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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Book Review: Trials & Triumphs of Golf's Greatest Champions

Trials & Triumphs book coverI haven't done a book review in a while, and I think a lot of you may be interested in this one. It's called Trials & Triumphs of Golf's Greatest Champions and it's by Lyle Slovick, who is a consultant for the USGA and a historian. It contains in-depth biographies of six different players and one caddie.

First, I need to give you the customary disclaimer, which is basically telling you how I came to be reviewing this book. There are companies that specialize in getting new books reviewed at a number of blogs on sequential days. It's called, not surprisingly, a blog tour. (This particular company is TLC Book Tours.) I agreed to do this one for a couple of reasons:
  • One, I wasn't required to give a good review if I didn't like the book. (Of course, if they're willing to give you that freedom, you can be pretty sure you won't get a bad book, you know?)
  • Two, because there are so many blogs reviewing the book, I didn't have to do the standard type of review. That means I can do the review in a way I think will give you the best idea of whether this book is for you or not.
And that's what I'm doing. Rather than reviewing the entire book, I'm only going to review one of the biographies and try to give you a perspective that other reviews probably won't. So let's get on with it.

As I said, this book gives biographies of seven golf figures:
  • Harry Vardon
  • Bobby Jones
  • Ben Hogan
  • Babe Didrikson Zaharias
  • Charlie Sifford
  • Ken Venturi
  • Bruce Edwards
All of them dealt with unusually difficult struggles in their lives -- illnesses, accidents and racial discrimination. And Slovick does a good job of uncovering all sorts of interesting facts about their lives, and giving us a sense of the person we might have known had we been friends with them.

To demonstrate this, I'm going to focus on only one of the biographies -- that of Harry Vardon. Again, I picked Vardon for two reasons:
  • One, because Vardon was born in 1870 and therefore he's going to be the hardest to find in-depth information about.
  • Two, because I've been studying Vardon's swing in considerable depth, so I have some idea of which information is easily available and which is difficult to uncover.
And I have to say, I am suitably impressed with the information in this book.

Author Lyle SlovickThere are 127 different footnotes in the section about Vardon... and a huge number of them come from sources I had not uncovered. There are facts not only about Vardon's life -- some of which weren't known widely even during his lifetime -- but about key aspects of his golf swing, playing strategies, and even why he dressed the way he did when he played. (I had reasoned out some of it in my own studies, but Slovick found outright explanations that confirmed them.)

Slovick has sprinkled all kinds of little jewels throughout his work. As just one example, I learned that Vardon had two nicknames. One was "the Stylist" because his style was so smooth and rhythmical. The other was "the Greyhound," given to him by St. Andrews pro Andrew Kirkaldy because "at the height of Harry's career other players were unable to catch him." To me, those are the kind of memorable touches that make a book stand out.

To say that I was amazed at the sheer amount of info he found that I had not come across thus far would be a huge understatement!

Slovick has done similar research on all the persons in his book. And in many cases he has found that they had interesting interactions with each other. For example, he writes:
Venturi befriended Charlie Sifford in those days when racism dogged him. When the restaurant at the Pensacola Country Club wouldn't let Charlie eat there, Venturi spoke up, then took his own breakfast and joined Charlie in the locker room to eat. (page xxviii)
Trials & Triumphs of Golf's Greatest Champions is a fascinating book by a historian who apparently approached this as a real work of love. This book may eventually become a reference book simply because of the amount of information it gathers in a single place. (I know it will be for me.) And even if you only get it for the biography of one favorite player (or caddie!), I don't think you'll feel that you wasted your money.


  1. I'm pleased to see that you'll be keeping this book on your shelf as a reference - there's just so much fascinating info in there!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. Thank you very much Mike for the kind words about my book! I am happy to hear it has some value for you. I tried to include some nuggets of info that most people haven't read before. Thanks, Lyle Slovick