A Conversation With John Feinstein

Award winning sports author John Feinstein was in Indy to promote his new book The First Major about his experience covering the 2016 Ryder Cup. Mr. Feinstein is considered by many to be the Dean of American sports authors. He is meticulous in his research and his eye for detail unmatched. His powers of observation give him a special insight into whatever moment he is covering. But he is also a gifted storyteller with the talent to create a compelling narrative and hold the reader’s interest until the end. He will forever be remembered by Hoosiers for writing A Season on the Brink, the story of Bobby Knight and his 1985-86 Indiana Hoosier basketball team, long considered one of the greatest sports books ever written.
We got together to talk about The First Major, however. Mr. Feinstein loves all sports, but his special interest is in golf. He has played and followed professional golf since he was a boy. He had always wanted to write a book about the Ryder Cup series, which he considers one of the greatest team sporting events in the world and he finally got his chance in 2016. He said that golf is generally a sport of individual achievement and to see players from different countries form national teams and play as a team has always fascinated him. He said getting to observe the cup action and particularly the play of the American team was as thrilling and engrossing as he hoped it would be.
I asked him what his biggest surprise was in covering the event. He said the emergence of Tiger Woods as a team player and leader. Tiger Woods had been notorious for his somewhat aloof and even standoffish behavior. Woods is arguably the greatest golfer of his generation. But he always seems to put a barrier of hostility between himself and the other players, considering them to be opponents to be beaten rather than comrades on the green. This seemed to carry over to his treatment of fans as well. His father had coached him and prepared him to be the first successful black golfer in the PGA. Golf was and is one of the last bastions of white male supremacy in the world of sports and while there has always been much admiration for Tiger’s abilities, there has been an equal amount of apprehension that his success would open the floodgates to a tidal wave of golfers of color who would come to dominate the sport. As it is,  golf is no longer an “elitist sport” as public courses across North America have become the principle playgrounds for golfers and country clubs are closing for lack off membership.
Mr. Feinstein does point out that Tigers presence on the PGA Tour did not lead to a glut of young black golfers. At this moment there are no black golfers on the PGA Tour. Young blacks did not seem to identify Tiger Woods as a major sports role model and he really did not reach out to them. So golf remains a white man’s game.
As to the Ryder Cup, according to Mr. Feinstein, Tiger Woods for the first time really seemed to reach out with his experience as he was the assistant captain. The Hazeltine National Golf Course in Chaska Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis saw three days of some of the greatest golf ever played, with the Americans led by Phil Mickelson pitted against a European team led by Roy Mcllroy. The Americans wanted to keep the Cup after a 2015 win, and the Europeans wanted desperately to regain the Cup for European honor. There was action and drama and the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. John Feinstein was there to see it all and he captured it perfectly in the First Major.
I would like to thank Mr. Feinstein for giving me some of his valuable time, and particularly the Boss for once again being my life jacket and without whom I would never have been able to do this column.