Feinstein novel explores the tale of golf next great ‘Prodigy’

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL - MAY 11: Jim Gallagher, Jr. John Feinstein as seen in the Golf Channel during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 11, 2017, in Ponte Vedra Beach . (Photo by Cy Cyr/PGA TOUR) Cy Cyr/PGA Tour

Feinstein novel explores the tale of golf next great ‘Prodigy’

Digital Edition

Feinstein novel explores the tale of golf next great ‘Prodigy’

Frank Baker has it all. Just 17 years old, Frank has Rory McIlroy’s length off the tee and Jordan Spieth’s maturity and ability to perform under pressure. He’s also a good student who is unfailingly polite.

He also has a father, Thomas, who looks at his son and sees dollar signs. Thomas, who has come under the spell of a nefarious agent, is pushing his son to turn professional yesterday. Frank wants to pump the brakes and spend at least a few years in college.

This is the dilemma at the core of “The Prodigy,” John Feinstein’s breezy, highly readable new novel that explores the chaos that sometimes swirls around a gifted young athlete when adults lose track of the child’s best interests.

When golf blogger Keith Forman describes Frank as “a good kid” after meeting him, Slugger Johnston, Frank’s coach and Forman’s former college teammate, corrects him.

“He’s a great kid, not a good one,” Johnston says.

Forman realizes early on that he’s been summoned to serve as “a buffer – maybe more like a brick wall” between Frank, his father and the agents and equipment reps circling like sharks.

The Prodigy
By John Feinstein
Farrar Straus Giroux; 384 pages
Hardcover; $17.99

“The Prodigy” plays out over the 10 months leading up to the Masters. Feinstein has chosen to drop his fictional characters into a world populated by real-life players, agents and journalists.

At the U.S. Amateur at Riviera Country Club, Frank scrums with scribes many readers will recognize, then does a hit in the Fox Sports booth with Joe Buck and Paul Azinger. He gets some important advice from career amateur Nathan Smith, four-time winner of the U.S. Mid-Amateur. Brandel Chamblee and Davis Love III stop by Frank’s table at The Palm to introduce themselves. And USGA CEO Mike Davis and his staff help Frank navigate a tense week at the Amateur.

When Frank arrives at Augusta National for his first practice round, he’s greeted in the player parking lot by McIlroy, who cheerfully introduces himself to the “Perryton Prodigy.” An earnest Brandt Snedeker, upon first meeting Frank, offers to have a heart-to-heart with Thomas Baker about the perils of rushing his son into the pro ranks. Feinstein also envisions a highly entertaining practice round that Frank plays with McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

Forman is, not surprisingly, the other hero of Feinstein’s story. He’s a blogger who seems to do everything except actually blog. There’s a running gag throughout the book about whether Forman ever intends to write anything about Frank.

“We’ll know,” Forman says of his writing plans. “We won’t have to figure it out.”

At the Masters, 10 months after meeting Frank, Forman’s editor chides him for being “the man I’m paying to babysit a teenager all week.”

Apparently, Forman is waiting for inspiration to be handed down from Butler Cabin.

Like Clark Kent, we don’t see any Forman bylines, but he always seems to be there in times of need to solve young Frank’s problems and offer wise counsel. Forman confront Thomas Baker about his Earl Woods complex and his scheme to sell his son’s rights to the highest bidders in the golf industry. At the U.S. Amateur, it is Forman’s quick thinking that exposes a cheating incident straight out of a Bond film. Forman is the person Frank calls on when questions are raised at the Masters about his amateur status. And, in a surprising plot twist, Forman exposes the Judas in Frank’s camp and helps heal the rift between father and son.

Oh, yeah, there’s this: After the Masters, Forman realizes that he’s positioned to write a book about Frank, with the two of them splitting the proceeds. There’s a certain irony there. Frank trusted Forman because the writer wanted nothing from him, and in the end, they become business partners.

Who knows, maybe Feinstein can turn that relationship into a sequel. Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home