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Review: "Chasing Greatness"

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Chasing Greatness
Cover photo courtesy Steven Schlossman; used with permission
Chasing Greatness: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer, and the Miracle at Oakmont is an extensively researched work by Adam Lazarus and Steve Schlossman about the 1973 U.S. Open. It succeeds in compiling all of the varying storylines and melding them into a detailed picture of a pivotal moment in golf's history.
The game's most prominent names all met at legendary Oakmont Country Club in varying stages of their careers, each still seemingly capable of claiming the biggest prize in American golf. Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino, Player, were on hand. The recipe was perfect for a legend to solidify his place in history.

Instead, Johnny Miller emerged as a surprise, and in some eyes suspect, champion as every other contender faltered or faded.

There are those who will never accept Miller's final round as legitimate. A number of myths and excuses still linger, providing the explanation as to how Miller could fire a closing-round 63 to leapfrog the leaderboard and hang on to win. Lazarus and Schlossman address each of the potential reasons, and they leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. However, their general thrust is that Miller fired a round for the ages, and that Oakmont was not playing like a tame muni course on the fateful final day.

For younger golf fans, the book provides a vivid runup for many of the great names in golf, including many of the nitty-gritty details that are often overlooked today.

Arnold Palmer, who was playing on his home ground in western Pennsylvania, is a significant focus in the book, and his inability to capture a final U.S. Open title is painfully detailed.

A different image of Lee Trevino emerges in Chasing Greatness, this one a sharp contrast to the "Merry Mex" character most golf fans have probably carried for years. Throughout the work, Trevino's success on the course is overshadowed by his flawed personal life and his bitterness toward the demands of stardom.

Chasing Greatness also paints a picture of the way things were on the tour before the days of multi-million dollar sponsorship deals, back when a PGA pro was a golfing vagabond who was hustling from event to event.

While most golf fans are accustomed to today's tour pros with their almost corporate packaging, it was a different world in 1973. Money winnings, for example, were comical by today's standards. It's eye-popping to see top money winners on the tour finishing the year with $320,000, or claiming a record-setting winner's check of $52,000.

If Chasing Greatness has a downfall, it might be that it goes into too much detail. Some of the players and their recollections are not that memorable, really, and including them in the book because they might have flashed across the leaderboard briefly during the second round tends to dilute the stronger thrust of the work.

Also, somewhat surprisingly, Miller's final-round exploits are not as much of the focus as you would expect. There is mention of his missing yardage book during the third round, but there are conflicting accounts of how impactful the mistake was. The final round is laid out hole by hole, but does not include the kind of "inside the head" recounting that you might expect.

Despite occasionally getting bogged down by the weight of so much detail, Chasing Greatness is an extremely informative presentation of one of modern golf's most memorable tournaments.

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