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Three golf books aim for controversy: Do they hit or miss?

By Tom Mackin, Contributor

THE LIBRARY, N.J. -- Golf is controversial. And you're dating a supermodel. If the latter is true, then congratulations. But the former rarely is. Sure there's the illegal drivers, but how many pros have been caught so far? Then there was the Shinnecock green conspiracy. Oh the unfairness of it all. Please. And player-coach squabbles, which result in quotes last heard on an episode of Dawson's Creek. If you're looking for pure shock value, look elsewhere. Still, there are those who voice opinions that in the genteel world of golf could be considered as being aimed too close to the sacred pin. Three new books came out this year with that hype, but only one manages to stick it close.

The Future of Golf
The Future of Golf in America by Geoff Shackelford.
The Future of Golf

The Wicked Game by Howard Sounes

Sounes, who has written other books about poet Charles Bukowski and Bob Dylan, turns to golf with the promise that he "brings an outsider's view who believes that there is much to be critical about in the game. Yet little or no criticism appears in the main publications of golf; the golf press, working as it does hand in glove with players and their agents, constitutes little more than a publicity department for the game." Fair enough. But aside from pointing out that Earl Woods misrepresented facts about his own background, and stating that Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and super agent Mark McCormack "did not use their fame or influence to campaign for integration and equality in golf," Sounes comes up short. The rest is mainly a rehash of existing background details about that foursome; the most interesting chapter is the last, featuring an interview with Tiger's father. The book is perfectly informative for newcomers but fairly repetitive for knowledgeable fans.

Verdict: Bogey

Details: William Morrow, 328 pages, $25.95

I Call the Shots - Straight Talk About the Game of Golf Today, by Johnny Miller with Guy Yocom

"The things I've wanted to say - the deep background I wanted to relate but couldn't - are covered in this book." Now we're talking. If the blunt Miller has been holding back, it's gotta be interesting right? Well, sort of. This effort seems a bit slapped together, with plenty of lists, including the three stages of choking and seven ways to beat it, the 10 sacred rules of golf broadcasting, and Johnny's top 10 courses, among others. Thenthereare19 pages alone on why Tiger won't win as many majors as Nicklaus. Some notable errors, like saying Hale Irwin won three U.S. Opens instead oftwo,and Tom Watson winning six British Opens, as noted on page 195,instead of five, as listed correctly just three pages later, are just plain sloppy.Still, his crystal ball predictions for the future of golf are interesting,as are his reasons for supporting Annika and the long putter. The immediacy of television is perfect for Miller's candid comments; putting them downonpaper is like failing to shift your weight on the downswing - there's less power.

Verdict: Par

Details: Gotham Books, 268 pages, $26

The Future of Golf in America, by Geoff Shackelford

Short in page count but long on intelligent opinions about the game of (the subtitle is "How Golf Lost Its Way in the 21st Century and How To Get It Back"), Shackelford provides plenty of thought-provoking storylines in this affordable and worthy addition to any golf library. This collection, a mix of previously published essays (from Golfdom, The Los Angeles Times, LINKS and Golf World, among others) and new prose, hits the sacred cows fairly hard. Just look at some chapter titles: "The USGA: Asleep at the Wheel;" "Technology: Failing to Make Golf More Fun, More Affordable or More Interesting;" and "How Professional Golf Has Set a Dreadful Example in its Reaction to Deregulation."

But Shackelford doesn't just fly off the handle looking for headlines; he clearly loves the game, writes eloquently about it, and wants it to thrive in the future. He says make it fun and affordable, stop auctioning off tradition, and regulate the golf ball to save classic courses and the sport itself. He also provides a new perspective on golf course rankings and the inner workings of the USGA. Somebody get this guy a regular column in a major golf publication soon.

Verdict: Birdie

Details: www.iuniverse.com, 138 pages, $14.95

Tom Mackin, Contributor

As an Associate Editor at GOLF MAGAZINE for three years, Tom Mackin wrote about golf destinations in the United States, Mexico, Scotland, Ireland and Australia.

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