Tom Cox interview
We talk to author Tom Cox about his critically acclaimed golf book 'Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia'.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 13/12/12 9:23am
Each Christmas, when I open the presents sent from my well-meaning parents, my heart sinks when I rip the wrapping off the package containing a book called "world's favourite golf jokes".
The problem is I don't find these at all funny. Just looking at the cartoon drawing of an old-fashioned golfer on the cover wipes any sort of festive smile off my face and the book is usually slid out of view under a selection box which, despite being in my 40s, my parents also still send me (no complaints there).
But golf books can be funny though. Very funny in fact.
And when a former Ryder Cup skipper describes one as full of "razor sharp insights and buckets of humour", adding "I can't recommend it highly enough", it's worth taking notice.
The book in question is Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia by Tom Cox and the gushing review comes from 1997 European captain Mark James.
It brilliantly and very humourously tells the tale of how Cox rekindles his teenage dream of turning pro and tries to win a spot in The Open Championship.
Without giving too much away, let's just say we shouldn't expect to see him contesting the Claret Jug at Muirfield this year.
Books of golf jokes may serve a purpose as stocking fillers but if you're looking for something with a bit more intelligence, wit and imagination that gets to the true heart of this often absurd game, Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia is an excellent alternative.
Interview with author Tom Cox
Sky Sports: When the book was conceived and released, Sergio Garcia was one of the world's best and thus it made sense to aim for his scalp. Were there times during his slump in 2009/10 when you wished you'd called it something else? Not everyone will be aware that it's a play on Sam Peckinpah's 1974 surreal movie 'Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia' so were you concerned that people might look at the title of the book and think you were a madman who actually wanted to kill him? :)
Tom Cox: To be honest, I've never wished I'd called it something else because it was one of those titles that arrived in perfect unison with the idea for the book, and I never doubted for a second that it was right (having written six and a half books, and scrapped various others, I know that's a rare and lovely confluence). Obviously I wish he'd won a major in 2007 or 2008 and the book had received stratospheric sales as a result, got an American deal and been made into a ridiculously overblown Hollywood film, but I was aware of the risks: Sergio was already a very mercurial and unreliable player by 2005, when I came up with the title. I think I actually have almost wanted to kill him at times, since he is arguably the most frustrating golfer in the world to watch. I think, by the standards of most of his fans, my rage at his repeated underachievements is quite mild. I have friends I've seen harm themselves and their furniture upon witnessing him mess up on the last day of a major.
Sky Sports: After being obsessed by golf as a teenager, how on earth did you stay away from it for eight years?
TC: The simple answer is that I realised that some things are more important than golf. And by "some things" I mean "one thing". And by "one thing" I mean "having a sex life".
Sky Sports: Having your first hole-in-one played a part in getting you back into golf. Do you think it's the fate of all golfers to be lured in by these so called 'signs'?
TC: The secret to good golf is such a mysterious and elusive thing, it makes us golfers a superstitious bunch, who will cling desperately to anything positive, in terms of a pattern or a sign. So many serious golfers are a bit cynical about hole in ones: they're viewed as flukes, and something people who don't know much about golf think erroneously is the most exciting part of the game. But when you actually have one, after waiting for it for the better part of two decades, that all goes out the window. I don't think my hole in one was what really convinced me I could give being a pro a go - I think consistently outdriving the Captain of the Norfolk scratch team by 30 yards during one particularly good ball-striking round and winning my club's scratch cup with a three birdie in a row finish played more of a part - but watching my hole in one go in without bouncing on a lovely summer evening gave me a vivid picture of myself doing the same thing on Tour, as a large crowd behind me went wild and Bruce Critchley announced that that put me four ahead of Jim Furyk with just two holes to play: a picture that very soon proved to be entirely deluded.
Sky Sports: You quote the PG Wodehouse story, 'The Clicking of Cuthbert', where a disgruntled young player storms into the clubhouse and asks a wise old member 'Is golf any use?' Do you have an answer yet?
TC: I think golf's usefulness is easy to underrate and I probably do it all too often. Without golf, I probably would have got into a lot more trouble as a teenager. Golf made me more adept at dealing with people from a different social class to me, more respectful of my elders, made me better at dealing with a crisis (which is a good job, as I'm not great at it, even with that extra training that comes from following a triple bogey with a cruelly lost ball when you'd previously been two under par) and probably made me a more polite person than I might have otherwise been in early adulthood. So in those ways it's been very useful. I could have lived without the twisted spine, though.
Do you think you're drawn to golf as it's easy to play the role of the outsider - a role you would appear to enjoy - when you're up against the pringle sweater-wearing Roys and Rons of this world?
TC: I certainly was, at one point - without really realising it. I wasn't particularly brave as a teenager so being in that kind of world made becoming a bit of a rebel very easy. These days my agenda for playing golf is more straightforward: I just want to hit the ball really sodding far.
Sky Sports: Is golf cool?
TC: Yes, but not in the ways people who have tried to *make* it cool think. Seve Ballesteros in his blue Slazenger jumper on the final day at Lytham in 1988 is cool. A middle-aged Fred Couples hitting a drive 300 plus yards with apparently no more effort than someone flipping a pancake is cool. Brian Barnes winning Pipe Smoker Of The Year in 1977 or beating Nicklaus twice in a day is cool. Turning up looking dishevelled and using ten year old clubs and still knocking it past guys with two grand's worth of gear is cool. Ant and Dec's celeb golf tournaments? Golf Punk's Bunker Babes? Some particularly lurid clothing and sticky pro hair that's been about in the last decade? Not so cool.
Sky Sports: In the book, you reveal how easy it was to turn pro. Is that still the case?
TC: I'm slightly out of the loop on this right now, having had a couple of years where I've played minimal golf, but I'm assuming so: as much as the Professional Golfers Association don't want an army of Maurice Flitcrofts on their courses, the lower tours need to make their tournaments accessible to the also-rans and dreamers whose meagre savings help finance them.
Sky Sports: How much do you reckon you spent during your brief spell as a pro? Did the amount alarm you or had you braced yourself for it?TC: I'd braced myself for it to an extent, but the little things mounted up surprisingly: the cost of golf balls - especially when you lose as many as I do - shocked me a bit, and course planners. Looking back, I think I was very lucky to have done it in the pre-recession world of 2006, when book advances were higher than they are now and petrol was a lot cheaper and a newspaper like the Daily Telegraph could offer me a monthly column on my fortunes amidst the more newspapery stuff they were obliged to cover. I'm not sure I could have actually afforded to do it, if I'd left it until now. I don't know the exact amount I spent, but a few thousand, for under ten events. Enough money to make me panic and put my house on the market midway through the year.
Sky Sports: Did it give you a greater appreciation for golfers at the lower end of the game trying to carve out a living?
TC: Oh, enormously so. There's some very heartbreaking stuff going on out there: blokes who ostensibly have all the game, but something intangible missing which also sadly happens to be the difference between a life of luxury and a life of sleeping in a car and juggling your credit cards. One problem I had playing in events was that I'd get so wrapped up in my playing partner's genuinely crushing, career-threatening misfortune and lose focus on my own slightly more frivolous misfortune.
How would you respond if a family member or close friend came for you for advice on whether they should turn pro?
TC: If I was being diligent, I'd ask them if they'd considered just how many people out there were competing, just how many sacrifices they'd have to make and just what a one-dimensional life it - out of necessity - can be, then I'd give them some examples of some phenomenally talented and hard-working people I know who'd tried it and given up. But I'd probably just say "Go for it!" in the hope that they'd keep me updated, and let me live vicariously through their experiences.
Sky Sports: Ryder Cup skipper Mark James read the book. Have any other Ryder Cup captains/pros/famous people?
TC: Peter Alliss has. I'm not sure what he thought of it, but he was very complimentary about my previous golf book, Nice Jumper - which was a bit of a surprise, given its plethora of references to early 90s grunge rock. Not sure if any other well-known pro golfers have. Most golf pros don't strike me as big readers: they're too busy buying fast cars or getting even better at golf. When I caddied for Nick Faldo at his Junior Series I asked if he would read Nice Jumper if I gave it to him. He said no, and told me he'd shove it "straight into the bin" as he wasn't "interested in reading about other people's dreams". I think I was most pleased that William Boyd liked both books: he's probably not a name widely known in golfing circles, but he's a golf lover, and someone whose novels made me want to be a writer when I was younger.
Sky Sports: Is Sergio still your favourite player?
TC: It fluctuates, as always. Right now he's jostling for position for "all time favourite" with Fred Couples and Eduardo Romero.
Sky Sports: Which other golfers do you pull for and why?
TC: Rory, Geoff Ogilvy, Bubba (when he shuts up about The Good Lord Almighty for five minutes), Dustin Johnson. Pretty much anyone who hits it a mile and doesn't swing like they're trying to kill a shrew with a broom.
Sky Sports: How is your golf these days? Is there still a craving to enter Open qualifying?
TC: The craving is always there, but I've suppressed it recently. Being busy writing about other subjects - and going from having a bad short game to having the short game of a person whose nerve system has recently been attacked by parasites - makes the suppression easier. I don't really dream about being a pro since doing Bring Me The Head Of Sergio Garcia, which is kind of a melancholy aspect to the experience, but the Open Qualifying thing still appeals: just to go out there with rust on my clubs and the rescue club headcover that some mice in my shed half-ate last winter, and march up the last fairway acknowledging the light, somewhat patronising applause that comes when someone who doesn't really belong goes out there and defies all expectation by shooting 88 instead of 93.
Sky Sports: The book ends with you giving Urban Golf a crack and discussing other options such as being a trick shot or long driving champ? Did you pursue any of these?
TC: I'm keeping myself open to these options. Doing trickshots strikes me as a more stressful and sociable way to not earn a living than being a touring pro. The long driving thing appeals very much, but I'm a hair under six foot tall and fractionally over eleven stone: as late as my wrist action is, I probably need to bulk up a bit.
Sky Sports: Any plans to write another golf book?
TC: Very much so. There's some golf in the fiction I'm working on at the moment, and the itch is really back to play right now. I plan to get out on the course and have some adventures next year, and I think it's inevitable that some writing will come out of that.
Sky Sports: Finally, if the book was made into a film, who would you want to play you?
TC: I could answer this in a purist way, and mention one of my favourite actors, which would be unrealistic, because a lot of them are too old or too dead or too American, and all of them are too handsome. The truth is, I don't feel too precious about it. If one of my books was made into a film I'd be so over the moon about not having to struggle for money any more and having the freedom to write the books I want to in the future without the terror of whether they'd pay the bills, I wouldn't much mind who it was. It could be the old tramp from the town where I grew up, for all I care. Actually, that would be kind of appropriate in a way, considering the state of my clothes and equipment during many of my pro adventures.
Both Tom's golf books have just been released in ebook form:
Also, the paperback of Nice Jumper is now available again after being out of print.