Tuesday, June 30, 2009

'Breaking the Slump' By Jimmy Roberts

Reviewed by Joe Logan

Philadelphia Inquirer

When you plow into a book subtitled How the Great Players Survived Their Darkest Moments in Golf and What You Can Learn From Them, you sort of expect to come away having, you know, learned something.

Ha! The joke's on me.

Not that Roberts' book isn't a pleasant, breezy read, ideal for the beach or - let's be honest here - a last-minute gift for that golfer in your life. Just understand that while this gift might get you off the hook, it won't get rid of his or her hook.

It's the first book for Roberts, a solid, likable golf correspondent for NBC Sports. (In the acknowledgments, Roberts writes that when he called his older sister to tell her he was writing a book, there was silence on the line until she said, "I think Mom and Dad would have been happy if you just read a book.")

Breaking the Slump is literary cotton candy. It's chock-full of fun stories and anecdotes about some of the biggest names in, and out, of golf, such as Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Paul Azinger, Johnny Miller, Ben Crenshaw, Arnold Palmer, the first President Bush, and Jack Nicklaus.

Jack Nicklaus? Who knew that Nicklaus, who remains the greatest player in the history of golf so long as Tiger Woods continues to chase his record of 18 major championship titles, ever had a slump?

I write about golf for a living, and I'm old enough to remember Nicklaus in his heyday, and I didn't recall a slump.

But, hey, there was one year. It was 1979, 17 years into his career, when Nicklaus was pushing 40. He'd already famously dethroned the beloved Arnold Palmer, and he had won the PGA Tour money title six times. But in '79, inexplicably, Nicklaus stunk the joint up. He didn't win once. He didn't even finish second. He only had one third-place finish all year, and he fell to 71st on the money list.

"I mean, you wouldn't believe how pathetic I was," Nicklaus told Roberts.

So, what did Nicklaus do? Nothing. He took four months off.

Come January 1980, when he was rested and ready, Nicklaus went back to his old coach, Jack Grout, like he was a fresh-eyed kid.

"I started from scratch," said Nicklaus. "OK, Jack Grout, my name is Jack Nicklaus and I want to learn how to play golf."

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