John Feinstein’s name is synonymous with sports classics, and the world of professional golf is a major focus of that writing. It was Feinstein who chronicled the arduous task of designing, reconstructing and readying Bethpage Black for the 2002 Open in OPEN: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black. From that chronicle golf fans learned what it requires to prepare a golf venue for the United States Open. Feinstein returns to the 2008 U.S. Open held at Torrey Pines in ARE YOU KIDDING ME?: The Story of Rocco Mediate's Extraordinary Battle with Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open, an aptly titled saga of another major golf championship that leaves fans shaking their heads in amazement and incredulity. Had Feinstein written a novel instead of a factual narrative of the Open, most readers would have sloughed the book off as being impossible to believe. Instead, Feinstein reminds us all that in the world of sports, anything can, and often does, happen.
Feinstein has a partner in ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Rocco Mediate --- the hero of that Open, the golfing “David” who faced Tiger Woods in an 18-hole playoff that lasted 19 holes --- is Feinstein’s collaborator in the biographical saga of a golf battle for the ages. After the Woods-Mediate confrontation, golfers across the land asked Mediate to write about that momentous week. While there were several book proposals, none were appealing to him. It was his friend Cindi Hilfman who suggested John Feinstein as an author. It turned out to be a great match. For his part, Mediate suggested a title that, if chosen, might have revolutionized the book industry. Ultimately, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? was selected, eliminating one adjective that might have banned the cover from most bookstores. After reading Feinstein’s introduction, the missing word will be clear.
Most fans are now familiar with the David and Goliath match that was the U.S. Open of 2008. And likewise they are familiar with the career of Tiger Woods, the Goliath in the confrontation. But ARE YOU KIDDING ME? recounts the career of Rocco Mediate, which is precisely opposite to Tiger Woods in every aspect save one --- overcoming physical injury.
From his teenage years, Woods was groomed for professional golf. By his 20th birthday he had won three U.S. Amateur Championships. Upon joining the professional ranks, he secured large endorsement contracts, assuring him future wealth even if he never won a tournament. His major tournament victories have him on pace to be recognized as the greatest golfer in history. Mediate came to professional golf in a far less spectacular fashion. He is what professional golfers call a “grinder.” He was an unknown golfer who played at a small college. He came to professional golf through the rigors of the qualifying school and had to earn sufficient money in tournaments to retain his playing privileges. Throughout his career he has been plagued with back problems that have kept him away from the game for long stretches of time. Mediate has never won a major golf championship and has rarely contended in those events.
That was the stage for the unlikely confrontation between Woods and Mediate at Torrey Pines in June 2008. Feinstein portrays the battle as both a reporter and biographer. Golf fans who watched the epic match one year ago will still find the narrative of ARE YOU KIDDING ME? and its mesmerizing shot by shot and hole by hole recounting of one of golf’s classic confrontations a wonderful read. Add to the story the classic feel-good saga of Rocco Mediate, not a great athlete but a hard-working Rocky Balboa-type figure who performed nobly in his moment in the spotlight. This is an inspirational, heartwarming piece of sports history that commemorates a moment in time that will long be remembered.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on May 18, 2009