Readers of The Washington Post know that Tom Boswell is wedded to the national pastime. But they also have come to realize that golf is his mistress. His new anthology of columns, Strokes of Genius (Doubleday, $19.95), is his paean to that other pastoral game.
Actually, it is more a tribute to Boswell's favorite golfer, Jack Nicklaus. Bear tracks appear throughout the book. Nicklaus is "a player who epitomized an entire game" and "the finest of champions," and Boswell writes in the introduction that "he may be the greatest world athlete of the last quarter century." Just when Boswell seems ready to send up white smoke and elect Pope Jack I, the book finally shifts to a profile of Craig Stadler. The result is a commendable recovery from a deep bunker.
Boswell goes to extremes to draw parallels between golf and life. "Shooting at Clouds" begins with the history of the Royal St. George's course in England and evolves into a marvelous sociohistoric treatise on the differences between American and British golf. Occasionally, however, the prose turns purple. Would Hogan or Palmer address his ball as a "dimpled co-conspirator," as Boswell does?
Boswell is at his finest when he explains the game's allure. Golf is at once autocratic and democratic. The game demands order. Mistakes can't be hidden, only overcome. Indeed, says Boswell, the game's credo is, "It's not how, but how many."
Unfortunately, that line appears repeatedly. So it is with anthologies of columns: A pet phrase trotted out every few months is exposed. Wear a bold tie twice a year, and you'll get compliments. Wear it every day, and you'll get snickers. Try reading Strokes a story or two at a sitting. There are far more birdies than bogeys.