Even Huber-ization can’t change the outcome

At the 2009 British Open, Stewart Cink grasps his first major victory – and the prize that was so tantalizingly close to being Tom Watson's.

Near the end of “Four Days in July,” Jim Huber recalls a point in his career when he was being nudged out of an anchor job at CNN. His boss at the time asked him what he wanted to do “when you grow up.”

Huber’s response: “I wanted to tell stories. . . . I wanted to sit in front of a roaring fire, gather my friends at my feet, and tell them stories that would make them both smile and cry.” That conversation gave rise to a CNN feature called “The Sporting Life,” which, aside from profiling athletes, gave rise to a new adjective at the news channel. When a story required perspective or pathos, the call would go out: “Let’s Huber-ize it.”

In “Four Days,” he attempts the Huber-ization of Tom Watson’s glorious, if unrequited, bid for the 2009 British Open. With reservations, Huber is up to the task, which is tougher than it might seem; in the end, we all know, Watson is going to bogey the 72nd hole and collapse in the playoff.

The avuncular Huber writes the way he talks, or talks the way he writes – I’m not sure which it is. I almost could hear the essayist’s voice as he described Watson’s Sunday pursuers being “poised on the horizon like so many Indians in an old Western, ready to strike down the old man.”

Several times I wished Huber had pushed his interview subjects harder, drilled deeper. He talks, but only vaguely, about the political debates between the conservative Watson and Oxman, a Democratic campaign stragegist. More details would have shed light on that long and fascinating relationship. Huber, perhaps hoping to cover all of the reportorial bases, also periodically sprinkles in a selection of quotes from some of Watson’s contemporaries. I’m not sure, however, that readers will learn much from, for instance, Billy Casper saying, “It would have been a great thing if he had won the tournament, but it was still a phenomenal exhibition of playing.”

There also are some editing snafus. In citing Watson’s career record on page 82, Huber awards him a ninth major. Huber says that Watson’s 72nd-hole approach stopped in “thick rough,” but Watson says it was in “the short rough.” And a quote from Cink’s caddie, Frank Williams, “We knew we were the bad guys,” is repeated twice.

Still, it’s hard to find fault with Huber. He has a comforting voice, whether in print or on TV, and it’s at its best when he discusses how he was personally touched by Watson’s improbable run – so much so that he sat down to write his first book in a decade. “I have lazed my way through these years since, uninspired and afraid,” Huber writes. “Until Tom Watson took my sails and gave them wind.”

We might know how this Huber story will turn out, but in the end, we’ll still smile, and maybe even shed a few tears.

• • •

Four Days in July

By Jim Huber

Thomas Dunne Books

304 pages; hardcover

$24.99

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