In an exclusive excerpt from a novel about PGA Tour superstar Herbert X. Tremont Jr., known by everyone as Tree, the golfer kicks off his season with two spectacular rounds at Kapalua. At the same time, sportswriter Josh Dutra, the book's narrator, suspects that Tree is being stalked by reporters from a tabloid magazine who threaten to turn Tree's seemingly perfect world upside down

EVEN FROM 200 YARDS AWAY TREE TREMONT was an unmistakable figure. He was built like a martini glass, with powerful shoulders and chest tapering to a 30-inch waist, all of it accentuated by his tight, European-cut clothing, which [wife] Belinda handpicked for him, as Tree liked to remind reporters. (He was giving himself plausible deniability.) By comparison, the other players looked as if they had just stepped off a shuffleboard court. Tree's stride radiated athleticism, confidence, superiority. There was something virile about his presence, certainly for women but for men, too. Twenty weeks a year, whether you saw him live or on your flat-screen TV, people watched Tree Tremont throw grass in the air, and it excited them in ways they couldn't even articulate.

In theory I was paid to be a neutral observer, but you couldn't be neutral writing about Tree Tremont. I knew a lot of sportswriters who felt overmatched covering him. The speed at which he won his first 13 major championships and 53 PGA Tour titles had no precedent. A lot of us, with no blueprint, were lost. My take on him was that as easy as Tree could make the game look, he was a grinder at heart. He brought intensity to every shot, and he played with a controlled fury. At Kapalua on Friday for the second round, it was humid and his mocha skin was glistening by the 1st green. The golfing highlight of the day came on the fairway of the par-5 15th, as he stood dead still and assessed a thorny shot. He was standing on a tilted fairway, his ball below his feet. The pin was on the front left of the green. He'd have to hold a draw against a slice wind. The shot required strength, nerve and superior skill. Most players would have chosen the safety of laying up. Tree pulled out a one-iron, a club so unforgiving only he still carried one. After Tree won his ninth major, matching Ben Hogan's total, The St. Petersburg Review-American put out a special section devoted to Tree. For a long piece I was writing for it, I asked Tree when he would replace his one-iron with something easier to hit, like the 15° hybrid. "When Hogan does," Tree said. Hogan had been dead for years.

Tree toweled down the grip of his one-iron and took a few purposeful practice swings. Many golf swings on Tour, clinging to old models of gentlemanliness, were long and graceful and artistic. Tree's action was blunt and forceful and scientific. I had seen him play tens of thousands of shots, but the violence of his action still awed me. He lashed at the ball at Kapalua's 15th and drove it through the heavy air with an audible sizzle. The TV cameras and spectators followed the ball, as they always did. I watched Tree. From his cocky twirl of the club I knew it was a superb shot and that he knew it too. That twirl move was not a regular thing for him, not at all. His standards were impossibly high. The ball came to rest 20 feet from the hole.

He stalked the eagle putt, missed it but still went on to shoot a second-round 64. He was leading by five with two rounds to play. The tournament was all but over. Stepping from the scorer's tent behind the 18th green, Tree was greeted by tiny Bill McNabb from Golf Channel. Tree took one look at him and couldn't stop laughing.

"Jee-zus, did you microwave your face? You're gonna be the reddest Irishman in Orlando."

McNabb laughed heartily, flattered by Tree's put-down.

Tree resented that Golf Channel monopolized so much of the Tour programming. The cable outfit was costing him money. CBS and NBC and ESPN gave him so much more exposure. Richard Fenimore, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, lived in fear that Tree would someday criticize the Tour's TV contracts, and negotiating the TV contracts was the most important thing the commissioner did. But Tree never did. He always played his part, in all things. After every round, regardless of his score, he answered questions from everybody. Back when he had turned pro, Tree's father, Big Herb, told him, "You play golf for free. You get paid to promote." Tree understood that TV made myths and that myths made people rich. After the twins were born, Tree did spots for Saturn about the importance of car safety. He talked over footage that showed Tree strapping his kids into their car seats. Nobody I knew had ever seen Tree Tremont driving a Saturn. He was a Bugatti guy, a Maybach guy, a Range Rover guy. A tricked-out Hummer, now and again. He did not drive Saturns. I knew that. The public did not. Maybe I should have written that up, but I didn't.

Tree pretended to treat McNabb's questions with earnestness. On camera he was always thoughtful but careful, sometimes amusing, occasionally funny. Never sarcastic, never cutting, never off message. His discipline was astounding. He told McNabb how refreshed he was from having spent the holidays with his family. He told a story about his daughter asking Santa for a green jacket. He imitated her high voice: "I want one just like the one you got for winning the Masters, Daddy."

He credited his good play to his new 5.75° Arrow driver. Made by Arrow Golf, which paid him $30 million a year. He owned a piece of the company, too. "That new Arrow driver is giving me another 15 yards, and I love how I'm flighting it," he told McNabb. Flighting it. That was one of Tree's ways of letting people in, by using the terms of his craft in ways other people did not.

When the interview was over, Tree hopped in a golf cart that raced up a steep hill, toward the press room. I jogged up the hill and arrived, winded, just as the press conference was beginning. I settled into my seat, and Tree gave me a nod.

Up on a little stage were two oversized armchairs, one for Tree and one for a young PGA Tour media official, Tom Delaney. The scrim behind them was dotted with corporate logos. "We are joined by Tree Tremont," Delaney said. He was excitable and nervous. "Tree followed his 63 with a sensational 64, giving him a four-stroke lead."

Tree whispered something to him.

"Excuse me, five-stroke lead," Delaney said. "So, Tree, even for you, this is a pretty nice way to start a new year. Why don't you give us a few thoughts on the round, and we'll open it up for questions."

I waited for what I knew would be Tree Tremont's first witticism of the year.

"Well, I broke 80, so that was pretty good," he said.

He had decided to go with old reliable, trotting out a line that was familiar to me and other veterans but likely new material to most of the local media and the tournament volunteers who had crowded into the back of the room. They laughed on cue and a little too loudly.

"You know, I drove it on a string today, I really controlled my traj with the irons, flighted the driver beautifully, and I was very happy with how I putted," Tree said. "Yesterday I made a bunch of putts, but I didn't like how the ball was going in the hole. It was kind of tumbling in a little off-center. Today my ball was hugging the ground and diving into the hole like a scared gopher. That's what I like to see."

Tree was the only player on Tour who complained about the way he made putts. Other players, after a couple of pints, would tell you that if they could putt like Tree, they'd be Tree. But it wasn't true, not for any of them.

There were a dozen or so questions about specific things in his round. I knew, or could at least account for, every reporter in the room. Nobody looked to be from Eye of the World. I wondered if what I was hearing was true, that a team of Eye reporters was actually stalking him. Just thinking about the Eye writing some sort of Tree exposé made my feet itchy. Could they really have anything? The Eye could turn everything I knew upside down.

A woman in a straw hat from a Honolulu golf magazine asked, "Tree, I have to ask you this: Do you think you can win?"

The four or five regular golf beat guys cringed at her question and its wording, but Tree just flashed his famous smile, showing off his orderly, Crest-sponsored teeth. Tree had a warm, happy, easy smile. A killer smile, really. "Well, I'm not here to work on my tan, ma'am," he said. That was one of his regular jokes, too, and the closest he ever came to acknowledging his racial lineage on his father's side. People laughed. "Do I think I can win? Yes, but there's a lot of golf still to be played."

I put a finger in the air and waited for Delaney to make eye contact. He pointed my way, and a volunteer scurried over and handed me a wireless microphone.

"Tree, as you know, the U.S. Open is at Pebble Beach this year and the British Open is at St. Andrews, two of your favorite venues." After all these years it was still jarring for me to hear my amplified voice. I sounded nervous and absurd. I plowed on. "The only thing you haven't done in your career is win all four majors in one year. Is this the year you do it?"

"Well, Joshie," Tree said. I have to admit that it was still a little thrilling every time Tree called me by name in a press conference. He called me Josh, JD, Dr. Dutra, and Dr. D. He preferred nicknames. "It's interesting you would bring that up because I was ruminating on that during the flight over."

Ruminating. Tree loved 50-cent words. His mother, Helene, once a school teacher in Chicago, was a stickler for grammar, syntax, SAT vocab words. She came to tournaments—always in a big floppy hat, to protect her skin, which was whiter than Bill McNabb's—with pocket dictionaries. Big Herb once told me, "In the boardroom and press room Tree's gotta sound white. Only place he gets to be black is the bedroom." On David Letterman, Mrs. Tremont once threatened to whack Tree with her thesaurus. She was the only one to call him by his given name, Herbert. Herbert X. Tremont Jr. Tree was certainly easier.

Tree looked at me and said, "I do believe a calendar Slam is well within reason. I've won all four majors in a row, just spread across two seasons. No reason I can't win 'em all again. That's my intention for this year. You know, this is the year I turn 30. I'm getting to be an old man. Not old like you, but old. Better do it while I can, right?"

The room buzzed. This was news. Nobody had won the four professional majors in the same calendar year. It was an audacious thing to say. When any normal citizen wants to make news, he has to make all sorts of effort, using Twitter and Facebook and publicists. All Tree had to do was open his mouth. Typically, Tree's ambitions were locked in the well-guarded fortress of his inner self. On this occasion he was saying he was in open pursuit of golf's holiest grail, the Grand Slam.

At the end of the session I was still sitting in my seat when he walked by. He tapped me on the shoulder with a scorecard pencil, which meant he wanted me to walk with him.

"You haven't covered Kapalua in years," Tree said. "They make you swim over?"

It was a reminder that he really did know me, that he knew about the Rev-Am's vicious cost-cutting. I was the first reporter to ever write about Tree. We had a long shared history, even if in recent years I was basically in the same line as all the other writers.

"And what do you do?" I said. "Give my Grand Slam scoop to everybody."

Tree smiled. I wondered if he somehow knew the real reason that Pete, my editor, had sent me to Kapalua: to keep an eye on the Eye, and make sure we didn't get beat on a story that could turn into the biggest scandal in sports history.

We reached the front door of the clubhouse, where his car was waiting for him. Tree had a bag with golf shoes in one hand and a cellphone in the other, useful props in his ongoing war against autograph signing. There were maybe a hundred people leaning against barricades, chanting his name.

He asked, "Your son still playing that Nicklaus power fade?"

When he focused on you, Tree made you feel as if you were the only person in the world, even with strangers calling out for him.

A few years earlier I had taken my son, Josh Jr., to the PGA Merchandise Demo Day at a massive driving range in Orlando, where manufacturers put out their wares for writers and other lucky souls to try. We were whacking balls when Tree, paid by Arrow Golf to be there, materialized. "Let's see who's in the slump now," he said, chiding me.

I made a flailing, breathless swing and hit an ugly duck hook.

"Put that in your f------ paper!" Tree said.

Josh, 10 or 11 then, hit a couple of smooth drives with a gentle left-to-right bend. Tree gave him a look of approval.

"The Nicklaus power fade—very cool," Tree said. Tree Tremont knew more golf history than anybody, myself included. Jack Nicklaus became Jack Nicklaus by perfecting the power fade in the late 1960s. "Good thing you got your mom's athletic genes," Tree said.

That's what conversation was like with Tree, everything in code, indirect, the needle always out. He was often playfully profane, unless he was in public, or unless his mother was around.

Back in the parking lot, the crowd had grown to maybe 200. Four hundred eyes, staring at Tree. He didn't like it, but he blocked them out.

I said, "Josh plays a real sport."

"I know, lacrosse," Tree said. "Tell him lacrosse is gonna cost him teeth and golf is gonna get him girls."

And with that he ducked into his courtesy car, a sleek black Mercedes, and drove off. I thought about his final word. There was no way he knew anything about the Eye investigation. That's what I figured. If he did, well, then he was the most reckless person alive.

TREE SMILED. I WONDERED IF HE SOMEHOW KNEW THE REAL REA SON THAT PETE HAD SENT ME TO KAPALUA: TO KEEP AN EYE ON THE EYE, AND MAKE SURE WE DIDN'T GET BEAT ON A STORY THAT COULD TURN INTO THE BIGGEST SCANDAL IN SPORTS HISTORY.

PHOTOFOTOLIA.COM (SILHOUETTE) PHOTOSIMON AND SCHUSTER (BOOK JACKET)

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)