WHEN NOT GOLFING WITH YOUR STEADY FOURSOME, TRY A NOVEL THREESOME

July 13, 1986

These three golf adventures are not going to remind the faithful of the classic chronicles of Bernard Darwin or Herbert Warren Wind; for one thing, they are fiction, but they do reflect that absolute fealty that is the mark of those obsessed with the ancient game.

Albert E. Killeen, a former vice-chairman of the Coca-Cola Company, has put into words the dream of every high-handicap player. His book, The Ten Million Dollar Golf Ball (William Morrow, $11.95), describes how tycoon Hubert Carnes uses the same techniques that put men on the moon and electronic circuitry on a pinhead to make the golf ball he will hit during the most important match of his life a genuine guided missile. Months before the competition for both the chairmanship and captaincy of the Quincetree Golf Club—"the last citadel of the gentleman golfer"—Carnes hires two electronics geniuses to develop the loaded ball that will bring him his heart's desire. How this is accomplished may not be entirely clear to every duffer in high-tech matters, but you'll get the drift. And what happens the day of the match is clear enough, though Mr. Killeen has stylishly invited you, in effect, to write an ending of your own. Needless to say, all of this is in fun, but Sandy Tatum Jr., former president of the USGA, speaks for another faction of the obsessed. Indicating that Carnes's actions are hardly consistent with a "gentleman golfer," he says the book illustrates why we must all be constantly on guard "to prevent modern technology from destroying the game."

Next case. The murderer plying his trade at the posh Palm Isle Golf Club in the Bahamas is not assaulting the game itself, but he does a fair job on the club's moneyed membership before private detective Amos McGuffin nabs him. McGuffin is Robert Upton's protagonist in Dead on the Stick (Viking Penguin Inc., $15.95), Upton's third book of this sort.

Arriving at Palm Isle after just one murder has been committed, McGuffin manages to make all the wrong assumptions and identify all the wrong suspects while three more dead bodies are discovered. He also gets on the wrong side of a temperamental voodoo priest and blows chances with an amorous, superrich widow and a sultry, almond-eyed local beauty. None of this seems to faze McGuffin or anyone else, not even the steady decimation of the club's membership. Of course, everyone plays a lot of golf; when he isn't playing, McGuffin, obviously, is making an ass of himself. Between jobs, McGuffin drinks too much, but while working on a case he refuses to touch a drop. Maybe that's what's wrong with him. Anyway, not really by the process of elimination, McGuffin finally gets his man. You may be a bit surprised you've stayed with him this long, but the reason is that somehow you've enjoyed it.

The most ambitious of this threesome of novels is The Greening of Thurmond Leaner by Michael Zagst (Donald I. Fine, $17.95), though it can be quickly summarized as a young golfer's introduction to a minitype pro tour in upstate New York. Michael Zagst is a superb writer, and this is his first novel, so be the first on your block to welcome a blossoming talent. There is nothing overly extravagant about Zagst's style, and he doesn't try to con you with cuteness, but he is still very much his own man, and you haven't read anything quite like this before.

The action begins when Leaner leaves his wife in Houston and drives to New York alone. On the way, he stops in Pennsylvania to visit his pop-singer sister, who is the first of a flock of well realized and motivated characters. At the tournament, for which he is well prepared both by natural skills and years of hard work, he is immediately assailed by a number of people for whom he is not so well prepared. For instance, a guileless golf groupie whom he cannot discourage (and doesn't want to); a guileful tournament organizer who manipulates and dehumanizes athletes; the press, which, like the players, is not very good at its job; and, finally, Leaner's loving and frustrated wife, who poses some long distance phone problems. The situations oscillate between hilarious and heroic. You'll hardly be aware of the author's hand at your elbow as he leads you through the scenes of the greening of a man and an athlete. We are all going to hear a lot more from Michael Zagst.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)