I wrote Trials and Triumphs of Golf’s Greatest Champions because I’ve always been interested in stories of people who have struggled to overcome hardships in their lives. My book examines the physical and emotional trials that defined the lives of some of the game’s greatest names, stories that demonstrate the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
In grade school I became interested in both sports and history, and loved to read all kinds of books, but mainly biographies and sports books. I read about Glenn Cunningham, who was an Olympic long-distance runner in 1932 and ’36. As a boy he was badly burned and doctors said he might never walk again, but he never gave up. His favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 40:31 – “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” This isn’t a religious book, per se, but there are elements of faith in it, which I think gave my subjects strength to carry on.
I also read about Pete Gray, who lost his arm in an accident as a boy but played baseball and was called up to the majors with the Cleveland Indians as a left fielder during the war in 1945. And of Wilma Rudolph, who contracted polio at age four and wore a brace on her left leg and foot until she was nine, but went on to win 3 gold medals as a sprinter in the 1960 Olympics.
I saw Tom Dempsey, who was born without toes on his right foot, kick the longest field goal in NFL history in 1970 – a 63 yarder that stood as a record until 2013. And I saw Rocky Bleier, who returned from Vietnam after having part of his right foot shot off, win 4 Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In my adulthood, I saw Jim Abbot, who was born without a right hand, pitch in the major leagues and throw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in 1993.
All of these people had tremendous courage and huge hearts. They didn’t surrender to adversity, but showed us what one can do when the spirit wills the body to do great things. So I began to think about people in a sport I love, golf, and took notice of those who had to overcome great trials to succeed. It was a matter of persistence and faith in self, and God, that I believe drove them, along with the character that made them who they were.
Bobby Jones claimed that golf “is the most rewarding of all games because it possesses a very definite value as a molder or developer of character.” It was character which guided these people’s lives and girded them against persistent struggles in the face of adversity that threatened their very lives.
I hope you’ll enjoy the book and learn something new about these people. I have plenty of other people with their own compelling golf stories to write about if you like this book and want more. Thank you.
Lyle Slovick is a consultant for the United States Golf Association, a historian, and writer. He is also a Level I Affiliate Member of the U.S. Golf Teachers Federation, teaching beginning golfers the game since 2005. Learn more about his latest book, Trials and Triumphs of Golf's Greatest Champions ALegacy of Hope