Telling the story of an underdog overcoming the odds to achieve what even he once thought impossible is no easy task for any author. Gathering facts, obtaining recollective accounts from those who lived through the magic, and molding everything together into a chronologically-sensible narrative is daunting... especially in the realm of sports. Luckily for fans of historic golf memories, writers like Neil Sagebiel not only step up to this challenge, but master its delivery. The Longest Shot: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf's Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open could not have been done any better. Told in the style of a third-person biographical documentary, The Longest Shot details the moments leading up to and immediately after Jack Fleck's triumphant victory over Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff at the 1955 US Open. As with any memorable sport tale, the charasmatic real-life characters and dramatic events that unfolded simultaneously during a golf tournament make this story both complex and engaging, even for the novice golf historian. Rich with suspense, adequate stage-setting and an ending that could only happen in real life, The Longest Shot establishes itself as a must-have inclusion in any sport fan's library.
Sagebiel - author and editor of Armchair Golf Blog, and friend to ChicagoDuffer.com - quite simply puts forth one hell of a debut with his first published book. His writing style and ability to concisely relay what must have been a massive amount of research and first-hand accounts into a coherant and accurate piece is impressive in and of itself. At no point does the reader feel "lost" when traveling with Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and others through the pages of The Longest Shot; rather, the reader can feel as close to the action as a gallery spectator must have experienced more than 50 years ago.
Personally, I found Sagebiel's ability to shape the mindsets and emotion both Fleck and Hogan likely felt before and during the US Open to be most impressive. Readers are presented with Fleck's struggles finding his game as a driving range teaching professional on the amateur and pro circuit, as well as Hogan's efforts to maintain his own greatness following his infamous car accident late in his career. Thanks to The Longest Shot, I also learned exactly how intertwined the lives of Fleck and Hogan became during the span of almost a decade... something that neither man could possibly have anticipated would turn into such a memorable US Open moment later on.
The Longest Shot by Neil Sagebiel is more than just a golf history lesson for golf nerds like me. It is a recollection of why most golf fans enjoy this great game: the understanding that every player has a story, and every story impacts how the game of golf is played. Sagebiel should be commended for his effort in his first book offering, because he has also helped me recollect why I enjoy writing about golf in the first place.
(The Longest Shot: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf's Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open is published through Thomas Dunne Books and is available at all major booksellers.)