caddie-masters-140The Caddie Who Won The Masters
by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)
Peace Corps Writers
$13.50
316 pages
2011

Review by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979–80)

IN JOHN COYNE’S SPLENDID new golf novel, The Caddie Who Won the Masters, all of the action, from first page to last, takes place at Augusta National Golf Club, site of what is arguably the most famous golf tournament on earth. Because of this, and because of Coyne’s intricate knowledge of the golf course and Masters’ history, Augusta itself shares the spotlight as the book’s main character. For those of us lucky enough to have walked those hallowed grounds, it seems perfectly appropriate that the manicured fairways and slippery greens should leap out of the background of the story and take center stage.

The plot revolves around the other main character, Tim Alexander, an aging amateur who earns a Masters’ appearance by virtue of a single victory — in the United States Mid-Amateur Championship. Alexander’s relationship with the game is as complex as the undulations of Augusta’s notorious greens:  a young phenom, he turned his back on golf in part because of a difficult relationship with a business-obsessed father.  Instead of pursuing a golf career, he’s devoted his working life to teaching English at a Midwestern university.

For most golfers an invitation to the Masters is a great honor; for Tim, it’s a kind of torment. His wife is seriously ill, and leaving her in order to play in a tournament he believes he has no chance of winning only brings up and intensifies his troubled history with the game.

Coyne does a very good job of smoothly bringing together Augusta and Alexander as the main elements in a stew of golf suspense and personal turmoil. As he showed in his other books in the “Caddie” series, The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan, and The Caddie Who Played with Hickory, he demonstrates here a knowledge of the game that would be the envy of most golf writers.  His understanding of the intricacies of golf is top-shelf, and his command of Augusta history is particularly impressive.

He does a nice job, too, of weaving a list of golf gods into the story — from Clifford Roberts and Bob Jones, who brought the tournament to life, to Ben Hogan, Bobby Locke, Jimmy Demaret and Gene Sarazen, who were winners of the coveted green jacket. These ghosts of Augusta’s past are surreal, on the one hand, but we get enough of their personal story to make them all too human, as well, and Coyne uses them deftly to demonstrate that, behind every golf legend, there is a very human tale.

In fact, though I’m a golf fanatic, what I especially liked about The Caddie Who Won the Masters, was the way the human stories are interleaved with the shot-by-shot recounting of this imaginary tournament. One of Tim’s fellow amateurs, Charlie Smith, is particularly well drawn, and his personal predicament holds up a mirror to Alexander’s own past. I would have liked to see a bit more of Alexander’s wife, and of his children especially, but in order for the book to work as well as it does, Augusta National— with its history of heartbreak and triumph– had to occupy the spotlight.

As in his past two “caddie” novels, Coyne is able to let his knowledge of the game and its history serve the story rather than overwhelm it — a trick many golf novelists struggle to accomplish. The novel moves quickly, with no wasted scenes and with just enough surprises to keep the reader pleasantly off balance. For golf aficionados and lovers of the game, it makes for a very enjoyable stroll down Magnolia Lane.

Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979-80) has published  nine novels and three books of non-fiction. In Revere, won the Maria Thomas Fiction Award in 2003 for best novel by a former Peace Corps Volunteer and was a Booklist Editor’s Choice.  He speaks Russian fluently, and some Italian, and has traveled widely in North America, the Pacific Islands, Eastern and Western Europe, and Russia.  He is a passionate golfer, a devoted father, and a lover of good food and wine. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, and their two daughters, Alexandra and Juliana. For more about him, go to RolandMerullo.com

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