Dream On - Book Review

Dream On: One Hack Golfer’s Challenge to Break Par in a Year

by John Richardson

Grade: a qualified “B”
Teacher’s Comments: A tale of obsession

I’ve heard it said by more than one teaching pro that the average golfer will never get any better as a player than he is three to five years into his playing “career.” That’s pretty depressing news, and not something that I think the PGA of America wants to get out there. Speaking quite frankly, a pro friend once told me that lessons will make a temporary difference, but that unless a golfer is willing to make a significant commitment of time and effort, he’s wasting his money. For the average golfer (and remember that the average golfer shoots 100, and has since the 1950s) to drop his scores into the 80s would require at least bimonthly lessons and untold hours of range time.

So given that, it was an outrageous challenge that hacker John Richardson set before himself: to play a round of golf at par within a year’s time. Even more unlikely was that he planned to do it while holding down a job and trying to avoid divorce. The title of the book reflects the supposed impossibility of that task. When the possibility of succeeding at such a challenge was suggested to the great Scottish golfer Sam Torrence, his reply was “Dream On.”

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that Richardson did, indeed meet his goal. There was absolutely no suspense about that from page one. A failure would not have rated a book.

It’s also not particularly “inspiring,” in spite of what many reviewers have said. In his quest to make par, Richardson put what I would deem to be an enormous burden on his family and work partners. Although his wife is by all appearances a Saint, I wonder how the marriage survived. Some of his work relationships did not; Richardson says that had nothing to do with his quest, but I am skeptical. Truly, I found his dream to be more than a little bit disturbing.

Richardson also was certainly not a hacker by standard definitions, so the rags to riches story was somewhat incomplete. As a youth, he had aspirations of becoming a golfing professional, and throughout his year-long odyssey could regularly uncork 300 yard drives. Anyone who can hit 300 yarders is not an ordinary golfer. Richardson also readily admits that his game was ultimately designed to beat one particular course, and that he might not be able to achieve the same thing on another.

Finally, there’s little or no practical golfing advice here. Richardson details lessons taken, practice hours, training devices, videos, swing theories, injuries and mental gurus. But aside from a few names to check out, I didn’t learn anything new.

All of that is not to say, however, that the book isn’t worth reading. It’s an engrossing take of obsession, like something written by Melville, Poe, or King—but without the dark ending. I feared at several points that I was serving as the literary witness to a descent into golfing madness. Fortunately, Richardson’s search for par turned out better than Ahab’s search for Moby Dick, Livingstone’s search for the source of the Nile or Scott’s for the South Pole.

I enjoyed it, but it might not be the golf book you’re looking for.

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2 thoughts on “Dream On - Book Review”

  1. This book’s theme seems to be relatively popular. Several years ago Tom Coyne wrote Paper Tiger, a chronicle of his attempt to become a professional golfer via training for and entering the Tour Qualifying process (did not work). I have a DVD (“The Back Nine”) where a 40 year old documents his efforts to become a pro (obviously did not work).

    Compared to the previous targets, shooting par once is a pretty weak effort.  As the Golf Blogger states, anyone who drives a ball 300 yards is not a novice.  A couple weeks working on his short game and iron play should have gotten him close.

    Essentially these books document a mid-life crisis where an incredibly selfish person sets aside all personal and business relationships in order to pursue a book idea (let’s face it, the golf is secondary).

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  2. Well, I am probably about to be in as much trouble as this guy was with his wife.  I am just about to leave for the fourth consecutive day of golf—trying to reach 79.  a couple weeks or so back, I tied my life low of 81, and followed it the next day with an 81.  Since then I have been in the 80s with one 91 – and then two days ago I set a new life low of 80 (the 18th, easy par 4, had a double, which in addition to blowing the 79 also blew the chance for a par 36 on the backside).

    Anyhow, we are coming up on the end of the fiscal year for the company, and I am under orders to consume or lose my vacation days – so I need to take all these afternoons off, don’t I?  She is still smiling now- but I think I hear some muttering.

    At this point the damage has been done to my index – my best index was a 13.8 in November, and that slowly started creeping up though about the 3/26 update to 17.5.  Then on 4/23, it dropped to 15.3.  Tomorrow it is scheduled to update again, and I think it will be another over 2 point drop.

    Once the index hits 10, I have to move back a tee.  That won’t be good- I did birdie two holes from the back tees last night in a scramble, but some other tee shots from the tips just look so incredibly long to me.

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