Rex Lardner is not a name often heard in the discussion of golf books even though he wrote three. Lardner lived from 1918-1998 and was part of a family of noted sports writers. His uncle was Ring Lardner and his cousin John Lardner. Lardner wrote about a variety of sports, tennis being among his favorite. He was published in Esquire, Look, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and The New Yorker. His book Out of the Bunker and Into the Trees was considered so funny that portions of it were widely reprinted in magazines at the time it was published. Lardner’s perspective on why people take up golf was “to destroy themselves,” which at times we have all no doubt felt.
Out of the Bunker and Into the Trees or the Secret of High Tension Golf was Lardner’s first book published in 1960 by Bobbs-Merrill (D & J L5050). It was published a year later in Great Britain by Cassell (D & J L5080) and talks about taking up the game and includes photos of Lardner trying to hit shots.
The Great Golfers was published by Putnam’s in 1970 (D & J L5110). It has ten chapters and gives a detailed look at Francis Ouimet, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Ken Venturi, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper and Jack Nicklaus. It is interesting how time gives us perspective as I am not sure I would include Venturi and Casper in a list of the great golfers today.
Lardner returns to humor in Downhill Lies and Other Falsehoods or How to Play Dirty Golf which was published in 1973 by Hawthorn in both hardcover (D & J L4990) and soft (D & J L5020).
Lardner’s description of how you get bitten by the golf bug demonstrates the quality of his writing and rings true:
“Golf is a game. Nothing more. You are convinced. Then a funny thing happens on the way to work during the week. You meet other golfers, your friends and business acquaintances, and the talk gets around to slicing a drive or making a birdie, and the pulse quickens, the face flushes, the raw courage inside you begins to assert itself. Golf lunacy is getting ready to strike again. You think about your game on the way home. This is bad.
“You know what you did wrong, now. You can lick that slice, cure that hook, avoid that blankety-blank sand trap. Of course you can. Any good golfer can, when he knows what he is doing wrong. And you do know what he is doing wrong. And you do know what you were doing wrong, why you came in with that wretched score instead of the one you usually shoot. This is the result of five o’clock fever. It has hypnotic qualities; it causes you to lie to yourself and swear that those lies are the absolute truth.
“You make up an excuse to slip away to the golf course and practice putts. Invariable, every putt drops. You are the conqueror of your game – until next Saturday when you get another chance to play. This happens not once, not twice, but again and again. It is like a recurring illness, a form of mental malaria. All golfers are afflicted with it. It goes on for years or for as long as you play golf. It is unavoidable. True golfers know I speak the truth.”