Typical Feinstein ("A Season on the Brink" excepted). Quick, gossipy, superficial, fawning, etc., etc. This book is about the 2002 U.S. Open Golf Championship at the Bethpage Black Golf Course, a New York State Park course on Long Island. The subtitle, "Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black," is used here as a figure of speech, meaning "behind the scenes." ("Inside the ropes" is normally used in the context of a professional golf tournament to refer to the actual playing area itself -- spectators are separated from the golfers, caddies, officials, and other chosen few by thin ropes that tell the spectators how close they can get to the action.) Feinstein's purpose is to give the reader a look at the unfolding of a golf tournament from its conception to its completion. We see U.S Golf Association (the organization that conducts the tournament) leaders in action and learn something about the logistics of putting on a golf tournament (e.g., 4,850 people willing to volunteer their time so that the professional golfers and U.S.G.A. can have a huge payday), about random qualifiers and random competitors, and about the resurrection of the Black golf course. Yet the book does not fulfill its promise. My guess is that Feinstein's indebted to too many golf people for both his past and anticipated future lifestyle to offer the kind of critical insights and analysis I had hoped for.
John Feinstein finds a lot more interesting things about the preparations for the 2002 U.S. Open than I would. He writes about parking pressures and vendor pilfering the way Cornelius Ryan wrote about D-Day.
Those expecting a play-by-play on the golf played during those four days in June, which saw Tiger Woods break away the first day and never look back, may be disappointed. Even when the book's narrative finally reaches the event itself, after some 260 pages, the focus remains on the behind-the-scenes organizers, the USGA, NBC, and state officials. It's a unique situation, Feinstein reminds us, to have used a municipal course to host the U.S. Open, but maybe it's not worth writing a book about.
That said, Feinstein's book is an interesting read, especially for those who care about things like event management, sports broadcasting, or professional golf. As an author, Feinstein is much more engaged than he was when he wrote "The Majors," his style coming up to that of his classic "A Good Walk Spoiled." Some of his wit is back in evidence. When a volunteer realizes Tiger used the Porta-John he helped set up, he calls a friend to share the good news. "Yes, Woods thrilled people in many different ways," Feinstein concludes.
I also liked the fact he doesn't hold back with the players, something I noticed and minded with "The Majors" after his no-holds-barred approach in "Good Walk Spoiled." Woods still won't shake a TV reporter's hand 18 months after that reporter said Woods was in a "slump." Sergio Garcia has his star moments, while Jeff Maggert comes across as totally unpleasant. At least Feinstein whipping boy John Daly's on his best behavior this time around.
The portraits of the organizers and staff that center this book are smoother, and maybe Feinstein finds more of interest about them than you will. It's an interesting tack to take, though, writing not about the game's stars but those who help to make such marquee events happen. Feinstein is in uncharted territory here, and maybe reclaiming some lost ground as golf's most original working writer.
That said, "The Open" is still a bore in parts, and lacks a strategic or historical overview of what makes Bethpage's Black Course so special. What did course designer A.W. Tillinghast do with the track that was so unique, and how did it preserve that notoriety over the decades as an overused Long Island muni? There's a splendid tale about golf course architecture waiting to get out here that never quite does.
All the same, "The Open" is good for what it is, an appreciation of a very underappreciated aspect of sport. Too bad it isn't a little more interesting, but for those who care (and there are many, given golf's popularity), it will probably be worth your while to check it out.
One of the more disappointing books by John Feinstein. He acts like the people putting on the 2002 U.S. Open were working on a cure for cancer. But seriously if the people described have all the abilities that Feinstein accredits them with, why aren't they doing something more meaningful than putting on a Golf Tournament. ALSO since I am a Huge Tiger Woods fan the usual Feinstein bashing of Tiger is not appreciated. One thing that surprised me is that NBC dictates pairings and starting times. If David Fay has all the integrity that Feinstein gives him credit for, he should not allow NBC to be so selective. Also, I remeber watching this event on the tube. And Feinstein does not capture the enthusiasm that New Yorkers displayed for Phil Mickelson. The Book does not mention that he was called "The Mick." The only question was how low to rate this book. Though unscientific 3 stars "feels" right.
If you are looking for a stroke by stroke description of the Open Championship, look elsewhere. As others have pointed out, this is a story about running an Open, not playing in an Open (perhaps the subtitle is a bit misleading). If you have any interest in the topic, it's a pretty good book. Feinstein's style is pleasant and interesting and he does a nice job describing the myriad of tasks and personnel required to set up an Open. This is not as good a book as The Majors, but I enjoyed it as much as A Good Walk.