BOOK REVIEW: Slaying the Tiger by Shane Ryan
Golf writer Shane Ryan's new book, Slaying the Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes on the New PGA Tour has received layers of mixed reviews on just about any form of medium you can name, ranging from one-offs on Twitter to full on rebuttals by golf media traditionalists. Suggesting there is a 'buzz' around Slaying would be an understatement, and reading through what will be the year's best golf book reveals why.
In the spirit of transparency, I was extremely critical of an excerpt from Slaying that Ryan published on his personal site -- TobaccoRoadBlues.com -- months ago. Admittedly driven by a knee-jerk reaction to what read like an unnecessary investigative report on Patrick Reed's past, I held (and still hold) the opinion that journalists should never do harm to the subjects they cover. After a thorough reading of Ryan's incredible dive into the slew of 'young guns' rising to the top of the PGA Tour in the post-Tiger era, I admit I was wrong.
Ryan's account of working the PGA Tour as a beat reporter midst a sea of change and uncertainty is informative, highly entertaining and downright inspiring. Fans of Ryan's Friends of Tiger podcast know that he is an admitted 'newbie' to the sport yet approaches the subjects in Slaying with the confidence and inquisitive eye perfected from years of covering everything from college basketball to music and film. The man simply knows how to write and is not afraid to offer unpopular opinions on some of modern golf's biggest names. It is incredibly refreshing.
Take, for instance, his dive into French golfing phenom Victor Dubuisson in the book's opening chapter. A virtually unknown golfer with a purposefully-mysterious past, Dubuisson's story illuminates Slaying as a 'different' kind of golf book. Ryan's journey into the Frenchman's past uncovered some of the book's most jaw-dropping moments, including a Facebook exchange between the author and Dubuisson's father, Alban:
I am proud of his success, but when he says he didn’t have a family, it’s absurd!!! It makes me want to puke to read all this bullshit. Without his grandfather, his mother and myself, he would never had his dream come true. It’s pathetic!! My Facebook friends who followed his rise will be able to testify to it, I hope, but that’s life and I wish him the greatest of success. He is and will always be in my heart.
Ryan's research into budding PGA Tour star Matt Every reveals more examples of a man's true personality off the course. Every comes off as a 'man's man' in his chapter, unveiling a personality that is likely common on Tour but uncommonly exhibited to media. When asked for his view on suggestions that Every is lucky to be on Tour, the two-time Tour winner does not disappoint:
“I’m glad you said that, because it pisses me off when people write, ‘Oh, that guy, I can’t believe he’d say something like that, he should be privileged to play on the PGA Tour!’ ” he said. “Like I got fucking picked out of a lottery. I mean, I’ve worked my ass off to be here. It’s not like they handed me this spot, you know?”
Slaying offers similar insights into the lives of Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day (which is downright heartbreaking at times), Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy among others. Ryan even takes on heralded Augusta National by offering a first-hand account of his experience covering The Masters (along with the weirdness that goes along with it).
As you can imagine, Slaying has received its fair share (and then some) of negative criticism. The omnipresent debate of what should and should not become public knowledge regarding an author's subjects is once again raised by the book's detractors. However, journalistic responsibility is a subject not reserved to only positive fluff pieces that will paint a sport's characters in a positive light. While learning an athlete's personal backstory is a matter of every fan's individual preference, a robust profile of any public figure provides his or her fans a complete package from which a more educated fandom can emerge.
Where will Slaying rank in the annuls of golf book history? While Ryan's work details many topics already known by hardcore fans of the game, it is an important step away from cliche sportswriting that has saturated golf media for decades. To that end, Slaying the Tiger should be remembered not for what traditionalists have tried to label it but instead for what it is: a masterfully written account of an important time in golf history in a style that is synonymous to the book's core message.
Change is inevitable. The old guard's stranglehold on golf writing is near its end and writers like Shane Ryan are ushering us all into a new era. Exciting times, indeed.
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