The Caddie Who Played with Hickory
Teacher’s Comments: It’s a good story, but even better in the way it evokes a particular time and place.
With The Caddie Who Played With Hickory, John Coyne returns to the world of the Midlothian Country Club. As in his earlier golf novel, the Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan, the focus is not on the members, but on the caddies, wait staff and other help who keep the place running. It’s a wonderful read, and manages to convey a strong impression of time and place.
The year is 1946, and with that summer comes the news that the legendary Walter Hagen will return to Midlothian to commemorate his 1914 US Open victory at the Club. The game of golf has changed greatly in those thirty years, but for this event, Hagen will return to playing the hickory shafted clubs with which he made his mark.
Hagen’s return offers an opportunity for two caddies at the club: Tom O’Shea, who needs to find a way to get through college; and Harrison Cornell, a mysterious older newcomer who is somehow linked to Hagen’s past. Cornell teaches O’Shea to play with hickory shafted clubs, and together they plot to have him play a match against The Haig.
A terrific writer, Coyne has a particular skill for crafting interesting and believable characters. I think he could write a book about virtually every one of the characters in “Hickory.” Oddly though, for me the least believable character in the book also was one of the two around whom it revolves: Harrison Cornell. Coyne’s other characters might have been people he actually met; Cornell was someone he made up, and never quite got to know.
Coyne obviously is a fan and a player of the game of golf. His descriptions of play and on-course strategies are for me dead on. He also has apparently played with hickory, for his descriptions of how to play those old shafts are very informative. I’ve never played with hickory (nor likely ever will), but from Coyne’s descriptions, it seems as though it would be like playing with a graphite shaft that has too much flex.
Another strong theme in the book is one you’d expect—that of class consciousness in the late 1940s and 1950s. O’Shea, the other caddies and the “help” live in an entirely different world from the members. And O’Shea’s interest in one of the members’ daughters presents an interesting thread throughout. Coyne, I am certain has experienced these distinctions himself.
I enjoyed the book so much (and also his first golf book, The Caddy Who Knew Ben Hogan) that I am hoping that Coyne has another “caddy” book in his bag. The first two were so good, that a “trilogy” seems a natural.