An Amateur Golfer's 'Greatest Game'

Day to Day lifestyle contributor David Was reviews The Greatest Game Ever Played, Mark Frost's book about a 20-year-old amateur golfer's improbable victory in the 1913 U.S. Open. The story serves as the basis for a new feel-good movie from Disney.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Musician David Was usually comments on music and culture for DAY TO DAY, but David is also a golf writer and a golf nut. Today, he tells us about a golf book that's the basis for a new movie. Talk about synergy.

(Soundbite of "Rite of Spring")

DAVID WAS reporting:

In 1913, the same year that Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" sent top hats flying in protest, an unknown 20-year-old amateur golf named Francis Ouimet sent similar shock waves through the sporting world.

(Soundbite of "Rite of Spring")

WAS: Ouimet, a working-class caddy whose father disapproved of his fondness for such upper-crust foolishness, won the prestigious US Open championship by defeating a pair of heavily favored British legends at the country club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

(Soundbite of "The Greatest Game Ever Played")

Unidentified Man #1: You shot a 71 from the toughest golf course in New England.

WAS: That such a tale has been memorialized by the writer Mark Frost, co-creator of television's pop macabre epic "Twin Peaks" with David Lynch, is strange enough in itself, but now Frost's book, "The Greatest Game Ever Played," out this week in paperback, will debut in a few weeks' time as a feel-good Disney movie, marketed as an up-from-under tale of class prejudice and the triumph of big-hearted little guys. Yeah, but who killed Laura Palmer?

(Soundbite of "The Greatest Game Ever Played")

Unidentified Man #2: Give up this fool's game. Golf doesn't give a man what he needs to feed his family.

WAS: The movie is a bit Disney fabulous around the edges, kind of a "Darby O'Golf and the Little People," but then again, the facts themselves are hard to improve upon for sheer unlikeliness, an 11th-hour drama. That young Ouimet should have even qualified to play next to the British legends Harry Vardon and Ted Ray is the stuff of fiction, that he bested them in a playoff with the eyes of the nation upon him is simply miraculous and to boot with a diminutive 10-year-old caddy in tow named Eddie Lowery.

(Soundbite of "The Greatest Game Ever Played")

"EDDIE LOWERY": Mr. Ouimet, I can carry it for you.

"FRANCIS OUIMET": My bag is as big as you are.

"EDDIE LOWERY": I can carry that bag!

"FRANCIS OUIMET": All right. You can caddy for me.

Unidentified Man #3: What's that, a pygmy?

"EDDIE LOWERY": You've got a problem?

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: The film version of "The Greatest Games" goes for the sentimental jugular, belying the depth and texture of Frost's meticulously researched tome which has sections that deal with the evolution and history of golf equipment, as well as the sides of the golf life of Presidents Wilson and Taft, the latter of whom was in attendance that fateful weekend in Massachusetts. But it is in the fibrous rendering of Harry Vardon and Francis Ouimet that Frost's skill and passion for his subject matter result in a beautiful and moving portrait of not only the game of golf, but of these men of modest upbringing who would inspired legions of non-blue bloods to take up the game of gentlemen.

Ouimet was the Tiger Woods of his day, a self-made champion from the other side of the tracks. His triumph would popularize the game in America and stands next to our Olympic hockey team's defeat of the Soviet Union as one of the greatest upsets in modern sports history.

BRAND: The book and the film is called "The Greatest Game Ever Played." Our reviewer David Was. His byline shows up in Travel & Leisure Golf, and he's a contributing writer to this program.

(Soundbite of music from "The Greatest Game Ever Played")

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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