THE MONEY-WHIPPED STEER-JOB THREE-JACK GIVE-UP ARTIST
by Dan Jenkins/Doubleday, $24.95
by Mike Shropshire/Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, $23.95
If you let them, many golfers will tell you that theirs is the most poetic sport on earth. However, when it comes to the books of summer, baseball rules the reading rack. There's little in the literature of the links to rival novels such as Bernard Malamud's The Natural and Mark Harris's Bang the Drum Slowly. On the other hand, when August rolls around, who wants to read a great American novel? Better to collapse into a deck chair, slather yourself with SPF 2000 and devour a decadent golf yarn full of off-color wit, unorthodox sexual conquests and lots and lots of tee shots.
It was Jenkins's 1974 tale, Dead Solid Perfect, that established the genre: A profane but likable golfer hacks his way through the PGA Tour and into our hearts. In his latest opus Jenkins chronicles the odyssey of Bobby Joe Grooves, a throwback who refers to women as "shapely adorables" and children as "unruly little s—-s" and whose impression of Manhattan's Central Park is that "some areas would have made good golf holes." He is not an attractive protagonist, but you'll root for him anyway because he is by far the most appealing guy on the Tour. Will the hitherto mediocre Grooves snag a berth on the Ryder Cup team and triumph over his arrogant nemesis, Swedish golfer Nuke Thorssun? As Grooves himself might say, it'll cost you 20 bucks to find out.
There's another option this summer for Jenkins fans: Shropshire's story of the profane but likable Del Bonnet, who leaves his job as a golf pro at the Caloosahatchee Pines Country Club to hack his way through the Senior tour and into our hearts. Will the hitherto hapless Bonnet snag a berth at the Senior Open and face down his arrogant nemesis, Bruno Pratt?
Shropshire's publisher's blurb makes no bones about what he's trying to do: "capture the essence of acclaimed writer Dan Jenkins." So the question is, who is a better Dan Jenkins, Shropshire or Jenkins himself? The choice is yours.
It's close, but at least for me Shropshire leads by a couple of strokes, primarily because Del Bonnet is a little less predictable than Bobby Joe Grooves. For instance, when Grooves admires a shapely adorable, he does little more than slobber over the quality of her "rack." Bonnet is more discerning. His girlfriend's nose, he says, looks just like the noses on "those four-thousand-year-old Greek statues where there is no nose because it has eroded away, but what the nose would look like if it was still there. You know what I mean." Moreover, Grooves emits an unending stream of ethnic gibes that not everyone will find hilarious.
These books may not be poetry, but like golf itself, they offer plenty of fun on a hot summer day.