College golf is the breeding ground for the PGA, and the sport's overlooked chapter. And in 1995 college golf saw its ultimate showdown. At the NCAA championship, a freshman who would become the sport's biggest icon stood on the green in a sudden-death playoff that would settle the score in a tense and heated rivalry. Would Tiger Woods sink the putt?
Based on exhaustive reporting and interviews, The Last Putt
tells the story of an epic rivalry that encapsulated the changing face of the game. On one side was Oklahoma State, a true golfing dynasty featuring the young bloods of a privileged golf family and a coach whose winning record and reputation for toughness made him a mythical figure. On the other side was Stanford, born of the creative recruiting of an unforgettable group of players: Notah Begay (golf's first prominent Native American), Casey Martin (who broke down barriers by playing with a severe disability), and Tiger Woods. A stirring ensemble tale of young men carving out their futures on and off the course, The Last Putt
makes for compelling, stroke-for-stroke reading down to the last putt.
A Q&A with Neil Hayes and Brian Murphy, Authors of The Last Putt: Two Teams, One Dream, and a Freshman Named Tiger Q:
Where did the idea for The Last Putt
come from? Neil Hayes:
Actually, my agent, Frank Scatoni of Venture Literary, first pitched the idea to me. I was skeptical at first. Who cared about college golf? But the more I researched the characters and discovered all the interconnected story lines the more I became convinced that this had all the makings of a compelling tale. Brian Murphy:
Like Neil, I was both intrigued (Tiger in college!) and skeptical (college golf?). But the story lines proved too rich to pass up, even beyond Tiger's obvious attraction. It just goes to show you how many good stories lurk out there beyond the everyday headlines. Q:
At what point did you decide to be coauthors? Hayes:
Based largely on the experienced I gained while writing When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football's Longest Winning Streak
, I knew immediately how I would structure the book. But I wasn't a golf expert. I had respected Brian's work as the national golf writer for the San Francisco Chronicle
. Although he had recently made the move to radio, I knew Brian wanted to continue writing. I thought my experience of having already written a book coupled with his golf expertise was a perfect match. Murphy:
All credit to Neil for reaching out. I admired his generosity to include me, and it made sense when he spelled out how the book could be divided easily between two authors without much conflict, if any. My golf history, plus his book-writing history, made it easier for each of us to guide the other when needed. Q:
As coauthors, how did you divide the workload while researching and writing the book? Hayes:
I thought it was an ideal two-person project from the start, because one person could focus on Stanford and the other on Oklahoma State--which is what we did, by the way. Brian wrote three chapters on Stanford, I wrote three chapters on Oklahoma State, and the other chapters we wrote together. Murphy:
You can almost picture us sitting at our laptops, Neil in an orange "OKLAHOMA STATE" sweatshirt, me in a cardinal "STANFORD" sweatshirt, and that would be a somewhat accurate portrait. But most importantly, we had to work together in the climactic chapters, at the actual NCAA Championships at the end of the book. Combining voices proved to be more facile than we originally imagined, and reading each other's chapters with an eye to tailoring styles was helpful as well. Q:
What was the biggest challenge? Hayes:
The majority of these golf events weren't well covered. That said, I don't want to diminish the quality of the newspaper and magazine articles that were available. They were rich with detail and very helpful. But coverage of some of the regular-season events were reduced to a few paragraphs in the newspaper. In such cases, we had to rely on the memories of the participants. As you know, memories fade over time. Some details are lost and others are exaggerated. The biggest challenge was piecing together the events from all those individual shards of memory. Murphy:
It was sort of like being a detective at times, trying to figure out who birdied what and when--especially in the final moments of the book, when the showdown came to a head. Amazingly, ESPN's footage went off the air before the championship was decided. There were just too many weather delays, and ESPN had other programming issues, so our videotape evidence cut off well before the thrilling final act. Doing as much research as possible into those final few holes was the biggest, and most fun, challenge of them of all. Q:
Did Tiger participate in the project? If not, why not? Murphy:
The writing of this book, of course, took place well before the late 2009 scandal that prompted Tiger's "indefinite" leave from golf. When we were writing it, he was at the peak of his powers and winning majors and available to the media at golf events. However, having covered Tiger for years, I had a feeling he would take the tack he always takes on projects about his life--to not participate. His thirst for privacy and his previously well-protected image has had him saying "No" to projects like ours all his life. We thought we'd have a chance to get him to participate because of the topic. He frequently states how his time at Stanford was among the most enjoyable periods of his life, and we thought perhaps his desire to help out his alma mater and the unique nature of the story would encourage him to participate. Alas, he held true to form, and his agent, Mark Steinberg, wished us well with the project and said "No, thanks" at every persistent request. We do know he had interest in the project, as other members of the Stanford team told us he asked about it on occasion. Q:
How did the scandal surrounding Woods impact the project? Murphy:
At its essence, Tiger's role in this book had little or nothing to do with his fall from grace in late 2009. Our book is, first and foremost, an ensemble tale about many intersecting storylines. It so happens that one of the sexiest is the role of the most famous teenage golfer ever. Our book isn't about Tiger the husband, it's about Tiger the golfer, Tiger the teenager, Tiger the freshman, and all the material on Tiger in this book completely captures this time in his life. So, we felt confident it would still hold appeal to many readers interested in golf, sports, and Tiger's history. Hayes:
We said the same thing since first envisioning this book: Tiger is just one of more than a dozen characters. He may have gone on to be the most famous and successful but his is just one of many compelling stories that make up our narrative. This book takes place during one calendar year in 1994–95, when the scandal was not even a speck on the horizon. We're confident the snapshot of Tiger as described in these pages accurately portrays who and how he was then, which was what we set out to do.
(Neil Hayes photo © Chicago Sun-Times)
(Brian Murphy photo © Brad Mangin)
Photographs from The Last Putt: Two Teams, One Dream, and a Freshman Named Tiger
(Click on images to enlarge)
From Publishers Weekly
Tiger Woods's extraordinary abilities on the golf course—and more recently, his personal life—have been documented exhaustively since he joined the professional golf ranks, but 15 years ago, he was simply a wide-eyed but confident freshman for the Stanford University team. Woods is far from the only compelling figure in Hayes and Murphy's gripping look at the 1995 NCAA golf championship, which featured Woods and his Stanford teammates up against their arch-nemesis, Oklahoma State. The two schools were a contrast, with Stanford, led by a coach with a modest style, putting together a team made to win a championship. Much like their star player's multiethnic background, the Stanford Cardinals were extremely diverse; Oklahoma State, meanwhile, had players who were mostly from well-to-do families that golfed frequently. The two teams' frequent battles throughout the year culminated in a sudden-death playoff at what many called the greatest match in NCAA golf championship history. Hayes and Murphy delve into not just the crucial strokes leading up to the game's thrilling conclusion but the iron-clad bonds that formed between teammates and their coaches. The authors craft a dramatic, detailed account of a relatively unknown event, and a look at Woods, before he became the world's most famous athlete. (Apr.)
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