Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: Slaying The Tiger

A while ago I was watching The Golf Channel’s Arnie and Me; the documentary of countless people who became fans of Arnold Palmer due to their experiences with Mr. Palmer and they reflected upon those experiences. You heard stories of Mr. Palmer consoling a lady who was yelled at by Ken Venturi after she accidentally snapped her camera during Venturi’s putt. There was the time that Mr. Palmer wrote back to a teenager with words of advice before he went to college, making sure that this letter was delivered before the teenager’s 18th birthday. And the countless tales of how Palmer treated people over the years in such a kind fashion. And let’s not forget the Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando which takes in 15,000 babies a year. As Red wrote about Andy Dufrense in Shawshank Redemption “most men build match stick houses, Andy built a library.” Most wealthy men would buy luxurious items, Arnold Palmer built a hospital.

Watching this documentary I started to think how lucky golfers are. In a world where our ‘heroes’ tend to have differently lives, often seedy and salacious, some of the top-5 greatest names in the world of golf belong to Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Byron Nelson. And can you think of better representatives of any sport than those three men?

We know the stories of Palmer by now, but Mr. Nicklaus deserves his credit as well for being a fine human being. And Mr. Nelson sometimes gets overlooked, but he doggedly worked to get donations for his charity to the point where people would often give him money seeing Mr. Nelson walk by and has generated over $117 million.

That leads us to Shane Ryan’s book Slaying the Tiger which is Ryan’s account of spending a year on Tour and getting to know more of the younger players on a personal level. In interviews, Ryan tries to portray the book as being something that has never really been done on Tour due to the Tour being very conservative, stuffy and protective of its players and its brand. That’s wishful thinking as A Good Walk Spoiled and Bud, Sweat and Tees provided similar insights. It’s just that Ryan’s account was more salacious and ‘gossipy.’

And that’s my problem with reading this book. It’s one thing to write a book that deals with rumors, innuendo and the author’s impression on things and freely admit what it is, but it is another to write that book and try to pose it as ‘honest.’

I have the unique position in that I work with many Tour players with the statistics of the game, but I also hold press privileges due to the blog and my work with GolfWRX. So, I tend to get a perspective of both sides.

One of the comments that struck a contemptable chord with me was Ryan’s claim that “the human landscape of the PGA Tour is strewn with egomaniacs, narcissists and zealots.” My experience leads to a different conclusion that is almost the direct opposite of that as I’ve had exceedingly good dealings with Tour players, some of whom have used my services and then decided to part ways. But, I have not dealt with a rude Tour player or somebody that I thought came across as egomaniacal. If there’s an issue with Tour players it is usually that they have beliefs stuck in their head and no matter what the facts are, if you can’t sell them away from those beliefs you stand no chance of convincing them. It would be like saying to a Tour player that 2+2 = 4, but if they believe that 2+2 = 22, they are going to stick to that belief unless you are good at figuring out how to convince them differently. And more often than not what happens is another Tour player will come along and say ‘hey, did you know that 2+2 =4?” and that’s when they start believing you. And then they’ll come to you and say “Wish you would’ve told me that 2+2=4 a while ago.”

It’s frustrating for sure, but egomaniacal?

On the other hand, I’ve dealt with the press and have seen many of the press in action. Particularly sports writers and in particular writers whose main duties do not involve writing about golf. And the egomaniacs from my experience far more often reside with the media than they do with PGA Tour players.

There is a steadfast belief from almost every single media member that every athlete OWES them interviews because they are an outlet to the fans.

Read that again.

That’s EXACTLY how 99% of the sports media thinks.

So, which industry has a human landscape strewn with egomaniacs, again?

The fact is that nobody is holding a gun to any fan’s head and making them purchase tickets, buy equipment, etc. It doesn’t give a Tour player the right to treat fans poorly, but it doesn’t mean that they owe the fans much more than basic courtesy and 100% effort. If the fans don’t like it, they can always stop going to tournaments. That creates a different standard of what the fans expect and will pay money for and that means the Tour players have to change accordingly. But under this environment, they don’t owe any writer a thing.

This is where we get into Ryan’s claim that the book is ‘honest’ and why I think that is misleading. Throughout the book it’s easy to see what players Ryan likes and what players he doesn’t like. The ones that gave him time for interviews and the ones that didn’t. He wrote nothing but a scathing diatribe against Bubba Watson to the point where he claimed Watson’s uses religion to his advantage. When Ryan was asked how he got all of these stories on Watson, Ryan claimed that he never got to sit down with Bubba and that all he was asking for was to sit down for ‘an hour or two.’ When Watson didn’t comply, Ryan stated that he had to dig and find these stories for himself and get these stories from other writers on Tour. As Ryan put it (more or less) the book is giving the stories that get bandied about from the press and everybody knows about them.

What Ryan neglects to mention is that the Tour player’s schedule is quite hectic. If you made the cut at Bay Hill and were playing the Valero Open the next week, that means Monday you are flying from Orlando to San Antonio. Then you have to get everything all set in your hotel room and usually meet up with your caddy and coach to go onto the range later that afternoon, go back to the hotel, work out, eat, get some sleep for Tuesday. Tuesday is a practice round day where players will spend a couple of hours on the range and putting green before the practice round. They’ll get situation if they want to change any equipment and work that out. Then play the practice round and then go BACK to the range for a couple of hours before heading back, getting dinner and going to sleep for Wednesday. Wednesday is the 2nd Pro-Am day (they have one on Monday that is volunteered). The Wednesday pro-am is mandatory and players are usually hitting balls for a couple of hours before the pro-am and then after the Pro-Am. Then you have the start of the event.

Usually Tour players take a week off for a course that doesn’t fit their game. But, they are playing, on average, 25 events a year (for full-time players). And with the new split-season schedule, there is not that long stretch of an offseason as there used to be. So for the most part, when the Tour players come home they want to spend it with their family and work on their game. And talking to a press member for ‘an hour or two’ is not on the top of their priority list.

But, when Ryan does get interview time with a player, he views them in a positive light. One of those players was Matt Every, who would be the first to tell you that he doesn’t have the greatest reputation on Tour (nor does he care). But, Ryan takes a shine to him because interview time was given.

Ryan’s claim for ‘honesty’ actually means that he is giving his honest opinion and insight of players on Tour. That’s a far cry from being ‘truthful’ or ‘accurate’ or ‘factual.’ And I think the person that buys this book will get those terms screwed up and think that Ryan’s vantage point represents ‘truth.’

For example, Ryan claimed that the story was that Patrick Reed cheated at UGA and stole $400 from a teammate and that combined with a DUI was why Reed was kicked off the team. Ryan later claimed that Reed was caught cheating at Augusta State as well. But, when Reed’s coaches wrote an affidavit backing up REED’s claims that they had no knowledge of the cheating (and the stealing at UGA) which Ryan claimed they *absolutely* knew about; Ryan’s defense switched to the affidavits were not ‘technically affidavits’ because they were not sworn testimonies.

I’m not sure Reed wanted to waste his time and money going to court over this. Ironically, Ryan uses a trick that many attorneys use when they can’t prove something; switch the argument to something else that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Poke holes in that insignificant argument in order to gain credibility that you have lost from not being able to prove the original argument.

The point is that Ryan claimed that the UGA head coach and Augusta State head coach knew about the cheating and stealing and they both made statements that they were NOT aware of it.

Now, it appears that Reed’s former teammates were aware of him cheating and the UGA teammates were aware of the allegations of him stealing $400 from a fellow teammate (although never coming close to being proven). Still, there’s a discrepancy between Ryan’s statements in the book (the coaches knew and UGA booted him in part due to it) and some teammates accusing him of cheating. This is what happens when you report what you have heard (honesty) and not properly investigating what actually occurred (truth).

I feel most people are going to find the book enticing in the end. Gossip usually is. Especially when you have a group of famous people that are more quite, subdued and secretive. It reminds me of the boom of Pro Wrestling books that became best-sellers. The pro wrestling industry was extremely secretive behind the scenes and you had famous people on TV each week that the public knew little about. When people got a look behind the curtain, even if it was from one person’s particular vantage point, they ate it up hook, line and sinker. But, if you’re thinking that these stories are fact and were well researched, you’re going to be in for a disappointment. My story of how lucky we are to have such great leaders of the game of golf like Mr. Palmer, Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Nelson just doesn’t sell books like telling that the human landscape of the PGA Tour is strewn with egomaniacs.


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