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Friends in high places: A review of Amy Alcott's new book The Leaderboard

Photo: Erick W. Rasco

Amy Alcott's new book, <i>The Leaderboard</i> (Atria Books, $23).

Friends in high places — Amy Alcott has a raft of them. The Hall of Famer used her LPGA cachet (29 career wins, five majors) and connections in Hollywood (she is a member at Bel-Air) to gain entree to high achievers in several fields whose connection is that they all love golf. The upshot is Alcott's recently published book, The Leaderboard (Atria Books, $23). Written with longtime golf journalist Don Wade, the volume is a disarming collection of Q&A's with leaders of all kinds, among them a U.S. President (Bill Clinton), media executives (CBS's Leslie Moonves, Emmy-winning producer Don Ohlmeyer), actors (Jack Nicholson, Robert Wagner, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Hopper), musicians (Kenny G., John Williams) and fellow athletes (GOLF PLUS contributor Dottie Pepper, Ben Crenshaw, Jerry West).

The main theme: A reverence for the sport and its civilizing aspects. Says Wagner: "The game teaches you patience and humility; and being around older golfers, a young person learns etiquette and manners." In that vein, perhaps the funniest, and most telling remark, comes from CNN anchor Kyra Phillips, who lists Jesus Christ among the people she'd most want to play with. "I'd like to see if he'd take a mulligan," Phillips says.

There's also a keen appreciation for the skills demanded. West, as great a figure as basketball has produced, says of golf, "I was a pretty decent player, but when I'd watch Nicklaus, Trevino, Weiskopf, Watson, guys like that, I'd realize I wasn't even close. They are geniuses. I mean, the ball just sounded different when they hit it. What I also admired about guys like Nicklaus was that they handled themselves with such grace, win or lose. They accepted responsibility for their play, good or bad."

These fast-trackers relish the respite golf gives them. Williams, who has composed the epic soundtracks for films like ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, says that while on the course, "I don't develop themes as much as I solve musical problems. I find that the oxygen level increases and that helps clarify my thinking." Hopper, Quaid and Ohlmeyer credit golf with helping them in their battles against substance abuse. Of course, when Alcott asks Hopper if golf is addictive, he readily answers: "Oh, it is addictive. I replaced one addiction — or maybe a few addictions — with it ... I mean, I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was turn on the Golf Channel."

Alcott says the book was a sort of therapy for her, too. "I've been very private, very reclusive," she tells me in a phone interview. "The book helped me get out of myself. There was a special motivation for me in seeing what the connection to the game was for other people." It also played to her fascination with celebrity: "I'm the proud owner of Katharine Hepburn's golf cart, which I bought at auction at Sotheby's." While finishing the book gave her a "wonderful feeling of accomplishment," like most champions she is her own toughest critic. "Some of the interviews were birdies," she says. "Others were pars."

Well holed.

The Leaderboard would make a sweet Mother's Day (or Father's Day) gift for the leader in your house.

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