'The Caddie' by Michael Veron

By: Bob Spiwak

Had I not previously read Michael Veron's first two golf novels, "The Greatest Player Who Never Lived" and "The Greatest Course That Never Was" I might have kinder words, albeit no back-cover raves for his latest, "The Caddie." The first two get "A" or even "A+," but "Caddie" for me rates a "C" at best.

The man is a great writer, no question. Some might refer to this as a trilogy, but aside from Bobby Jones' name, there is no connectedness of consequence to the first two novels.

On the plus side this book offer tips that the reader may not even be aware of in the course of the text and only later think, "Hmm, maybe that's my problem and how to correct it." Veron's golf knowledge of both players and venues is amazing. One can learn a lot about the histories of both while ignoring the tale presented in this novel.

All three of Veron's books have a mystical underpinning. In "The Caddie" it is the story of a down-on-his-luck, alcoholic, philandering and once-talented Tour player whom we find in a Louisiana slammer. He is bailed out by a mysterious caddie named Stewart Jones, who takes the protagonist, Bobby Reeves, under his wing and roof, convinces the ex-friend who Reeves defrauded into dropping the charges, and commences to take the golfer through all the Tour stops, beginning with Q-School.

Along the way, Stewart and Bobby do practice rounds at exclusive courses like Augusta National, and wherever they go, Stewart is greeted warmly by people at the courses. As each round is pursued around the nation, Stewart's influence over Reeves is ever more evident. Reeves has many questions, but his caddie, who seems to know the breaks on every green in the nation, uses the Socratic method of teaching, answering questions with one of his own - never providing a direct answer.

Reeves will work his way into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by the end of the book, having gone through Q-School, notching his first Tour victory in Hawaii, and continuing his successes around the nation. Having played a number of these courses, I found that Veron's descriptions brought back memories.

On the down side, it was obvious that after the first few chapters Stewart Jones has some connection to Bobby and that the name Stewart probably had something to do with Stewart Maiden, Bob Jones' mentor, but took until the last page of the book for the hero to make the connection.

And if there is a drug that induces writers to use parenthetical phrases ad nauseum , then Mr. Veron may be overdosing on the stuff. His parenthesized asides are nuisances in trying to maintain the flow of the book. And I see a misbegotten formula of using real players' names rather than all or mostly fictional names.

Reeves cruises past a different set of past and real-time players as fellow competitors and on-course personalities on his way to the U.S. Open in a single season. With his knowledge of the players, Veron would have been better off doing a separate book about each of them.

I got to the end, which concludes mystically and happily for the characters as well as I for having reached the last page. As a matter of comparison, I have read "The Greatest Course That Never Was" three times and "Greatest Player" twice, all in the last couple of years.

This one, sad to say, will probably just gather dust.

"The Caddie," by J. Michael Veron, St. Martin's Press, 2004, $13.95, 292 pages, ISBN 0-312-32562-2

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.