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Friday, June 27, 2008

Link Braggart Laid Low

LaVerne Moore was one of the more colorful figures in the world of golf in the 1930's and Leigh Montville tells his tale in all its boisterous glory in The Mysterious Montague, A True Tale of Hollywood, Golf, and Armed Robbery.

John Montague, as Moore was better known, was a trick shot artist who could chip a ball into a highball glass or under the sash of a partially-opened window across the room. He reputedly knocked a bird off a power line from 170 yards and consistently drove the ball over 300 yards with a specially-made oversized driver the weighed twice as much as the standard club of its time. Most famously, he once beat Bing Crosby while playing only with a rake, a shovel, and a baseball bat.

Montague had a secret, though. It was why he never allowed himself to be photographed and reputedly why he never entered any professional events. When that secret was revealed, it led to a sensational trial in upstate New York that turned into a celebrity-laden media fest. The secret is told in the first chapter of the book: Montague was wanted under his real name, LaVerne Moore, for the armed robbery of a roadside restaurant in the Adirondacks in 1930. The trial and its aftermath is an interesting window into the media world of the time.

Montville entertains the reader with tales of Montague's prowess, although it's obvious many of them grew to legendary status mainly through the re-telling such feats engender. He also gives us a good look at the celebrities who flocked to Montague's cause. Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby, Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Howard Hughes, Babe Didrickson Zaharias, and many more were tied to Montague one way or another. Sportswriter Grantland Rice was his biggest fan.

The end of the book, which chronicles Montague's late-in-life attempt to break into the ranks of professional tournament golf, may be of the greatest interest to players of the game. Weakened by too many years of Hollywood parties and lack of practice, Montague was a miserable failure in his attempts to compete with PGA stars, who had disdained him from the start.

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

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