Fantasy and reality meet at the 19th

BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS: Tim Glover finds that the best golf tomes reveal not only who won the ultimate Ryder Cup but also who is the best qualified as the worst courtesy car driver
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Would Ali have beaten Tyson? Was Laver better than Sampras? Would Miller have beaten Botham in an arm wrestling contest? How would Faldo have fared against his hero Hogan? As to the last question you are given a vision of what might have been in The Dream Ryder Cup (Cassell, pounds 17.99).

In a flight of fantasy Derek Lawrenson has taken the argument out of the 19th and on to the classic stage of St Andrews where he reports on an epic match between Europe, captained by Tony Jacklin, and the United States, led by Walter Hagen. Joining the contemporary masters in the European team are Henry Cotton, Christy O'Connor and Eric Brown. The Americans have Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan.

The bookmakers would have had the US 2-9 favourites but Lawrenson makes it a close run thing, the match being decided in the final singles between Faldo and Hogan. The major problem with this concept is that the real matches have been so close and so exciting in recent years it is hard to upstage them even in a dream world.

There is also the danger of being overtaken by events. Nobody would have argued with the choice of Jacklin as captain until, that is, he rubbished Europe's chances in a bitter outburst on the eve of the contest at Oak Hill last September. You also have to be careful nowadays when referring to players' wives.

I would argue with at least four selections in the European team but then that is supposed to be part of the fun. In his introduction, Lawrenson, a Liverpudlian, gives his dream Liverpool FC XI. How can you have Keegan without Toshack? And how can you have roast sirloin of English beef at the gala dinner for the dream Ryder Cup?

An example of how absorbing the real article is comes in John Feinstein's celebrated book A Good Walk Spoiled (Little, Brown pounds 17.99). In the 1993 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, where Davis Love III won a crucial singles against Costantino Rocca, Love is Feinstein's Boswell and no stomach is left unchurned.

Love's labours, though, is only a chapter in a penetrating insight into life on the US Tour, upstairs and downstairs. What Feinstein did to college basketball in his first book, A Season on the Brink, he has done to professional golf and his ability to dramatise the mundane makes it read more like a novel. In fact, A Season on the Brink would have been a better title than A Good Walk Spoiled which comes from a dog-eared quote by Mark Twain. The only thing wrong with the book is that everybody in it would like it.

Feinstein is described as "America's No 1 sportswriter" but there are enough heavyweights out there to make it an interesting point of conversation at the 19th. Whereas Feinstein is your man in the locker room with a virgin notebook, a dog-eared quote and a naive belief that a pro golfer endures a brutal existence, Dan Jenkins is your man at the bar with a bloody mary and a bloody mind.

Follow the American tour and you can follow a bunch of visor-clad clones who look alike, talk alike, think alike and play alike. In Fairways and Greens - A Timeless Anthology of Golf Stories (CollinsWillow pounds 9.99) Jenkins knows the difference between Mr Nice Guy and Mr Pain in the Butt and the latter is all too identifiable in the creation of Bobby Joe Grooves, the first player on tour to leave 12 courtesy cars in ditches.

Lauren St John's Out of Bounds (Partridge Press pounds 16.99) is the European Tour's answer to A Good Walk Spoiled. St John, a 30-year-old Zimbabwean, stalks the professional circuit with an almost missionary zeal and if it moves St John will interview it. It doesn't match Feinstein's for melodrama but she does a good job with less interesting material.

Faldo: A Swing for Life (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, pounds 17.99) is written not with his analyst, David Leadbetter, but Richard Simmons of Golf World. Simmons is the magazine's expert on golf instruction and he explains that with a number of specialist drills you too can have a swing like Faldo's. "I simplify the backswing to a three step sequence," Faldo explains. "It is my sincere belief that anyone who has the discipline to learn and make natural this series of movements has the ability to become a single figure golfer." A plus for this book is that it is illustrated by Harold Riley.

There is also a wealth of experience and wise counsel in Golf in a Nutshell (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 9.99). John Jacobs is the Mr Chips of his profession and he has collaborated with another master craftsman, Peter Dobereiner, in a book that should be carried in a golf bag rather than left on a shelf. "The flight of the ball," as they say, "tells it all." The late American coach Harvey Penick achieved worldwide success with his sagacious contributions to the debate and Golf in a Nutshell is a thoroughbred from a similar school.

Talking of best-sellers, Golfing by J R Hartley (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 9.99) is a follow-up to the extraordinarily successful Fly Fishing by the same author. Golfing is stylish, charming and amusing but we could do without the Yellow Pages picture of that smug old sod, J R Hartley who has now turned his attention to casting his niblick over the courses of England.

Also recommended: Peter Alliss: The Lazy Golfer's Companion (CollinsWillow, pounds 12.99); Hell's Golfer: A Good Walk Spoiled by Tom Morton (Mainstream Publishing, pounds 12.99); Golf at St Andrews by Keith Mackie (Aurum Press, pounds 25); David Leadbetter's Lessons from the Golf Greats (CollinsWillow pounds 16.99); The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Golf by Ted Barrett and Michael Hobbs (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 18.99); Mindswings by Richard Masters and John Burns (Aurum Press, pounds 9.99); St Andrews Golf Links by Tom Jarrett (Mainstream pounds 14.99); Advanced Golf by Vivien Saunders (Stanley Paul, pounds 17.99).