Prior to the advent of Tiger Woods and the popularization of golf, most players were seen as robot like, country club, rich kids, making a living playing a silly game. Golf was something wealthy, white, Republicans did. This was probably not an accurate picture then but, if it was largely true in the past, it certainly is no longer the case. Bud, Sweat and Tees : A Walk on the Wild Side of the PGA Tour
certainly reveals a life far removed from tony country club living on the East coast. Its main character, Rich Beem, is not a spoiled trust fund brat reaping the reward of an easy childhood. Instead, the book is an inside look on a couple of kids trying to live their dream and trying to figure out how to handle it once they get there.
Bud, Sweat, and Tees tells the story of PGA Tour rookie Rich Beem’s 1999 season. Along the way, it tells the story of his life and the life of his caddy, Steve Duplantis. Beem is the son of a one time PGA professional turned golf pro, who takes a very circuitous route to the Tour and ends up winning a tournament his rookie year. Duplantis is a Canadian whose obsession led him to being a caddy after he realized he wasn’t quite good enough to play “between the ropes.” Both Beem and Duplantis have the talent but both have personal obstacles to overcome. Beem seems unable to focus and allows his desperate need for social contact distract him from playing up to his natural abilities. This leads to his bouncing around from Texas to Seattle to the Dakotas. Sometimes his dad helps him get a job as a club pro in North Dakota or El Paso but for a time he was even a stereo/cell phone salesman. Along the way, he plays in the minitours and toys with the idea of making it to the PGA. After seeing fellow University of El Paso grads J.P. Hayes and Paul Stanokoski meet with some success, he finally decides to take his game seriously and take on Q-school, the grueling qualifying tournament that is the key to getting your PGA Tour card. Remarkably, Beem manages to win the Kemper Open his rookie year, forever changing his life and his game.
Duplantis’ love of the game leads him to head for the States to try and make a living playing golf. After some early success and plenty of struggles, he takes up caddying as a way to pay for college. But soon carrying the bag is his job and college is forgotten. This is largely because his first passionate fling leads to a child that forever changes his life. A quickie marriage and a young child are not the most stabilizing of events, add in the hectic PGA Tour and you have a recipe for chaos. Duplantis doesn’t make it any easier on himself with his penchant for partying and volatile relationships. Remarkably, Duplantis ends up caddying for Jim Furyk just as his young career takes off. The money and prestige of this job help Duplantis overcome his chaotic and soap opera style life, for awhile anyways.
The book describes how Beem and Duplantis hook up and what unfolds as they try to manage life on the PGA Tour. The story is not nearly as titillating as the title might suggest, although their certainly is a lot of drinking and carousing going on behind the scenes. But what the book really describes is two, for the most part, immature but talented people as they chase their dreams and try to stay one step ahead of their demons. It is an interesting perspective on a life few of us can imagine but it is a story most of us can sympathize with because it is built around human foibles. Who can’t relate to the frustration of failing to develop the discipline you know is necessary to achieve your dreams? Who can’t relate to the feeling of losing control of events as circumstances seem to combine to trip you up? Who can’t relate to the in-securities and pressures that come from trying to live up to the expectations of family and friends?
In the end, it is this ability to relate that makes the book interesting. Sure, the fascinating and money filled world of the PGA Tour makes for an interesting backdrop, but it is the flawed nature of the main characters, and their struggle to overcome them, that makes the book more than a sports celebrity tell all. With that said, however, this book is far from an inspirational classic. The story has an emotional pull but it is flawed by mediocre writing and a sort of frat boy tone at times. There are far too many cliches throughout the book (one course is described as being like Angelina Jolie: “gorgeous but nothing but trouble”) and in too many spots it reads like an extended newspaper article. This is not to be overly critical, it is not easy to relate the background involved in Beem and Duplatis’ lives and tell the story of a golf season. The author does his best to creatively relate the important golf rounds involved, but they get repetitive eventually. Given that this is his first book, one has to give Shipnuck a lot of credit. The story is interesting and the book provides a real inside look at life on the tour; and one that is not sugar coated or a glossy puff piece.
If you like golf or are interested on what life on the Tour might be for a rookie, you will find this book worth reading. If you aren’t interested in golf or in what it takes to succeed in the game and on tour you might not find it quite so interesting. One thing is for sure, when I watch golf on TV I will appreciate what it takes to be there “between the ropes” a lot more and watch the caddies a little more.