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The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup

Review

The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup

John Feinstein has achieved a well-deserved reputation as the author of classic sports histories. In addition to his sports commentary and a column in The Washington Post, his bestselling book career began with A SEASON ON THE BRINK, the story of one season of Indiana University basketball during the Bobby Knight era. Since then, he has written books with topics ranging from college basketball to professional football, and biographies of iconic sports figures.

One of Feinstein’s favorite and frequent topics is the world of professional golf, and he returns to that venue in THE FIRST MAJOR: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup. It is a rich and rousing account of an intensely fought international golf event between American and European golfers. And as with any Feinstein chronicle, it goes far beyond the 2016 matches to delve into the history of what has become a pinnacle event in the world of professional golf.

Feinstein begins his story with the conclusion of the 2016 Ryder Cup through the clinching victory by American Ryan Moore over European Lee Westwood. Three matches were still in play, but Moore’s win clinched victory for the US by a lopsided score, the widest margin for the American team in more than three decades. Captained by Davis Love III, the team brought the Ryder Cup back to American shores for the first time since 2008 and for only the second time this century.

"Once Feinstein moves to the actual Ryder Cup weekend, he does a magnificent job of creating drama in an event where the outcome is already known."

There are two important themes in THE FIRST MAJOR. Feinstein chronicles in detail the history of the Ryder Cup, from its small beginnings to the million-dollar event that enthralls and excites fans on two continents. Englishman Samuel Ryder donated a trophy in 1927 to honor a match between professional golfers in representing America and Great Britain. Matches between amateur golfers of the nations had been played for several years, and in that era the amateurs were deemed more significant than their professional brothers. The Ryder Cup was contested somewhat sporadically in the 1920s, and not until after World War II did it resume with a regular schedule. Americans dominated, and only after the Great Britain team expanded to include golfers from throughout Europe did the matches become hard fought. Indeed, Europe began to dominate, and as Feinstein documents in his book, the American team attempted various strategies without success to achieve victory.

The second theme Feinstein attempts to create is the unbearable pressure that accompanies Ryder Cup matches. He notes that “some things in sports have to be felt. Seeing and hearing is not enough.” THE FIRST MAJOR goes a long way to making that pressure almost palpable as professional golfers recount how they were so nervous during matches that they literally could not swing a club.

Feinstein covers the preparation by the American team, from selecting Love to captain the squad to picking the players who would represent America. It is a hybrid roster with eight players making the team on merit, based on tournament performance over the two years before the matches and then the selection of four golfers, “captain’s picks” who fill out the squad. Building a team with chemistry is critical because 16 of the 28 match points come from matches with two-man teams.

Once Feinstein moves to the actual Ryder Cup weekend, he does a magnificent job of creating drama in an event where the outcome is already known. His years of covering sports has given him great access to many athletes. They seem comfortable with him and willing to share intimate details that readers will enjoy discovering on the pages of THE FIRST MAJOR, an outstanding book that tells a compelling story for golfers and non-golfers alike.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on November 3, 2017

The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup
by John Feinstein

  • Publication Date: October 24, 2017
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385541090
  • ISBN-13: 9780385541091