Blake Snow

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Book review: The Greatest Game Ever Played makes me proud to be an amateur

I recently finished The Greatest Game Ever Played by Mark Frost. It tells the inspiring true story of Francis Ouimet and his endearing, 10-year old caddie winning the US Open in 1913 as an amateur and first American-born player to do so. It was a wonderful account and inspiring to boot, especially since all of us are amateurs in most areas of our lives. If Ouimet can do it, any of us can!

Rating: ★★★★☆ These were my favorite passages:

  • After a century of exploring and taming the frontier that comprised most of their continent, Americans ready to settle down found in golf the perfect ritual to reenact their primal struggles. A player walked out into a manufactured “wilderness” armed only with primitive weapons, conquered the challenges and hazards of the landscape, and returned home to tell about his trials safe and sound. The metaphor embedded in the game proved irresistible to the psyche of the American male.
  • In all the photographs of Francis on a golf course, even in competition when the pictures aren’t posed—and this holds true from youth to old age—a striking detail emerges: He’s smiling at the conclusion of nearly every swing. Playing this game gave him sweet and simple joy. At this age and throughout his life Francis projected a singular quality devalued and almost scorned in today’s ironic mass media youth culture—plain, earnest goodness.
  • “Treat your adversary—with all due respect to him—as a non-entity. Whatever brilliant achievements he may accomplish, go on quietly playing your own game.”
  • “A nervous man who can control his nerves can beat anyone.”
  • Golf is something more than a game, it is a religion. It reveals a man to himself in all his pristine weakness, and exposes to others weaknesses which he is ordinarily at great pains to conceal.
  • Luck is nothing more than the residue of hard work.
  • “I told those reporters the same thing I want to tell you,” said Francis (to Jack, his caddie). “I hope you can hear me say this: I could not have done this without you. I think I was able to do what I did here . . . because you believed I could.”
  • Those fortunate enough to ever cross his path came away with the rare and delightful realization that the hero they’d admired from afar was up close an even better human being, warm, generous and full of kindness, invariably more interested in learning about the many people he met than in talking about himself. In the decades ahead of him his early success would continue to shape Francis as a man in a profoundly affirmative way because, as it turned out, he had been a great man to begin with.
  • Every one of us who casually or passionately plays the game for fun, companionship, competition, or recreation should be forever grateful that Francis Ouimet looked out at that private, privileged world across the street from the house where he grew up, and found somewhere within himself the courage to cross that street.

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