THE COSMIC BATTLEFIELD CAN ASTROLOGY OR MILITARY TACTICS IMPROVE YOUR GAME? TWO NEW BOOKS CLAIM SO

April 28, 1996

No wonder I can't play. I look down the 1st fairway and see only
sun-washed grass and an azure sky. Warbling birds delight my
ears. Pinesap teases my olfactory nerves.

"Maggot!" my inner drill instructor yells, hissing. "The trees
are full of snipers.... The rough is mined.... The green is
ringed with barbed wire!"

But I see dogwoods and dandelions. And that, according to Army
Capt. Bruce Warren Ollstein, is why I wage golf about as
effectively as the Italian army used to wage war. In fact, I
fail even to recognize that golf is war. "Soldiers have to
hunker down physically and psychologically," Ollstein writes in
his just-published book, Combat Golf (Viking, $15.95). "So it is
on the links--down to a hand-to-hand combat pit, with only one
man coming home alive and a winner."

Wrong, says humorist Mark Oman. The conflict in golf is not
between opponents but between planets. "Your pars are in the
stars!" Oman gushes in his latest book, Golf Astrology
(Golfaholics Anonymous, $9.95). Turning to my sun sign,
Capricorn, I am quickly seduced by Oman's assurance that I don't
necessarily look like the player I am. "You prefer to play with
almost boring consistency," he writes, "watching the flashy
players rip it all over the map and go from birdie to bust."

Unfortunately, while Ollstein and Oman provide good
tongue-in-cheek reads, neither is very adept at reading me. My
golf game owes more to Gandhi than to Patton. My only "boring
consistency" is a pull hook that sometimes leads to the pained
squeal of an unseen forest animal.

Both writers, however, are riding the trend in golf instruction:
niche pedagogy, or lessons tailored to the least common
denominator. The trend started with instruction books for women,
juniors and seniors; it matured with golf tracts grounded in
Zen, shamanism and the principles of golf-course architecture;
and it will peak, one imagines, with the soon-to-be-published
Gary McCord opus, Golf for Dummies. One size, today's authors
insist, does not fit all.

Niche pedagogy gives us a fractured firmament. Of what use is
Ben Hogan's classic "pane of glass" swing image if you're a feel
player like Fred Couples? How can the existentialist player hope
to achieve the "connected" golf swing? Oman, in one of his less
recondite passages, answers with a rhetorical shrug: "You can't
hide from who you really are on the golf course. It all comes
out--either willingly, or golf will drag it out of you kicking
and screaming."

Be that as it may, the best players seem to be neither generals
nor astrologers. On the PGA Tour only Larry Nelson and Ed
Dougherty are former servicemen, and neither exhibits warlike
tendencies. Orville Moody, winner of the 1969 U.S. Open, is
known as Sarge, but he was assigned to various duties at Army
golf courses during his 14-year career. He was never a grenade
thrower, and there is no evidence that Ollstein's
"centuries-proven military strategies" helped Moody to any of
his 11 Senior PGA Tour victories. In a golf competition between
draft dodgers and Green Berets, the smart money would be on the
sissies.

The relationship between "the stars" and the stars is more
ambiguous. Phil Mickelson, a Gemini, has gained six of his seven
Tour victories in the months of January and February. "Is the
front nine agony and the back nine ecstasy?" Golf Astrology asks
the Gemini golfer. "Brilliant course management on the toughest
holes and loosey-goosey mistakes on the easiest?" Oman's
questions are penetrating enough to suggest a real connection
between the zodiac and the zone. On the other hand, from the
recent back-to-back-to-back Tour wins by Tim Herron, Paul Goydos
and Scott McCarron, one might infer a more divine influence.
(See the Bible, various publishers.)

For my part, I'm throwing out all my niche books and rereading
Rex Lardner's classic instruction parody, Out of the Bunker and
into the Trees. A good belly laugh is usually enough to boost me
out of any niche I'm in.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: PAUL CORIO [Drawing of fortune teller and soldier in golf cart]

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)