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home : columns : dave fjeld
November 20, 2018

2/21/2018 9:10:00 AM
Hitting the books
I enjoyed a little winter reading while on vacation and after returning home.
There's something about the sun shining, birds chirping and green grass all around that makes reading a book in the shade of a porch much more inviting that sitting inside and watching TV.
The same can't be said about winter in Minnesota. Nevertheless, the bug for reading on vacation carries over when I get home, so I finished a couple of very good books this winter.
If you like golf and golf history, then make sure you pick up a copy of "Chasing Greatness: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer, and the Miracle at Oakmont" by Adam Lazarus and Steve Schlossman. While the book focuses on the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania, it is much more than that.
In June 1973, I had just completed sixth grade and aside from seeing a golf commercial, the game was pretty much foreign to me. Oh, I knew the big names - Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Gary Player, and I even knew that Johnny Miller is this flashy young hot shot (in sixth grade, you like guys like that) on the links - but beyond that, I knew little about the game or the players. As for watching a U.S. Open, my attention span at that age maybe lasted one hole before I had to go outside and start playing the game myself - even though I had no clubs (tree limbs and an old tennis ball worked just fine).
But this was the era in which I grew up, which drew me to this book - that and the fact that Miller posted one of the most incredible final rounds in the history of the U.S. Open. Indeed, he shot a 62 on the final day on a course known for its lightning-quick greens.
While Lazarus and Schlossman discuss the round in detail, the book is far from just the tournament. It's also about the dozen players who all had a very realistic shot at winning the tournament on the final day, Miller (six shots back) least among those golfers.
Lazarus and Schlossman tell a brief but interesting life story about each of those players, which makes the book a great read. Of course, there's many a book about the great triumvirate - Palmer, Nicklaus and Player - but not nearly as much about such players as Trevino, Tom Weiskopf, John Schlee, Jerry Heard, Julius Boros and Miller. And, yes, those six - and you can add Gene Littler and Bob Charles to the mix, too - were very much in the hunt for the U.S. Open title that year.
In fact, Schlee, a golfer I had never heard of prior to reading this book, wound up finishing second in the tournament. (Hey, I'm not spoiling anything here. You can look up the results online anytime you like.)
Likewise, I knew little about Johnny Miller until reading this book. I probably knew more about him as a color analyst for NBC and The Golf Channel than I did about him personally. Schlossman and Lazarus gave me a much better personal picture of not only the golfer, but the man as well.
Additionally, the authors revisit each of these golfers 20 years after this historic tournament and even up to the printing of the book in 2011.
If you enjoy golf history, make sure you add this one to your reading list.
A little baseball
Winter reading wouldn't be complete without a little baseball.
I certainly got a good dose with "Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty" by Charles Leerhsen.
Now, anyone who wants to read about the Georgia Peach no doubt has heard about the 1994 book, "Cobb: A Biography" by Al Stump. "A Terrible Beauty" is a rebuttal to a number of claims Stump makes in his book. Leerhsen, who writes the book at times in first person, shines a new light on the man who was said to have sharpened his spikes on the dugout steps, ready to attack a second baseman brave enough to stand in his sliding path.
Leehrsen says there is absolutely no evidence that such a scene ever happened. No one ever saw Cobb sharpen his spikes and while Leehrsen says there is evidence that Cobb was an aggressive base-runner, he was never out to intentionally hurt an opponent.
That is just one of the myths that has been perpetuated about Cobb over the years that Leehrsen dispels in his 400-page New York Times best-seller.
Again, if you enjoy baseball history, this is a must read - even if you never read Stump's 1994 "Cobb," which I never did. Leehrsen does a fine job of bringing up Stump's points and refuting them with evidence to the contrary or no evidence that certain events ever happened.

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