Only golf takes so much space. For his book Slaying the Tiger: A year inside the ropes on the new PGA tour. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, Shane Ryan went deep inside the PGA golf tour for one year and covered almost every big international golf tournament. He spoke with athletes and experts, with families as well as former schoolmates and finally wrote an impressively detailed book on the inside of golf, which is sometimes hard to read for non-golf fans when he describes play by play.
Ryan started his research at the end of 2013 when he assumed that the following season would bring a change in the world of golf. He presumed that in 2014 a younger generation would emerge while old stars like Tiger Woods would fade. The title of Ryan’s book does not really hit the point on what happened in the golf world in 2014. Slaying the Tiger might be a good wordplay and definitely catches the reader’s eye. Using the word “slaying”, Ryan implicates a more violent action than it actually is – namely a few young golf players getting better than an older star because of his weakness.
Even though the title is not perfect, Ryan came very close to the athletes. He composed a book which is, as he writes, “journalism mixed with opinion” because it is colored by his personal experience. This own experience and opinion are part of his fluent writing style. He often describes interview situations and takes part in his own story, which gives the reader the possibility to come closer.
Profiling the most talented golf players of the upcoming generation with a pleasant writing flow and the sense for a good story, he sometimes reports their personal history up from their early childhood. In contrast to many other sport profiles, Ryan does not write only about success in their discipline but also about the personal and social identity of the youngsters he covers.
The life of Patrick Reed for example, is all about golf. Reed was already a determined golfer in his childhood and won several youth tournaments. Ryan claims him as the toughest athlete of his generation.
Nevertheless, in his 24-page chapter on Reed, Ryan did not give golf too much space. He rather deconstructed the personality of an arrogant loner with an “incredible capacity of rage,” who has to fight a battle on two fronts. One is on the golf course, where he set the PGA record in 2014 for most strokes under par after 54 holes. The other one is his social life, where many people including his family have problems in dealing with him. Even if this chapter’s focus is more on the person than on the sport, the author is always able to connect both parts for a well-balanced profile.
Because of his reporting and writing skills, Ryan’s 400-odd-pages-book does not become hard to read at all if the reader is at least a little bit familiar with golf. If not, it still gives an exciting insight into the stories of ambitious young men looking to reach the top of the golf world. But at some points Ryan challenges the reader when he analyses almost every single play in a tournament in detail. Using special golf terms to describe what happened, he often is in danger to bore the non-expert readers.
Someone without golf knowledge may be able to follow the story when Ryan writes about the drama of tight results. But readers also may lose their interest in the actual issue – detailed profiles on the most talented young players in professional golf – if these parts become too long where the book is only about the game.
I therefore highly recommend Slaying the Tiger to those who are interested in both: golf and long, detailed profiles of professional athletes including their personal identity. A whole year of research compressed in a bit more than 400 pages purified with a pleasant writing flow are definitely worth reading. People who are not into golf can also benefit from reading this book. They can get an inside view in the professional golf scene and holding this book may translate to holding a prediction for the future of golf. Some of the profiled athletes are probably going to be top stars in a few years.