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Recent golf novel hits too close to home

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- I didn't swing a club last week. Didn't write anything, either. Well, hardly anything. I wrote one terse paragraph for the Kansas City Star: "BROOKSIDE, 3-fmly sale, furn, baby stuff, Beseler enlrgr, golf clbs, clths, books."

Ten years had passed since our last garage sale. This time I parted with an old set of Founders Club irons, a set of Wilson Fat Shaft irons, a few fairway metals, and three or four scramble-prize putters that I had never taken out of the plastic.

I also sold a bunch of books -- paperbacks mostly, but in near-mint condition, including a fine assortment of Victorian novels and 20th-century police procedurals. No golf books, though. I have a couple of hundred volumes tucked away in an upstairs closet, sharing space with a crib, some old lamps, and a pair of wardrobe-sized stereo speakers. I keep no more than 20 golf books downstairs, preferring to give guests the impression that at Chez Garrity we spend our evenings soberly revisiting the prose of Updike, Nabokov, Marquez and Conrad, when, in fact, we are watching Joan of Arcadia or -- after closing the shutters -- The Apprentice.

Among those golf books that I do display is Fast Greens, a rich, raucous novel by the Texas funnyman, Turk Pipkin. I don't know if Fast Greens is still in print, but if you spot one at a garage sale, snap it up. It's a genuine piece of literature, no offense intended.

I was delighted, therefore, to receive an advance copy of Pipkin's latest golf book, The Old Man and the Tee. My pleasure, however, quickly turned to shock. Subtitled "How I Took Ten Strokes Off My Game and Learned to Love Golf All Over Again," this admittedly delightful work purports to be a first-person account of a middle-aged beanpole's campaign to fix his broken swing.

Sound familiar? A 50ish bon vivant of raffish appearance and extraordinary intellect turns his life upside down in an effort to play a few rounds of golf that might be categorized, at best, as mediocre. The protagonist is even my height!

When I realized that Pipkin was ripping me off, I sought an opinion from the Mats Only legal department. "You've got a case," the first lawyer told me. "Whether you want to pursue it is another matter. You're not the first golfer to suck and write about it." A second lawyer, consulted after I had fired the first, was no more enthusiastic. "You can argue that Pipkin's prose has damaged your franchise," he said. "But that's a tough claim to make when his writing is demonstrably superior to yours."

Superior? I think not!

More colorful? I'll give Pipkin that. A representative paragraph begins, "Swinging a five-wood on loan from a bartender who'd made a fine margarita for me the night before ....", blah, blah, blah. Describing a round of golf in Mexico, Pipkin writes, "On El Tigre's par-four 14th, I had one shoe off and one leg knee-deep in the murky lagoon by the green and was about to hit my half-submerged ball when Logan offered the most important golf tip I'd ever heard. 'Keep your eye on the crocodile,' he said, referring to a 20-foot crocodile lurking nearby."

Anyway, I decided not to sue over The Old Man and the Tee. For one thing, Pipkin has a marvelous ability to leaven his comedy with wisdom and lyricism. (Debunking the widely-held notion that golf is a metaphor for life, he writes, "If you confuse the two, you're likely to not be very good at either one. On the other hand, if you lose your love of one, it may also cause you to lose your passion for the other.") Secondly, lawsuits consume lots of time and money -- time and money that would be better applied to improving my game.

Besides, I may run into Turk in a few weeks. Both he and I plan to play in the annual Dan Jenkins Goat Hills Glory Game two-man scramble at Fort Worth's Z-Boaz Golf Course. Neither of us, I am sure, wants professional jealousy to spoil a round of golf. Not when we have so many other ways of spoiling a round.

But I just might challenge Pipkin to a long-drive contest. Better yet -- a straight-drive contest. First ball in the fairway wins.

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