'Golfing with God' by Roland Merullo

By: Bob Spiwak

This is without a doubt the best and most entertaining piece of golf fiction I have ever read. A non-so-successful touring pro, Herman Fins-Winston, who prefers to go by the name Hank, has died and gone to Heaven. Once there he discovers that his residency has been arranged by God his own self. Actually, it depends on the day, whether God is a He or a She. There is no discrimination in Heaven.

Why God has summoned Hank to the Promised Land is because he needs help with His short game. Worse yet, on the green He has a bad case of the yips. Yes, He/She (we'll call Him by his male name for this report, OK?) plays golf. No wonder; we learn there are 8,187 golf courses in Heaven, including links, parkland, mountain, tropical and any other type of venue, in one's choice of climates.

Hank eventually gets to play a round with God and the exchanges between the two range from poignant to hilarious. What emerges is that He indeed needs help with his game, and Hank, bewildered, does not know if he is up to the task.

I would interject here that the title might infer this as a religious tome, but I did not find it so. There are discussions of morality, honesty and self-worth in context with the story, all of which underscore the clich that golf is a microcosm of life.

Next, Hank gets paired with Buddha, and again there is a wonderful exchange between the pair as they ply their way around a heavenly golf course. Buddha, of course, is a fine golfer and even miscues are managed with a gentle philosophical response.

One of my favorite pairings occurs when Hank, playing alone off the first tee, notes a threesome under a tree watching him. After he putts out they ask if he would like to join them. He is reticent to do so, but because he feels he has failed to cure God's problem during the first lesson, he decides it would be rude and unheavenly to refuse their invitation.

It turns out that the trio is comprised of Jesus, Mary (his mother) and Moses. Hank converses with them as a group as well as individually. Needless to say, Jesus is a masterful golfer, as is Moses, while Mary is a hacker. When both she and Hank hit into a pond, Moses parts the waters for her so she can play her ball through the pond. Jesus merely walks across the water to the green. Hank, however, is apprehensive about the waters closing in on him in either maneuver, and opts to walk along the shore.

At one point in this match, Moses and Mary have gone ahead and Jesus has hung back, talking with Hank. He has his eye on Mary as she poles one down the fairway, and turning his head, over his shoulder, he says, "Nice shot, Mom."

That line cracked me up, but there are many more. I won't go into Hank's return to Earth and the rest of the book. That's up to the reader.

"Golfing with God" by Roland Merullo, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $23.95, 2005, ISBV-13: 978-1-56512-501-8.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he's back to being a fanatical golfer. Now a contributing editor for Cybergolf, Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob's most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultra-private Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.