Whiffle: verb – to blow lightly in puffs or gusts; noun – something light or insignificant.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: "Tiger vs. Jack"

     That would be one word to describe author and fellow blogger Phil Capelle's epic work, Tiger vs. Jack: Golf's Greatest Rivalry. Other words would be "comprehensive," "thorough," and "impressive."

     Capelle sets out to tackle an oft-debated question: "Who is the game's all-time best player, Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus?" You don't have to look too far to find a variety of opinions on the matter. But you'd be hard-pressed to find anything close to the in-depth look Capelle takes. Not content to simply add up the major championship victories, Capelle considers such factors as strength of competition, performance in different "types" of victories (blow-out wins, close wins, comeback wins, high-scoring, low-scoring, good-weather, bad, etc.), quality and consistency of golf swing, what he calls "contender finishes," the role of teachers and caddies, and even the role that luck has played in their 32 combined major championship victories. Just for starters.
     Along the way, Capelle makes a few surprising (and sure to be controversial) points, including the case for why Bobby Jones's Grand Slam season in 1930 is "the most overrated feat in golf history":
"Here's why: the fields at the amateur events were watered down by the absence of the pros. And, at the U.S. and British Amateurs, the top amateurs of the other side did not compete." [page 24]
But don't take his word for it. Here, as throughout the book, the author offers plenty of numbers to back up his claims.
     And though he limits his best-ever discussion to the modern era (1958-present), he also makes a strong case why the great  Walter Hagen should be credited with 16 professional major victories instead of the 11 the record currently shows. This would, of course, put him squarely between the Golden Bear and Tiger on the all-time list.
     If you're not a statistics junkie, there may be a few sections of Tiger vs. Jack you'll want to skim rather than read thoroughly. Capelle goes deep with his analysis on many topics. But what makes this 480-page tome (including the appendix and comprehensive index) so noteworthy is that all the information, and then some, is there if you care to dig in.
     It's clear that Capelle has a deep and abiding respect for golf history. He thereby avoids falling into the trap of giving greater weight to events that have occurred more recently, as you so often see in listings of "all-time great" teams and athletes in various sports. If anything, Capelle is biased to the opposite, perhaps looking back on occasion with an overly romanticized view of the past. But it's to his credit that he makes his biases known up-front. He grew up watching the Golden Bear dominate golf and makes no secret that he's a fan. His analysis is so quantitative and objective, however, that it's difficult to believe his admitted affections have affected his conclusions.
     What are his conclusions? I'll not spoil the movie here. But here's a hint: He takes a solid stand on the issue while also conceding that the closing argument has yet to be written.

Tiger vs. Jack is available at Amazon.com or through the author's website, www.capelleongolf.com.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a cool book, however, Tiger is only 35. Still has 10 good years x 4 majors per = 40 more opportunities. Lets judge it when Tiger has about 22 total majors.