John Coyne and His Two Caddie Novels
I don’t know John Coyne. I knew a Kevin Coyne once, but he was from Rochester and spoke too fast, too young… I’d heard of John’s brother, Tom Coyne; he’s the fellow who walked around Ireland, playing golf. Understand, he didn’t ride anywhere, just walked the whole damned island! Either Tom uses hair gel for redheads or John is way older than Tom. With my luck, I’ve confused two Coyne family branches. They’re both probably lucky to have each other, cosmic siblings (if not blood ones) in the golf family.
John Coyne is a horror and science fiction in another life…notice I use the present tense where past would do, in order to make this seem like fiction. John Coyne is a writer, not a golfer. He knows golf and he knows writing. You’ll find rhetorical tricks and tropes everywhere: metaphor, simile, the unreliable narrator turned reliable. In an interview, Coyne handled the following question:
Why did you decide to have the central match of the tournament a practice round and not the Open itself?
I did that for a number of reasons, mostly so I would not have as the obvious final climax the last round of the tournament. I liked the idea of Hogan and Matt in single combat with Jack as the “go between.” I wanted the match “off stage” so to speak. It appealed to the novelist in me.
Also I find, even as a golf fan, that an endless accounting in prose of a tournament does not work dramatically. You’ll see in golf movies how the director will speed ahead, compress and telescope 18 holes into a few dramatic moments.
So, while I needed to be true to an event like a 4-day golf tournament, I didn’t want every hole and all the rounds of golf. The match between Hogan and Matt is just nine holes. I then focused on the back nine of Matt’s opening round.
In previous book review blogs, I’ve bemoaned the lack of writing capacity exhibited by published golf writers. BV and Tom have bemoaned MY lack of talent (to set the record straight, I’m correct; they’re mistaken.) Coyne offers much literary capacity, much versatility, much knowledge of the game of golf.
Coyne has two golf books now, The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played With Hickory. The author knows better than to tell us the story of an unknown; he salts the clouds of both texts with great players of a bygone era (Hogan and Walter Hagen.) I’d like to think that both stars were as embraceable as Coyne presents them to be, but I just don’t know.
Coyne’s story lines are enthralling. He keeps us connected because we embrace his narrators. We like the young man in the “Hickory” tome; we respect the old man and cheer on his younger persona in the “Hogan” text. Do all of his characters reach complete depiction, full development? Not at all, and that’s fine. To know Yin, we must have Yang; black and white enhance each other, and a great character can be offset by a slighter one.
Coyne’s two novels remind me of the “Greatest…Never” trilogy by JM Veron. They feature the fall and the rise and the redemption of classic writing. Without these archetypes, we have post-modern slop. I encourage you to read both novels in one fell swoop (what’s a fell swoop?) You’ll embark on a literary voyage and dock at a port of vindication for golf writing. Dan Jenkins and Turk Pipkin represent one facet of golf literature, Steven Pressfield and Michael Murphy occupy another flat, and Coyne and Veron quite comfortably share space in a third.
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