A rueful return to the links

The Downhill Lie: A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport is the humorous journey of one golfer back into the game.

The Downhill Lie: A Hacker's Return to a Ruinous Sport Knopf 207 pp., $22

If you’re not a golfer, there’s not much point in buying Carl Hiaasen’s latest book The Downhill Lie: A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport. It’s full of insider humor.

But if you are a weekend duffer, you will appreciate the task this novelist and award-winning newspaper columnist has given himself: break his best score (88) after a 32-year lay off.

With biting humor and painfully honest self-humiliation, Hiaasen describes his 1-1/2-year journey into one of Dante’s inner circles of hell.

His path is one that’s familiar to anyone who’s tried to improve his or her game: new clubs, new balls, swing analysis, lessons, club fitting, and an array of weird training devices and remedies that border on quackery.

The difference between Hiaasen and most of the rest of us is that this guy can write. He wryly and accurately conveys what struggling golfers (are there any other kind?) experience.

For example, Hiaasen gets his swing analyzed. Keith, the golf pro, is studying the erratic flight path of his shots on a computer monitor. He’s puzzled and calls another pro over to look at the results.

“ ‘How bad is it?’ I asked.
‘Have you thought about taking up fly-fishing?’ Keith asked.
‘Or maybe bowling?’ said the other guy.

“A second color monitor displayed the computer-imagined lines of each of my drives on a simulated fairway – the white lines wriggled hither and yon in a chaotic tangle, as if someone had detonated a plate of linguini.”

Mostly I smiled ruefully. But Hiassen made me laugh describing how he sank a golf cart in a lake and how he disposed of the “scarlet harlot,” a putter that had betrayed him.

In his rare moments of seriousness, Hiaasen tells how golf became a way for him to spend time with his father who was never home. His exploration of that relationship, and the joy that his youngest son now finds in a game that causes Hiaasen so much angst, are among the few heartwarming passages of the book.

Yes, Hiaasen eventually breaks his old personal record. On Day 409 of his journey, he shoots an 85. But further progress eludes him. “ ‘I feel like quitting again every time I play,’ I admit, ‘then I hit one good shot, and all I want to do is go out and play again.’ ”

David C. Scott is the Monitor’s international editor and has a closet full of swing aids.

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