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The Greatest Game Ever Played: Vardon, Ouimet and the birth of modern golf Hardcover – 5 Sep 2002
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An extraordinary book...[with] passages that were so convincing they made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (THE TIMES)
Mark Frost has done a wonderful job of capturing the moment of golf's awakening in America. His work is thoroughly researched (Ben Crenshaw, 1999 US Ryder Cup Captain)
Brilliantly told... marries social history with sporting biography...vivid, often moving, portraits of the two protagonists (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)
[A] great insight into how golf got its start in America, and the man who really introduced it: Francis Ouimet (Ken Venturi)
What SEABISCUIT was to the early years of modern racing, THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED is to the birth of modern golf.See all Product description
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While I'm not sure that the 1913 Open was the greatest game ever played, I do know that The Greatest Game Ever Played was the best sports book I read in 2003. I heartily recommend it to any golf fan and those who love to read about the underdog rising to the top.
Before discussing the Open, let me comment that this book has a format that most will find unusual. There is extensive background on the origins of golf, the backgrounds of the players, the development of golf in the United States and the social history of the time, as well a lengthy section on aftermaths of the players and individuals involved. You will learn about unexpected subjects, such as how tuberculosis was treated before there were antibiotics.
The story-telling style is in the best tradition of fictional dramatizations. Some of the dialogue is invented. The author indicates that "in employing dialogue to bring these scenes to life, I used source material for direct attribution whenever possible. In its occasional absence I attempted to infer intent from prose or reportage . . . . In rare exceptions, with a dramatist's license, and in the utter want of an eyewitness, I took the liberty of elaborating on those perceptions beyond what I could absolutely verify." It's impossible to know which dialogue material is a quotation and what is invented, so don't take the dialogue too literally. It's like watching a made-for-television movie about the Open. One of the strengths of the dramatization is to capture the psychology of the event in what read to me like realistic terms.
During the matches, there's a tremendous amount of detail about the shots that were taken. I was impressed by the amount of research that went into capturing the drama of the occasion.
If you don't know the story, Harry Varden was the greatest star of his day. He was touring the United States with Ted Ray to earn money and to establish British superiority over the Americans by winning the Open. Before he was done, he would win six British Open championships despite having lost many years due to World War I and his illness with tuberculosis . . . and its permanent effects on his putting. Varden was Ouimet's idol, in fact. Their backgrounds were very similar in coming up as caddies from poor, working class families. Golf had been a game for the privileged rich until a small class of professionals rose up. Ouimet's victory was exceptional in that he played as an amateur and because he was so inexperienced. His victory had large ramifications for the sport in encouraging its further development in the United States and in attracting future stars to the game like Gene Sarazen and Bobby Jones.
The venue for the competition was The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. Ouimet lived across from the 17th hole and learned to play on three holes that he and his brother built in their backyard. Ouimet got his first golf club by trading used balls he found on the course. Golf fans will be delighted to know that the 17th hole has been important in three major tournaments at TCC, the most recent being the long putt that Justin Leonard made there to win the Ryder Cup in 1999.
To me, one of the most delightful parts of the story involved tiny 10-year-old Eddie Lowery caddying for Ouimet after the first day of qualifying. Eddie was no taller than the bag and had to dodge the truant officer to get to the course. He had injured his foot before the Open and the wound bled through his bandage every day. Anyone who has ever had a young caddy will be reminded of the pleasures of working with a youngster and how that joy adds to the fun of playing.
Mr. Frost is an exceptional story teller, and I hope that he will write other historical dramatizations in the future.
As I finished the book, I realized that I should be sure to look for well researched versions of historical subjects to test my understanding of those events. Otherwise, my beliefs will often be wrong . . . and I will miss out on the drama of the real story.
The story (based on actual events), gives the background of the early lives and careers of Francis Ouimet and Harry Vardon leading upto the 1913 US Open Championship where they went head to head with Ted Ray in a playoff for the title.
Unlike most documented books on true life golf, the reader isn't bored with results and bogged down with meaningless scores. Instead this is a very personal account of the heroes of the day. Not only does it portray the accounts leading upto and including the US Open but it gives a great prologue on the lives of many of the people involved in the story and a superb epilogue of the years that followed the tournament, recounting the impact on the golfing world of the American amateur's win and the lives (successes and otherwise) of the players, upto their deaths in many cases.
Others that were essential to the story were the likes of Walter Hagen, Bernard Darwin the sports writer, and many of the top golfers of the era.
My opinion is it ought to be made into a film, but please don't take anything out!
Harry Vardon is one of the greatest golfers of all time but the general golfing public probably know very little about him and the difficulties he overcame.
Francis Ouimet has always been an obscure name from the past - this book will explain that his standing in world golf was no fluke result.
I thoroughly recommend this book - you will not be disappointed.
For any film makers reading this - If you roll The Natural, Tin Cup and Chariots of Fire together it will not come anywhere near the story of Ouimet versus Vardon !
British legend Harry Vardon was at the peak of his powers at that time, yet found rank outsider Francis Ouimet, a US amateur 23 years his junior, to be his fiercest competitor.
Theirs was one of golf's definitive confrontations, pitting local boy against all-conquering hero and Mark Frost's account looks set to be considered one of the sport's conclusive accounts.
Undoubtedly this clash changed world golf forever. We might think now how great it would be if Brits dominated the global game, but the sport would have been much duller without Ouimet's win.
A real eye opener on the birth of a phenomenon in America and a book so beautifully put together you don't have to be a golf fan to enjoy it.
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Most recent customer reviews
Well written, you get a real feel for the main characters.
Continued my sports history education.
I wish I had read it before I visited the USGA museum in New Jersey several years ago.
The game was played at a time when Golf in the USA was relatively young.Read more