Q: You’re known for your bestselling adult and children’s fiction, as well as your sharply observed op-eds for the Miami Herald. What was it like to switch gears and write about your own life and family?
A: It was a big change, for sure, and at first I wasn’t entirely comfortable. But there was no way to write about my own ragged history with golf without writing about my father and also my own kids, who seem hell-bent on playing the damn sport.
Q: THE DOWNHILL LIE is not just a book about golf, it’s a book about fathers and sons. What is it about golf that brings boys closer to their fathers?
A: Most people I know who play golf started playing with their fathers or mothers when they were young. When you’re a kid, it’s just a great walk on a sunny day away from all other distractions. And it’s quiet time, which every parent likes. Of course, in my case I was usually cussing so it wasn’t quite as quiet as my father would have hoped.
Q: I hate to sound like Oprah, but would you call this your most personal book to date?
A: I’ve never written about my family, so this is certainly more personal than my newspaper work or any other nonfiction that I’ve written. Usually I hate writing in the first-person and try to avoid it, but some stories are impossible to tell any other way.
Q: You blame your return to golf on a trip to Barbados to cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photo shoot. Is the Swimsuit Edition ruined forever?
A: It was quite a journalistic ordeal, being sent to the Caribbean for the swimsuit issue. I don’t know how I survived. Of course I invited my wife to come along, which was one of the smarter moves I’ve made.
I’m one of those people who gets bored after about three minutes on a beach (slightly longer when there are swimsuit models around), so that’s how I ended up on the golf course in Barbados. The road to doom, it was.
Q: Seriously, what inspired your return to the game after a 32-year hiatus?
A: Some high-school buddies suggested I give it a try. A good friend, Joe Simmens, dragged me out to play nine holes and I was pretty much hooked again. I had no great expectations, either, because I wasn't a very good player even when I was young.
Q: You recall playing golf in high school with your buddies and--somewhat begrudgingly--admit that you enjoyed it. After watching your youngest son Quinn on the course, you write: “When the sport is new, every crisp shot is a wonder and thrill. I believe this is how you’re supposed to feel with a golf club in your hands: Full of heart and free of mind.” Is this a game best saved for the young?
A: It’s a game that works best for those who are young of heart, whether they’re eight or 80 years old. Most writers are NOT young of heart. The exception might be Mike Lupica, my dear friend who talked me into keeping a journal of my so-called comeback. Lupica is just a big kid, really. He’s appallingly enthusiastic.
Q: When your wife takes her first lesson and enjoys it, you sagely note that the golf course is dangerous territory for a marriage. Is she still playing?
A: My wife has returned to horseback riding, thank God. She still plays golf every now and then, and she went up to Augusta with me for the practice days at the Masters this year. She loves the sport but, unlike me, is perceptive enough to know her limitations.
Q: You observe that golfers love maxims, and it seems fair to say that they’ll go to feckless lengths to improve their game. You tried out a number of products meant to improve your game, such as golf energy-enhancing pills. Did anything—pills, amulets, inspirational books—work?
A: Nothing worked for more than a week or two. I suspect it’s all magically effective, though, if you have a big fat endorsement deal from these companies. I don’t.
Q: Throughout the process of writing THE DOWNHILL LIE, you’ve had the pleasure of golfing with a number of esteemed players: New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica, former PGA golfer and Golf columnist David Feherty, and the Knopf publicity department’s own Paul Bogaards. Who was your favorite partner?
A: I never actually played with Feherty because he doesn’t ever touch a golf club, unless he is forced at gunpoint. He’s a riot, though, maybe the funniest guy I’ve ever met. Lupica is hilarious, too, and a disgustingly solid player. Bogaards is by far the most profane, much worse than even me. And loud, too. He bellows like a gutshot grizzly bear when he misses a putt, which is often.
Q: The book is done and yet you’re still golfing. What’s the update on your game?
A: As soon as I finished writing the golf book, I had to start another novel for young readers. Consequently, I don’t have as much time to play golf, which naturally means that my game will improve. Last time I checked, my USGA handicap was 13.3, which isn’t too bad. The number is misleading, though, because I play on a pretty tough course with a high rating. Afew rotten rounds and I’ll be right back at 15 or 16, no problem.
Q: Writing. Golfing. Fly fishing for bonefish. You’re a true Floridian renaissance man. Do you have any other hidden talents up your sleeve?
A: Obviously you’re using the word “talent” very charitably, but no, I have no hidden ones. I don’t paint, cliff-dive or play the mandolin, if that’s what you’re asking.
Q: What’s next for your writing?
A: Once THE DOWNHILL LIE book tour is done, I’ll start another depraved novel for grownups. I haven’t even thought about a plot, but I suspect that Skink, the unhinged ex-governor, will return as a character. He’s been away too long.