Today is the official publication date for my new book, “Moment of Glory—The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors.”
Pub date—as it is called in the book business—is always nerve-wracking for me, even though this is my 26th book. There’s always a lot of work to do—radio and TV interviews—working with the publicist to figure out where you should go and when you should go to different cities, but beyond that there’s one very simple thing: you want people to like the book.
I’m not talking about reviewers; you want good reviews of course but after a while you get used to the vagaries of reviews. I’m talking about people who go out and buy the book. I still have every single letter I’ve ever been sent about any of the books I’ve written. Most are very nice and complimentary. Occasionally you get one that is complimentary but points out things you might have missed or even mistakes (I’ve never written a perfect book as hard as I have tried) that you’ve made. Every once in a while someone writes to tell you they hated the book. Doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
I guess the most mail I’ve ever received on a book was my first one, “A Season on the Brink,”—a lot of it from fans of Bob Knight and Indiana wondering why in the world Knight was so angry that I’d left his profanity in the book—as if that had ever been a secret. A close second was, “A Civil War,” and, after that, the mysteries I’ve written for 11-and-up young adult readers. The letters from kids who have read and liked the books may be the most gratifying of all.
That said, 15 years after it was published, I still get mail regularly about, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” which was my first golf book. I’m surprised (though pleased) when people write that they’ve just bought it and read it. Sometimes I get a follow-up note from people who have gone on to read the other golf books saying that they enjoyed those too. The letters that most often make me cry are about, “Caddy For Life,” the book I wrote on my friend Bruce Edwards, who was Tom Watson’s caddy for most of 30 years before dying of ALS in 2004. Many are from people who have been touched by ALS—which is as awful a disease as have ever existed.
That was, by far, the most intensely emotional book I’ve ever been involved in because I was watching a friend die while researching and writing the book. Next month, The Golf Channel is going to air a documentary based on ‘Caddy,’ that I had the chance to work on with Watson and Bruce’s family and many of the same people I interviewed while doing the book. The documentary (which first airs June 14th the week of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the site of Tom and Bruce’s most famous moment at the ’82 Open when Tom chipped in on 17 to beat Jack Nicklaus) stirred a lot of the old emotions. There were—as you will see—plenty of tears during the taping of the interviews.
‘Moment of Glory,’ is a book I’m really proud of for a number of reasons. To begin with, I really like the IDEA, which first came to me walking down the 10th fairway at Augusta during the Mike Weir-Len Mattiace playoff at The Masters in 2003. I knew both men and liked them both a lot and was having a good deal of trouble deciding who I wanted to see win.
It occurred to me as I walked down the hill—the 10th at August slopes downward by about 100 feet from tee to green—to where they had hit their tee shots, that in the next few minutes their lives were going to go in very different directions. One would be a Masters champion and that would be part of his life and his legacy. As Weir said to me later, “it almost becomes part of your name: ‘Masters champion Mike Weir.’ The other would be left to wonder ‘what-if,’ perhaps for the rest of his life. Both men were good players but they weren’t Tiger Woods, they weren’t guys who could just assume that they would have another chance at this sort of moment.
So, when Weir won I was thrilled for him, but saddened for Mattiace, especially when he broke down and cried talking to the media—not so much about losing but about the entire experience; the notion of shooting 65 on Sunday at Augusta, arguably your greatest day in golf, but not winning. Kristen Mattiace, Len’s wife, pulled up in a cart while Len was talking and saw her husband turning in to a puddle. “It didn’t surprise me,” she said later. “Len’s Italian. Everything makes him cry. But I knew this was different.”
I tucked the idea that there was a story in the divergent routes of Weir and Mattiace in the back of mind and then watched in surprise the way the rest of that year unfolded: Jim Furyk winning the U.S. Open was no shock since he’d been a good player who had contended in majors for a while, but it was nice to see him win because I’d worked closely with him on, “The Majors,” and knew how much he wanted to get over that hump. Quick, can you name the runner-up that year? How about Stephen Leaney, an Australian—really nice guy—who saw the second place finish as his chance to get onto the U.S. Tour.
Then there was Ben Curtis at The British. A year earlier, Curtis had been playing on The Hooters Tour. He had finally made it through Q-School the previous December and was playing in his first major championship ever. Quick, give me the list of guys who won the first time they ever teed it up in a major. How about Francis Ouimet and Ben Curtis? That’s the list.
The night before The British began, Curtis and his then-fiancée Candace Beatty were eating dinner at a house IMG (the agency that represents half the world’s golfers) had rented for the week. Weir sat down across from them. Curtis introduced himself and Candace and congratulated him on his win at Augusta.
“Oh thanks a lot,” Weir said. “So what brings you guys over here?”
“Um, I’m playing in the tournament,” Curtis said.
Weir was horrified. “I was so embarrassed,” he said. “But I had no idea who he was. Four days later he won The British Open.”
Talk about a change of life. Curtis went from un-recognized by another golfer to appearing on Letterman in a period of six days.
Shaun Micheel’s win the next month at The PGA wasn’t quite as shocking but it was close. He had never won a PGA Tour event, his highest finish had been a tie for third at The B.C. Open. He had only gone through one year on tour where he had played well enough to keep his playing rights for the next year. And then he hit one of the great shots in golf history—a 7-iron to two inches on the 18th hole at Oak Hill with a one shot lead over Chad Campbell—to become a major champion.
He hasn’t won a tournament since. In fact, in 2010 he isn’t even a fully exempt player on the tour having battled injuries (shoulder surgery); issues with the tour over a drug he needed to take and personal problems—his mom is battling cancer. All the players involved in those majors in 2003, with the possible exception of Furyk, have been through issues on and off the golf course; all have had to deal with sudden fame radically changing their lives and none has won another major.
That’s really what the book is about. To me it’s a little bit, “A Good Walk Spoiled,”—what life is like on tour—a little bit, “The Majors,”—for obvious reasons—and a little bit, “Tales From Q-School,”—since everyone involved except for Furyk made more than one trip to Q-School and one of them (Micheel) has been back SINCE winning a major.
Ironically, the book begins with Tiger Woods firing a swing coach: His firing of Butch Harmon at The British Open in 2002 led to a two-and-a-half year slump during which he didn’t win a major (after winning seven of the previous 11). That opened the door for these guys and others to have their chance to make history.
I really enjoyed doing the book because the guys involved were good guys with very good stories to tell and all (wives included) were very honest about all that went on. I’m grateful to them for their patience. This book had some fits and starts getting done: it was first delayed when Rocco Mediate asked me to do a book on his 2008 U.S. Open experience and delayed again by my heart surgery last summer. But it is finished now and it is out there and I am really happy I had the chance to report it, write and complete it. I sincerely hope that people will enjoy reading it.
If the reviewers like it, all the better. But, as I said, they’re not the readers I care about most.
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases