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Book Review: Playing from the Rough

Book Review: Playing from the Rough

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

The best stories about sports are, far more often than not, deeper than the game itself. The best sports stories are those of individuals overcoming obstacles, conquering personal demons, dealing with social inequities, or finding redemption.

On its surface, Playing from the Rough by Jimmie James is the story of a man’s Odysseus-like quest to play the top 100 golf courses in the US in one year.

However, each course on James’ journey brings with it insight into himself as a black man in modern society, as well as reconciling his past growing up in poverty with a single mother in East Texas. By the end of his journey James has accomplished a goal that few have not only ever attempted, but completed, and also found some solace in his current life through the journey.

Unlike most sports biographies, James was never a professional athlete, nor a celebrity of any stature. He is an everyman, which makes what could be a very stuffy topic – playing an exclusive sport at some of the most exclusive places in the world – relatable.

You don’t find yourself rooting so much for James, who retired relatively young as an engineer and executive at a very large energy company, to complete his quest, but rather you feel as if you are a buddy on the journey with him.

It was also very interesting to see someone give their impressions of those legendary courses that most golfers will never get the chance to set foot on. Reading James describe with reverence courses such as Augusta National, Merionand Riviera is refreshing. His love for the sport of golf, its history, and the deep meaning that players attach to it is evident and much appreciated.

My one critique is the speed, if you will, with which James goes through some of the lesser-known courses on the list. I understand, however, that both for the length of the book and the amount of time James spent on the road going from course to course, not everything could be included. Some details might even have already been lost to memory – James grouped many of the courses on his quest by state, so we truly only get brief looks at quite a few courses.

Where the book really shines, though, is when James becomes introspective. He speaks about the shame of the poverty of his youth, about feeling like an outsider in certain work situations, and even writes lovingly about the time he first met his future wife. Throughout the book James is reminded of how much his past has shaped the man he has become. The following passages are especially poignant:

“Though I was willing to spend whatever it took on things that mattered to me, I was pretty frugal about things that didn’t. Yet when those things were pointed out to me, I’d be instantly embarrassed—not by my cheapness but by the fact that somebody had noticed. It’s an involuntary response that goes way back. In the eighth grade, my reading teacher often brought me her son’s hand-me-downs. I was grateful, but embarrassed by the fact she recognized I needed them.”

These kind of moments are deftly woven into the rounds that James plays at the 100 courses, and are the true star of this book.

Overall, I think the book is well done. While it doesn’t tread on new ground, what it does do it does very well. It won’t reach the canon of great golf books, but it is nicely done. It’s relatable, easy to read, and doesn’t get bogged down in the minutiae of the sport. Fans of golf will enjoy getting a peak at these legendary courses, while non duffers will appreciate the internal battles and the personal stories.