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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sandy Tatum Words to Live Golf By

Sandy Tatum's aptly-titled memoir, A Love Affair with the Game, is a collection of the former USGA President's memos, columns, correspondence, and just plain random thoughts about the game converted into a gentlemanly thought-provoking book. Historians of the game may be disappointed that it's not a blow-by-blow description of his career at the highest reaches of amateur golf, but readers who recognize that golf is more than millionaire tour players adding to their pile on Sunday afternoons will recognize a kindred spirit.

Tatum spends a little time talking about how he got into the game and what he accomplished as a young amateur--including winning the 1942 individual NCAA National Championship while graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University and winning the Danish Amateur while studying at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. The bulk of the book, though, consists of short essays about the people and places he's encountered--good and bad--during sixty years in the game.

I was particularly impressed by Tatum's never-sent letter to Tiger Woods. It was written at the time just before Tiger turned pro, dropping out of Stanford in the process to fully cash in on his prodigious talent. For those who believe accumulating a pile of money is the highest purpose in life, Tatum's comments will come off as sanctimonious bulls--t.  If, like me, you believe our time on this planet can be richer if we look beyond our bank statements, you'll appreciate what Tatum had to say. He pointed out that Woods would benefit greatly from a complete education, as anyone who has heard him speak in anything more than soundbites knows is very true. The other point he made is that Woods was setting a horrible example for other young people tempted to throw away their lives to chase the one-in-a-million chance of succeeding in professional sports. The letter, written in 1996, was sadly prophetic. There is more to life than video games and hookers.

Sandy Tatum may personify the stereotypical USGA "blue jacket" to some, his rectitude is refreshing in a time when golf seems to have degenerated into a contest to see who can land the biggest television contract.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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