James Patterson: On the Tee

April 1, 2015
JamesPattersonCredit David Burnett 1.jpg

Step aside, Alex Cross. Travis McKinley has the honor. Celebrated mystery novelist James Patterson sets his latest work in a milieu even the most brilliant detective would find gnarly — golf. Miracle at Augusta is the second book starring Travis, a gruff but good-hearted sleuth who doubles as a Champions tour pro. In an interview with SI Golf+ Digital, Patterson dishes on sports dreams, his visit to Augusta and why golf can handicap writers.

Why did you choose to put Travis on the senior tour as opposed to the PGA Tour?

I just wanted to take it a different way. The story takes place a little earlier than present day, back in the ’90s, when the sport wasn’t as professional, it wasn’t as slick, it wasn’t as buttoned up. You didn’t have to be so careful. Plus, I always liked it when someone comes out of nowhere, like a John Daly. This is a time and a place where things like that could still happen.

How much of yourself is in Travis McKinley?

Everyone has sports fantasies. Mine were — and still are — about basketball. In golf, it’s this thing like, I finally found the swing! That’s what happens to Travis, so you can kind of live the dream on paper. I’m just a 10 to 12 hack, but I enjoy it. I come from a tough little river town [Newburgh, N.Y.] I used to sneak onto the country club and play 16, 17 and 18 over and over again. That was golf for me until my 20s.

Did you get to do any “research” down at Augusta National?

Gary Player invited us to Augusta one year, so my wife, Sue, and I got to walk around the course for a couple of days. It was spectacular. You wouldn’t believe how steep it is. I could see myself trying to hit up to 9 and never reaching the green. Gary gave Sue a lesson, but he thought I was hopeless. We went to lunch at the club with Gary, and he took me into this secret room, and Billy Casper is sitting there munching on some big unbelievable lunch.

Do you ever use golf to get the literary juices flowing?

Not at all. I’m the exact opposite. I use golf to shut it all down. I write early in the morning and try to get on the course by 7:15 a.m.

Have we seen the last of Travis? What about Alex?

If I don’t know everything about a character, I’m still interested in writing about him. Alex is still going. I could do another with Travis.

Maybe a golf murder mystery next time?

[Laughs] I originally had Travis killing a competitor. We cut out those chapters.

This article appeared in the most recent issue of SI Golf+ Digital, our weekly e-magazine. Click here to read this week’s issue and sign up for a free subscription.