to-day life of a baseball player striving to make the Bigs and then, for a very short time, making it big.
It’s a story of cheap red-eye flights, rushing to minor-league clubhouses to snatch the better uniforms, racing to Goodwill to assemble a travel outfit, struggling to get a new apartment in a new town, looking in the fridge and finding little more than a six-pack of beer, a jug of milk, some diet colas and boxes of instant mac and cheese. Yum! What a life!
View From the Mound
There are moments of insight and humor, especially from Hayhurst’s position on the pitcher’s mound.
“In my line of work,” he writes, “there is always someone with a bat standing between me and my goal.”
On his first time pitching in the majors: “I was naked and scared, stranded atop that patch of red dirt like an orphaned child.”
There is pathos, too, for Hayhurst didn’t earn much in the minors and he didn’t hang around long in the majors. Yet through it all, there is a certain charm to his innocence. He’s not sure, for example, whether he can take one of the packets of Fig Newtons in the players’ area. He’s not even sure what to do when, in his first major-league at-bat, he draws a walk.
“First base is that way,” the umpire tells him. “Yeah, r-right,” he answers. “Thank you, sir.”
(David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The opinions expressed are his own.)