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Book Review: Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf by John Feinstein

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Sports journalist John Feinstein has a knack for finding a good story and telling it with enough technical information to keep the interest of the sports buff, but not so much as to turn off the more casual reader. Even when the reader already knows how everything is going to end, Feinstein still manages to create drama in the telling. He paints careful portraits of all the characters involved so that the reader has real insight into what the events mean for them. He is as much interested in the human being as he is in the athlete.

Moment of Glory, his latest look at the world of professional golf, is no exception. The book deals with the four major tournaments of 2003 and the golfers who struggled in them. Tiger Woods, who had been dominating the sport for several years, had become unhappy with his swing, in spite of the fact that he was winning regularly. He began tampering with his swing, fired his long time coach, and suddenly his game seemed to desert him. For a year or so he became mortal once again, opening a door for some of the other players; a door that some very unlikely players in the majors of 2003 were going to walk through.

After detailing Woods’ situation, Feinstein goes on to describe each of the major tournaments beginning with the Master’s at Augusta and moving through the US Open and the British Open to the PGA. He emphasizes the importance of the tournaments and the effect that winning them will have on the lives of the players. These major tournaments have the capacity to make a career. They can take a relative unknown and transform him into star, and at least in three of the 2003 tournaments that is exactly what they did.

Mike Weir, who won the Masters, had been a comparative journeyman up to that point. He was happy to have made it into the tournament, ecstatic to have made the cut, and on no one’s radar to end up wearing the green jacket. The same is true of Ben Curtis who had never won a pro tournament prior to his win in the British Open and Shaun Micheel who took the last tourney of the year, the PGA. Only Jim Furyk, the US Open winner, who many thought of as one of the better golfers never to have won a major, was someone who might have been thought of as a potential winner. It was, as Feinstein’s sub-title declares, “the year of the underdog.”

Each of the tournaments had its moments of drama and Feinstein makes the most of them. There is the unlikely duel between Weir and Len Mattiace. There is Peter Bjorn’s sand trap debacle in the British Open. There is Tom Watson’s emotional first round at the US Open. There is Shaun Micheel’s agony while checking over his score card. These are the moments of glory in these men’s lives; they are moments that may never be repeated.

But they are not the only moments. Feinstein is careful to show the human side of these athletes. Furyk discovers that it is up to the golfer to get his name engraved on the US Open trophy. Curtis refuses to postpone his wedding plans after winning the British. Weir’s wife breaks Augusta’s rules by running out on the course to congratulate him. Micheel celebrates his victory at Wendy’s drive-thru. Moment of Glory is filled with this kind of human interest detail. It is the kind of detail that makes Feinstein’s work palatable to the general reader who has little interest in slices and pitching wedges.

About Jack Goodstein