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Monday, May 12, 2008

Would Tiger Beat Harry Vardon?

A favorite topic for discussion among golfers is how cross-generational matches would turn out. Would Tiger beat Jack Nicklaus? How would he fare against Ben Hogan? or Bobbie Jones? After reading The Vardon Invasion by Bob Labbance and Brian Siplo, I'd like to throw Harry Vardon's name into the mix.

The book tells the tale of how Vardon came to America in 1900 and energized the game in this country. He not only won the U.S. Open that year, but played 90 matches against the best amateur and professional golfers from Maine to Florida and west to Colorado. The book recounts many of those matches and is filled with interesting sidebars about his opponents and the courses they played.

I found descriptions of the courses themselves fascinating. Instead of the billiard-table greens and manicured fairways we play today, Harry and the boys teed it up on nine-hole tracks where irrigation was unheard of and greens might be "browns" of oiled and rolled sand rather than grass.

Vardon, of course, is best known here for his defeat in the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline by Francis Ouimet. He won the British Open, though, six times--a record that stands to this day. He won 75 of the 90 matches in the 1900 tour covered in this book--most of them played against the best ball of two top amateurs or pros. A record like that would be envied by golfers of any generation.

Bob Labbance and Brian Siplo compiled The Vardon Invasion through countless hours of pouring through newspaper accounts and club records. Their work has paid off with a highly readable tribute to the man against whom all future champions should be measured.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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