Review

The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever

by Mark Frost

With
the publication of THE MATCH: The Day the Game of Golf Changed
Forever, Mark Frost cements his credentials as one of the
country’s finest chroniclers of the rich and celebrated
history of golf in America. In two previous efforts, he painted
remarkable portraits of significant events in the annals of the
game that travelled to America from Scotland. THE GREATEST GAME
EVER PLAYED is his account of the 1913 United States Open and the
victory by Frances Ouimet, an unknown American amateur. THE GRAND
SLAM is his narrative of Bobby Jones’s victory in the four
major golf championships of his era. The chronological saga
continues as THE MATCH takes readers back to 1956, the era of golf
preceding television and legends Arnold Palmer and Jack
Nicklaus.

At the outset, readers should accept the fact that Frost’s
title for his third golf book is hyperbole. Indeed, one can search
its pages in great detail and never find an answer to how the game
of golf changed as a result of the 18-hole practice-round match
pitting professionals Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson against amateurs
Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi. While substantial money may have
changed hands as a result of the contest, very few sports fans were
even aware that it had occurred. Contemporary professional golfers
probably pass out more in tips than the four players battled for on
this day.

Setting that aside, Frost describes far more than a competition
involving four men. Through his words readers gain a portrait of
the status of professional and amateur golf in the 1950s, as the
beloved and respected amateur golfer would now take a backseat to a
new era of professional golfers and their fans.

The money men behind the contest were Eddie Lowery and George
Coleman, wealthy businessmen who loved golf and betting on it.
Lowery had a storied connection to the game; he had been
Ouimet’s caddy in the historic 1913 Open. As a successful car
dealer in San Francisco, he allowed amateur golfers to work at his
dealership for princely salaries and continue playing golf as
amateurs. In the 1950s even the most successful professional golfer
had official winnings of less than $50,000 per year. The
substantial financial lure of modern professional golf was at least
a decade away. Amateur golfers were still highly revered in the
1950s, and the dream of most United States Golf Association
officials was that another great champion such as Bobby Jones, an
amateur who played only for the love of the game, might again
dominate championship events.

The stage was set for the match played during practice for the 1956
Bing Crosby Pro-Am. Venturi idolized Hogan, and indeed, after
turning professional, he would model his wardrobe after the Texas
golfer. While Hogan had the reputation of being a cold and ruthless
man on the course, he could also be warm and generous. While
Venturi was in the army, Hogan remarked that Venturi’s clubs
were not in the best condition. Venturi replied that his military
wages did not allow for the purchase of new clubs. Shortly
thereafter a brand-new set of irons from the Hogan factory arrived
at Venturi’s door.

Throughout THE MATCH, as he has done in his other books, Frost
captures the essence and spirit of an era. Sports does not exist in
a vacuum; it is a reflection of the moment. Hogan, Nelson, Venturi
and Ward were products of a generation tempered by World War II and
the post-war experience. They influenced the game of golf and
professional sports for the second half of the 20th century. Frost
chronicles that influence in a masterful fashion that all who love
the game of golf will appreciate.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 7, 2011

The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever
by Mark Frost

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2007
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 1401302785
  • ISBN-13: 9781401302788