Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Amateur Golf's Last Hurrah

Could two amateur golfers beat two of the world's greatest professionals? Once upon a time, they might. Mark Frost tells the story of just such a contest in his account of The Match: The Day The Game Of Golf Changed Forever. But this isn't a fairy tale. It is instead a can't-put-it-down true account of a high-stakes game played in 1956 on one of golf's most spectacular courses by four of the game's legendary competitors.

Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson are the pros. They have fourteen major championships between them. Coming from the same caddie yard, the once-close competitors haven't spoken in years--but they teamed up to face the two leading amateurs of the day, Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi. Both of these young men competed at the highest levels of the game in the hallowed tradition of Bobby Jones. As a match-play team, they had never been defeated. The venue for the match? Storied Cypress Point, whose fairways follow craggy cliffs and rocky promontories swept by the winds of the Pacific while the ocean crashes below.

Frost lays out the play stroke by stroke, pacing the narrative with revealing histories of the players and other notables inolved in the day. He puts the game into context, pointing out that this day marked the end of the amateur era and the ascendance of the professional. While the match itself is compelling, the after-stories make fascinating reading, too, especially for those of us interested in the history of our great game.

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