18 in America: book review

High school graduate golfer decides to set off to play a round of golf

Like golf movies, there is only one good golf book for every ten written. As much as I love the game I’m skeptical when a golf book crosses my desk, especially those aiming to link the game to a means of a fulfilling life.

Thankfully this book does not do that and it is very much one of the ten.

Dylan Dethier finished high school and decided to hop into his car with the aim of playing a round of golf in every mainland state of the United States.

18 in America is an his account of the trip and like most of us at seventeen years of age our goals are lofty without any clear plan Dethier sets off clearly a little unprepared.

Dethier recognizes his own naïvety throughout the trip but I particularly loved his rebellious attitude towards golf and keen to keep well clear of not just the game’s elitism but its traditions.

By the time I’d hit Missouri, I’d decided that keeping score was the best – but also the worst – thing about golf. It’s probably true that keeping score in any game detracts from the game itself, its essence, the physical actions and settings make it fun to play. I’ve always been sure that golf is a beautiful game. But the way we try to reduce the success of a four-hour athletic endeavour shared by friends down to a miniature pencil numbers squeezed onto a four-by-six-inch piece of paper is absurd.

For me, watching Adam Scott paint irons on flawless little two-yard draws from fairway to green was art. Writing down 3? That stole some of the magic away. Nobody goes to the Met with a bingo card or grading rubric. Why bother at Augusta?

Dethier thankfully leaves it to the reader to draw any clear links between his own personal evolution to aspects of the game of golf itself.

His piece on his encounter with Phil Mickelson is a great story and his take on the disappointment felt by golf fans during Tiger Woods’ personal meltdown is a concise summary on how many young (and old) golf fans must have felt at the time.

It broke my heart, think about Tiger. He had been larger than life, with unparalleled success on the course and a fault-free existence off of it. Not only had this been a lie, but the entire basis for my interest in the game felt like a lie too. What was I supposed to stand on? “Should he apologise to the public?” radio hosts pondered. “Does he really owe them an apology?” Maybe he doesn’t owe anyone anything, I thought. But jeez, I want an apology.

I loved Dethier’s wrestle with golf’s elitism. As the year progresses local news networks and eventually the PGA Tour hear of Dethier’s trip. He struggles to welcome the opportunities that present themselves against a wish to stay grounded to late evening tee times at public golf courses.

Dethier’s account of his time at Bandon Dunes makes for fascinating reading which reminded me of how accessible and unpretentious many of Australia’s golf courses are that Dethier would appreciate.

I picked up 18 in America assuming I wouldn’t make it past chapter two and ended up really enjoying it. Dethier’s honesty and free-flowing style makes for an easy read that will appeal to both golfers and non-golfer’s alike.

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