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Reviewed by Joe Tackett
nyone who has ever swung the sticks knows the endorphin-tingling elation and the heartfelt sorrow this infernal game we mortals call golf dispenses in equal doses. From lugging bags as a 14-year-old kid at the local country club for the town’s foremost citizens to chasing that little white devil through the soggy rough at my favorite local courses, a love-hate relationship with the game of golf had firmly taken root. I had seen too many rumpled, whiskey chugging accountants with a penchant for finding trees and water and too many foul-tempered, club-tossing dentists cursing the gods of golf to ever again believe in the purity of the game.
Up until recently, a typical round of golf for me – whether I was actually playing or lugging someone else’s clubs – invariably included the following, but in no particular order: Muffed putt, chop, slice, hook, an arduous hike through creeks and foliage, sand, and more sand interspersed with timely epithets only to be followed by the dreaded shank into the drink. Day ruined, it was back to work and dinner with the family. Another pretty day ruined by missed puts and out of bounds drives. Sigh. In “Straight Down the Middle,” Karp says to take a deep breath and relax, for he knows your pain.
“Straight Down the Middle” is Karp’s entertaining and illuminating journey to finding inner peace and a lower handicap. Frustrated with his 18 handicap, Karp opts to toss his ego instead of his clubs and dives into the mysteries of the East as he strives to find his own perfect swing. In pursuit of the perfect swing, Karp embarks upon a quest populated by an eclectic cast of spiritual advisors and golf gurus (not mutually exclusive, you will discover) that all tend to say the same thing in a variety of manner and means: Don’t think, just act, just be and your swing will thank you for it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Admittedly a cynic, Karp casts aside long cherished reservations and biases, and immerses himself in the golf as a metaphor for life mantra. But to do so, he first had to accept the notion that “The teacher will appear when the student is ready.”
According to Karp, or at least the bevy of yogurt and granola-chewing gurus who took swings at fixing the author’s game, if you master golf, then you will have tamed the inner angst plaguing other facets of your life. I’m not so sure a certain famous golfer and adherent to Buddha would entirely agree with Karp’s premise insert obligatory Tiger reference here), but what’s a little vegan and tofu diet without the promise of drama as dessert?
As I worked my way through the book, it became readily apparent that it never really was about golf. Don’t get me wrong, there are many practical golf tips and advice in the book, and a lot of times I found myself shaking my head knowingly at some of the author’s poor habits and subsequent attempts to correct them. But that’s not what the book is truly about, and that’s a credit to the author and his attempt to stay thematically true to the premise of his book. Keeping with the new-agey theme, “Straight Down the Middle” is one man’s mid-life crisis played to a respectful stand-off, only to be continued day after day – the opponent always the same forbidding character, the always present man in the mirror. Don’t flinch, learns Karp. Just be and unlock the creative unconscious. In doing so, Karp discovers that you can never win when you’re playing against yourself, but subtly hints that neither can you lose. We’ll see. I’m headed to the links.