Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: The War by the Shore (2012)

By Curt Sampson

With the Ryder Cup coming up soon on the golfing calendar, it's not a bad time to take a look back at one of the most dramatic competitions in that event's history: the 1991 edition.

The temperature was starting to go up at that point, a process that had been building since all of the best Europeans took on the Americans as opposed to the Great Britain vs. U.S. format that had been abandoned a decade before that. Some Euro wins put the competitiveness back in the Ryder Cup, and the emotions soon followed.

The 1991 event became known as "The War by the Shore," and author Curt Sampson wisely uses that as the title of his good recap of the event. Perhaps the centerpiece of the story deals with the subject of Ryder Cup and pressure.

Pro golfers know pressure, of course. If they don't play well, they don't eat. The top players get beyond that stage, of course, and then have to worry about the pressure of getting to the next level -- winning on the tour -- and the next -- winning a major. But if a player doesn't come through in that situation, he's only let himself down.

In the Ryder Cup, a golfer who fails lets down himself, his team filled with peers, the fans at the course who are openly rooting for him, and his country. That's a much different animal, particularly in a relatively unfamiliar match play format. As a result, there are many nervous shots in a Ryder Cup. The compensation is, you don't have to beat everyone to win. You just have to win your match.

Sampson does a very nice job of setting up the event. It's fun to look at the rosters of the two teams now. Team Europe in hindsight has the memorable stars, including Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie. The Americans had some merely "very good" players, including Fred Couples, Lanny Wadkins and Payne Stewart, but they were deeper. Would that be enough? Virtually all of the players get quick biographies that bring to light some new or forgotten facts about them, and the story of the course itself -- just opening and thus a surprise choice to serve as host -- is interesting now as well.

Once the circumstances are set up, we move to the golf itself. It's difficult to make 21-year-old matches too interesting today, particularly those in the early going. If there's a little drag in the story, it comes at that point. But once we reach the final day of competition, the story certainly picks up. Sampson made the decision to write about the singles matches in order, rather than going minute by minute around the course. It's a smart move in this case because it's much easier to follow. Any loss of impact due to a lack of feeling about how the day was going for a side at a particular side isn't really missed that much.

Besides, the author did know what was coming. As any veteran golf fan knows, the competition came down to the final match, and provided a finish for the history books. And there's a nice ending on what happened to the participants after the match.

All things considered, "The War by the Shore" attains its goal pretty well, giving a nice recap of the proceedings. Those who have a strong interest in the subject certainly would do well to pick this up, and will give it an extra star.

Three stars

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