If you forced me to rate this book Amazon-style, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. Shane Ryan has a crisp, readable style, and the players and subjects he addresses — that would be players and subjects other than Tiger Woods — make it a worthwhile read. There is a long history of quality books about the PGA Tour, but ever since the golf media went All Tiger All The Time, no one has bothered to write a book about other players. Good books about past players have been written, but nothing contemporary that wasn’t Tiger-centric. In the eyes of golf writers, there wasn’t a PGA Tour; there was only Tiger. With “Slaying The Tiger,” Shane Ryan has written a real golf book for real golf fans.
The book isn’t perfect. My biggest problem — and it truly could be my problem — is Ryan’s rather ham-fisted typecasting of the players. Had I read this book when younger, I would have simply accepted Ryan’s characterizations and moved on. Not being young, and being familiar with most of the golfers, I couldn’t help but feel I was seeing behind Ryan’s book-writing curtain. I sensed Ryan felt his narrative would flow more interestingly if he hung a simplistic tag on each player, and so he did. I kept envisioning movie blurbs: Two fun-loving teens move in with their strait-laced accountant uncle. Bubba Watson: Hypocritical Christian is rude and temperamental. Rory McIlroy: Ruthless golf assassin mows down opponents with secret sadistic glee. (More on that one later.) Sergio Garcia/Jordan Spieth: Self-pity leads to self-defeat. Such labeling deprives the author and the reader of the ambiguity surrounding all of us humans. That said, many times Ryan went to great effort to clarify subtleties about one point or another, so one doesn’t get the impression the labeling was the result of faulty thinking, but rather a clumsy square-peg-in-round-hole book-writing strategy. Simply put, the labels were too dogmatic and felt preachy.
By no means let that turn you away from the book, which I highly recommend. Here, look, I’ll even give you an Amazon link. There is a lot of great stuff: the description of Jason Day’s life prior to the tour is the best I’ve ever seen; the Victor Dubuisson story (the first chapter I read) was all new to me, and fascinating; the Patrick Reed chapter (you probably read this as an excerpt last February at TobaccoRoadBlues); the Matt Every chapter; the Masters chapters (even though Ryan’s complaints about the members and organizers seemed to me forced and insubstantial).
I was struck by one recurring theme in the book: just how little access journalists have to the players, even the ones you might think would be happy to get a little media attention. That may have been my biggest takeaway from the book.
There were some quick and dirty anecdotes in the WGC-Bridgestone chapter; I would have preferred more of that and less psychoanalysis. More show, less tell, to trot out the old chestnut. (The short bit on Jason Dufner in this chapter was quite good; Ryan told the story and left the reader to form his own impressions.)
As for Tiger Woods, Ryan pretty much toes the party line: Woods is the greatest thing since sliced bread; Woods is the Pied Piper who led the 20-something players to play golf as they do. But such eye-rolling moments are rare as the Yay Tiger remarks are fairly limited; Ryan even took a few shots at Woods — although a little between-the-lines reading was sometimes required. More on that in part 2, where I’ll focus on specific details.
The chapters on Dubuisson and Day alone make the book worth the price of admission. The chapters on the Masters and Augusta were a pleasure to read, too, even though I didn’t agree with much of what was written; it was fun to mull over why I thought Ryan was off-base. One other thing: buying the book will show support for golf-writing about topics other than Tiger Woods. Strike a blow for the improvement of the current state of golf journalism.