by Len Lear
If you’re a golfer or a golf fan, you will be in putt-heaven reading “Men in Green,” a book published in April (Simon & Schuster, 272 pages, $27) about 18 golf pros, some famous and some unknown, by Mt. Airy resident (since 1991) Michael Bamberger, a Sports Illustrated (SI) senior writer who has carved out a reputation as a golf maven with his three previously published non-fiction books about golf. (Bill Reynolds, of the Providence Journal, wrote that “Men in Green” was “maybe the best golf book I’ve ever read.”)
Before joining SI, Bamberger, 54, worked as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1986 to 1995. Prior to that, he was a reporter for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982. And not only does he write as knowledgeably about golf as anyone in the country, but he is also the inventor of The E-Club (eclubgolf.com), a utility golf club.
Bamberger and his SI colleague Alan Shipnuck wrote the 2011 novel, “The Swinger,” a “roman a’ clef” about a swinging golfer named Tree Tremont, based not so loosely on Tiger Woods. Bamberger was also a caddie on the PGA Tour in 1985, which he later wrote about in the well-received book, “The Green Road Home.” (You might say his books will never drive a wedge between the author and the reader.)
According to Bamberger, Woods was one of the most guarded athletes he ever met. “He’s a total mystery,” said the Mt. Airy Avenue resident, who often speaks with top PGA players, their chefs, nutritionists, travel agents and other experts. “He’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle … a weird combination between alchemy and physical prowess.”
Regarding “The Swinger,” Bamberger told me in a recent interview, “I would never push this tawdry book on the refined readership of the Chestnut Hill Local (Simon & Schuster, 2011, cheap!). Twice I have helped friends with their books as a ghostwriter, enjoyable gigs that helped me maintain our family membership at the Cricket Club.”
Regarding “Men in Green,” which refers to the green jacket given annually to the winner of the Masters’ Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, Bamberger conducted extensive interviews with 18 golf legends and wannabes, providing compelling personal profiles and anecdotes that any golf addict will find appealing.
“A Chestnut Hill friend who is a businessman thought the title’s green represented money,” Bamberger said. “I can see it: the chase for money, the desire to make a living by playing a game, runs through the book. But green-as-money never crossed my mind until my friend said what he said.
“It occurs to me that a title should encourage a person to read a book, and the editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster thought ‘Men in Green’ was catchy; some other title ideas I had, like ‘Sansabelt Dream,’ didn’t go far. Yes, it’s always good to keep the boss happy. And I do hope people will read the book, but I don’t care if they buy it or sign it out of their local library. My businessman friend often points out that there’s something wrong with me.”
Bamberger has written six non-fiction books in all. Which one did he enjoy working on the most? “It’s like your kids: you love ’em all (although at times you may ask yourself why)…’Men in Green’ is about my long affair with golf. It’s about first love. I could cite one book, but I don’t want the others to feel slighted. Plus I know tomorrow I could have a different answer.”
Bamberger also wrote “Bart & Fay,” a two-man, two-act play about the friendship between baseball’s late poet and commissioner, Bart Giamatti, and his friend and deputy, Fay Vincent, more of a pragmatist, in the period when they were consumed with the Pete Rose gambling investigation.
The play had a two-week run in a small third-floor space at the Walnut Street Theatre in 1996. “I was there for all 16 performances,” said the author/playwright. “It was an amazing thing to hear two wonderful actors (Tom McCarthy and Tom Teti) do so much to improve my typed words. I am looking at the play’s yellow-and-black ‘Playbill’ right now. There’s an ad for 35mm camera film in it.”
Bamberger normally shoots 18 holes in the 80s himself, but he once shot 77 at a private course on Long Island. He and his wife stay in Mt. Airy because “it is a village in a great city with Fairmount Park as our backyard. We love it here. The only con is its distance from an ocean, but you can’t have everything; can you? Life would be dull if you did.”
Besides golf, what was Bamberger’s favorite article for SI? “I’m not going to mention the piece about women’s professional beach volleyball in Los Angeles because Christine (his wife) might read this. I did have fun writing about a 100-year-old Negro Leagues baseball player called Double Duty Radcliffe, so named because he worked both games of doubleheaders, often catching Satchel Paige in the first game and pitching in the second.”
You might say that Bamberger has earned his bread and putter.
“Men in Green” is available through amazon.com or any major bookseller.