Peace Corps Writers
Review
Passion for Golf:
     In Persuit of the Innermost Game
by Roland Merullo (Micronesia 1979–80)
The Lyons Press, $20.00
2000
144 pages
Other books by Roland Merullo

(Buy this book)

  Reviewed by Joshua Dohan (Ghana 1982–84)
 
 
    “WHILE A MAN’S BATTLE against himself is undoubtedly at the heart of golf’s abiding appeal, the setting in which it is played is, for most golfers, one of the most wonderful things about it.” — Herbert Wind

I grew up playing sports among other boys who played sports. In our world there were two schools of thought. Some of us believed that one’s athletic personality revealed much about his (this was anPrinter friendly version entirely male world) character. Others believed that by observing a person’s day to day personality, much could be learned about his athletic (true) character. In this Wallendic world in which life was sports and everything else was merely waiting, much (waiting) time was killed in debate over the details of these philosophies. For Roland Merullo — s with most of those boys that remain engrossed in the battlefield of athletic conflict — these debates rage on. The nature of the conversation has matured, but it retains the same potential for both insight and banality.
     In our youth, we were consumed by the battle. Character was nearly always about the competitive edge. Which of us was braver? Fiercer? Cleverer? More imaginative? Who had the will to win? For Ronald Merullo, the quest for understanding through sport has turned inward. He is interested in ego, anger, and humility. The ultimate goal is no longer “winning” — it is serenity through understanding of self. In his view, the mature and successful golfer is not a great warrior, but a passionate lover. Golf lends itself to this evolution of thought, because it is such an internal game. For the most part our external opponents are irrelevant, the game is all about understanding and controlling our own emotions. Merullo does a nice job identifying matters of spirit and emotion that are central to both golf and life (waiting).

     As someone who grew up enjoying books about ideas, but who has often been totally stymied by even short descriptive passages, it surprises me to report that my favorite parts of this book were the descriptions of the author’s favorite courses and how he has played them. I can’t get through five pages of Jane Austen and skimmed most of War and Peace, but was totally entranced by the account of the author’s trip around his home nine in a downpour. This juxtapositioning of self reflection and course management is part of what makes the temptation to psychoanalyze golf irresistible. Our struggle may be primarily an inner one, but the course of that struggle is both influenced by and manifested in our actual performance. If serenity is our objective, it is best visualized as a gently floating shot off an eight-iron, curving slightly right to left and nestling inches from the cup.
     By infusing his own musings with quotes from thinkers on subjects other than golf, Merullo shows either great courage or hubris. That’s what passion will do for you. Philosophizing is a risky business. Sports philosophy is nearly an oxymoron in today’s cynically sophisticated world. I enjoyed this book, but I suspect that to do so one needs a passion for either golf or Siddhartha (another book I couldn’t get through). Mr. Merullo took this risk with his eyes open:

     “What draws us so passionately to the course is a deep, abiding affection, an emotional involvement strong and steady enough to withstand the regular disappointments that are part of playing. We love the challenge of the game, the colors and shapes of the course, the feel of a sweetly struck six-iron, the flight of the ball. It’s not necessary — it’s probably not wise — to spend a lot of time in the clubhouse talking about such things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give them attention, inside ourselves, as we play.”

It might not have been wise, to spend this much time “talking about such things,” but in life, as in golf, we love the passionate and the risk takers. Whether you find this book to be a birdie or a bogey, I think you will appreciate how Mr. Merullo plays the game.

Joshua Dohan is a public defender in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Being an anti-golf snob for forty years, he now has a passionate love/hate relationship with the game.
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