by Lou Mancinelli
“Number 88 was Laura Myers, a waitress at the Great American Diner. Number 89 was Creamy Butter … I was numb. Some of the girls I knew about. Numbers 248, 249 and 250 were all notched on our trip to Arrow Golf … Tree helped his cause by being such a skillful liar, constantly able to cover his tracks until he no longer could … ‘Belinda’s coming; stall her!’”
So goes the story of “The Swinger,” (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2011, $25), a new fictional novel by longtime West Mt. Airy resident, author and senior Sports Illustrated (SI) writer Michael Bamberger, a Mt. Airy Avenue resident, and his co-author Alan Shipnuck, also a senior SI writer.
The story is a fictional account based on Tiger Woods, the world’s richest and most famous golfer, whose private life was shot onto the public scene in 2009, when word leaked about Tiger’s extramarital amusements.
Only, instead of dabbling with the unknown details of Tiger’s real life trysts with porn film stars, in “The Swinger,” the world’s best golfer, Herbert X. “Tree” Tremont, whips around the world in private planes, drinking scotch and sleeping with hundreds of women between tournaments before his infidelity is revealed to his fireplace tool weapon-wielding Italian bikini model wife, Belinda.
The book has already received a rave in the New York Times. Reviewer Janet Maslin wrote: ‘“The Swinger’ is overgenerous enough to leave Tree happily roasting marshmallows, facing the likelihood of a brighter future. But in most other ways it is credible and brightly apt. And the authors incorporate an excuse for airing the dirty laundry that can be found here. For one thing, they haven’t exaggerated its luridness. For another, they don’t think journalists ought to lie.”
In the book, Bamberger and Shipnuck travel with Tree across the country and world on the PGA tour. Helping tell the story is Josh Dutra, a “St. Petersburg Review-American Golf” writer with unprecedented behind the scenes access to Tree’s inner-circle, his top-secret Florida compound, illicit encounters with women in a wine cellar at Augusta national and on the deck of Tree’s $61 million yacht. When Belinda hears the news about Tree’s infidelities, it’s Dutra she calls first.
While the story may seem true and reflective of the life of a multi-millionaire celebrity, it’s all made up, according to Bamberger. “I realized that I had been covering Tiger my whole professional career, and I didn’t know a thing about him,” said Bamberger, 51, who began to write for SI in 1994 after working as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The difficulty was that in real life, Woods was one of the most guarded athletes Bamberger had ever met. “He’s a total mystery,” said Bamberger, who often speaks with top PGA players, their chefs, nutritionists, travel agents and other experts. “He’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle.”
And so, to answer questions like who is Tiger and what makes him tick, Bamberger and Shipnuck created Tree Tremont. During the writing process, which occurred in December, 2010, and January, 2011, the authors constantly asked questions like: who is this man, and what will he do next? Their answers came to form the plot and action in “The Swinger.”
Meanwhile, Bamberger and Shipnuck introduce the characters in Tree’s life like Turner Darlington, the founder of Tree’s sponsor Arrow Golf (might that be Nike Golf?). And there is Dr. Antoine Matteo, a controversial doctor who injects Tree with performance-rejuvenating plasma. And Will Martinsen, Tree’s “squeaky-clean” archrival with adopted children from three continents.
“We were both kind of frustrated that we never got a handle on Tiger when covering the PGA for ‘Sports Illustated,’” said Bamberger. “When you make eye contact with him,” said Bamberger, “he looks at you like you’ve intruded on him.”
Once, during the Masters Tournament, America’s most prestigious, Bamberger observed an Augusta Chronicle reporter get four minutes of one-on-one face-to-face time with Tiger, the golfer Bamberger describes as “a weird combination between alchemy and physical prowess.” “I was in awe,” said Bamberger.
While “The Swinger” may be a novel based on gossip and fancy, it offers one perception of a man who captivated a nation’s interest whenever he was in the process of winning a tournament, the way Michael Jordan’s fadeaway jumpshot captivated American sports fans in the ‘90s.
“After listing all the actors in the movie of his secret life,” Bamberger and Shipnuck write in Chapter 24, “all 342 of them, it was inevitable that Tree was going to get killed on the divorce settlement. He knew it. His great strength as a golfer, his realism, served him well in the dissolution of his marriage, too.”
In the book, Dutra says that when Tree gets back into the game of golf, with the scandals behind him, the game will mean more to Tree than ever before. Perhaps that observation, the chance for redemption that hangs unseen in the future, is the most accurate of fictions in “The Swinger.”