The Bogey Man: A Month on the PGA Tour

by George Plimpton, 1968

A wonderfully funny book recommended by the Book-A-Day calendar from Christie. George Plimpton spends a month on the PGA tour at three courses in California, and writes about it. It is just delightful! He is a very good writer, especially when it comes to conversations. He gets you into the game of golf – he writes about golfers, their equipment, their caddies, their superstitions, the golf courses and cities therein; you feel like you are a golfer. I want to watch golf now (not play it – never play it – so frustrating). But I want to watch it and see the beautiful golf courses and the interactions between golfers and their caddies, and see if the golfers in the lead get the yips.

My favorite parts of the book were him describing the Japanese Naval men who take over his body when he is golfing badly, who shout orders from far above down to cantankerous, drunk dissolutes perched on stools with half a bottle of rye on the floor beside them, shouting, “Ah, your father’s mustache!” back at their commands.

And, him describing the “yips.” The more experienced the golfer, the more likely they are to get the yips. “The yips (a name invented by Tommy Armour, who had them) was the term given the occupational malaise of golf — a nervous affliction that settled in the wrist and hands, finally, after the years of pressure and the money bets and the strain.” This helps me understand how Federer can get so nervous – the yips get worse the more experienced you are and after being absent from the game. “Some golfers felt that any prolonged absence from the game resulted in such a loss of confidence that an infestation of the yips would result.” You could certainly see this in Federer throughout 2021 at each tournament he played in. So, more experience in the game and a prolonged absence make the yips even worse.

And I loved his chapter on caddies – the touring caddies were professionals, mostly black, who followed the tour and hopefully got hired on by a good golfer. His descriptions of them are wonderful! He writes such good dialogue!

He didn’t like Palm Springs – the landscape, the homes, the people, the golf courses. There was an artificiality about it. I think he is used to lush golf courses that have tons of trees and bushes and thick green grass.

He talks to anyone and everyone about the game and the book is just chocked full of anecdotes, tips, funny stories. He talked to one golfer who says the keys to the game are the “3 C’s: Confidence, Concentration, and Control.” I think you could apply those to tennis, too.

Here is one of the funny stories:

Caddy: Mr. Bolt, you’ll be using either a two or a three iron for this shot.

Bolt (incredulously): Hell, man, that’s 350 yards out there. Ol’ Tom can’t begin to reach the green with a two, much less a three, iron.

Caddy: Mr. Bolt, all you got left in your bag are those two clus. Unless you want to use your putter.

Bolt: Oh.

Caddy: And your putter’s missin’ its handle. You snapped it off on the first nine.

Bolt: Oh.”

He describes a precursor to “Top Golf,” called Golf City, built near the La Guardia Airport. The motto was, “Don’t Bend. Just Swing,” because another golf ball pops up on the tee as soon as you hit one.

Here’s a funny about slow play: “I’ve always liked that story–I think it’s Vardon’s,” I said — “about the foursome agonizing over the slow play of an old gentleman in front. He won’t let them through. So they begin to pop balls around him in frustration. He sees them, and he sends a card back to them via his caddy. The message reads: Mr. So-an-so presents his compliments, and begs to say though he may be playing slowly he can play a devil of a lot more slowly if he likes.”

Here’s describing how bad golfers use way more clubs and see way more terrain than the pros: “…the bad golfer sees much more of the terrain than the expert. He has the greater opportunity, if he should be so inclined, to indulge in horticultural or even ornithological practice. His chances are far greater than the professional’s of running into a chestnut-sided warbler, for example, which is shy and tends to flit around in the lower branches of heavy shrubbery–familiar duffer’s territory.”

Here’s another funny:

“Golfer: “Did that go straight, boy?”

“Caddy: “Couldn’t see it, but it sounded crooked.”

“Or this one:

“Beginner (after repeated failures): “Funny game, golf.”

“Caddy: “‘Taint meant to be.”

Near the end of the book, he describes his attempts to interview Arnold Palmer, his idol. He blows it at one point, calling the LPGA, the WPGA instead. Afterward:

“I had the quick sense of failure–that I had been accorded valuable time and had not made the best of it. I walked from the clubhouse out into the afternoon. I began singing to myself–a manifestation of embarrassment that a friend of mine refers to as “the hummings” –making loud noises in one’s head to drive out discomfiting thoughts. I often have them–the hummings–waking up in the morning and thinking back on the indiscretions of word or deed the evening before. The WPGA, I thought; boy, that wasn’t so hot. Why hadn’t I done better with him, I wondered.”

Here is the last paragraph of the book:

“I knew it was an absurd arrangement; that nothing had happened to my game. But then again, perhaps something could have happened. Was it possible that the gears, after a deserving layoff, were now, after so much grinding and screeching in California, perfectly meshed? I could see my ball down the fairway–a fine lie. Another good shot, perhaps a two iron, would fetch the green. My fingers itched for a club. I hurried up to find out what was going to happen.”

A fine book!

In the Foreword by Rick Reilly: “Plimpton was my ideal. He lived the life I aspired to. Live in Paris. Write hilariously and without arrogance. Appear in The Simpsons. Be fearless. Do you realize Plimpton was one of the men who wrestled Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after the assassination of Robert F .Kennedy, only a year after this book was first published? Do you realize he remarried at 61 and had twin girls at 64? At 76, Plimpton dies in his sleep. In my eyes, the man lived a perfect life.”

Here’s what the Christie Calendar says:

“A Literary Lion Tees Off: In 1968, Paris Review editor and weekend duffer George Plimpton joined the professional golf tour for a month. He played in three California tournaments, mingling with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and some memorable journeymen, such as the one who missed a putt and was then spotted by an observer deep in the woods: “My God, he’s in there beating his driver against a stump!” Plimpton’s account of his time on the PGA Tour, The Bogey Man, is too funny to be reserved for golfers alone. The game’s rich lore and the entertaining company of players and caddies on the course and in the clubhouse afford Plimpton splendid opportunities to demonstrate that, although he may have been a hopelessly inelegant golfer, he was nearly flawless as a sporting raconteur.”