2004: For Your Game - Demaret biography is deep in the rough

Rarely has such a colorful character been portrayed in such mundane fashion as is Jimmy Demaret in John Companiotte’s “The Swing’s the Thing.”

This tired, disorganized, carelessly edited book – more bibliography than biography – doesn’t begin to tell “this champion’s fascinating and untold life story,” as it purports to do. One almost senses that Companiotte is going through the motions. Issues that merit examination are brushed over and never revisited. Others are never even visited.

The author notes matter-of-factly that Demaret bounced from club pro jobs in Houston to Noroton, Conn., to Detroit and back to Houston in 21⁄2 years in the early 1940s, offering only a cursory explanation for Demaret’s itinerant ways. Demaret’s decision to walk off the course at the 1948 New Orleans Open because he thought an opponent was cheating – a decision that cost him a chance to retain the Vardon Trophy – is summarized in just two paragraphs, one more than is spent addressing an ill-fated plan spearheaded by Demaret to start a Professional Golf Players Division of the PGA. The news that Demaret “had endured an illness that was first thought to be cancer” in 1955 is breezily dismissed in one sentence.

Yet two pages are devoted to a windy Ben Crenshaw quote, one utterly devoid of contemplation, that ends with the prosaic sentiment that “it’s really neat” to “share a locker with Jimmy” each year at the Masters.

And what of Demaret’s personal life? Don’t look for it here. His wife, Idella, and daughter, Peggy, are mentioned in passing in the first chapter and then forgotten. What serious biography completely ignores the subject’s family life? And it’s suggested that Demaret’s golf game was somehow compromised by World War II, but his role during the war is never spelled out or examined.

Plenty of space, however, is given to redundancies. To wit: It’s noted twice in consecutive sentences that Ben Hogan won a 1945 tournament by 14 strokes, and on four occasions we’re reminded that Hogan drummed Demaret, 10 and 9, in the 1946 PGA Championship semifinal. Twice in the space of a paragraph we’re told that Johnny Revolta won the 1935 PGA Championship, that Demaret met his wife on a double date with Dave Marr’s father, and that the membership at Plum Hollow, Demaret’s old Detroit club, is the most “democratic bunch” one could hope to find. One could cite other examples, but there’s no need to be, well, repetitious.

Moreover, Companiotte has an annoying habit of repeating full names on second reference in the same passage, even in the same paragraph (“Silva met George Fazio”...“Silva worked for George Fazio”). And he apparently shares the fears of many golf writers that Old Tom Morris will strike him down with a thunderous mashie if he dares to refer to Hogan simply by his surname.

A far greater fear should be the wrath of readers who burn $24.95 on “The Swing’s the Thing” (Clock Tower Press).

Meaningful biographies first parse established facts, then mine untapped sources for fresh information, and finally piece together the information in a way that sheds new light on the subject’s character, motivations and legacy.

“The Swing’s the Thing” attempts only the first, and does even that poorly.

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