By Dan Jenkins
Golfers whose reading isn’t limited to eye-balling three or four putt greens might want to give Dan Jenkins’ Dead Solid Perfect a read.
The 1974 laugh-out-loud novel is better than an 8-foot, “Ah, hell, pick it up!” gimme putt!
But golfers be warned!
This one’s a spoiler, so loaded with original one liners and characters that it will make you REALLY want to take a Big Bertha to that guy in your foursome who cranks out the game’s clichés —“Uh, does your husband play?” and “Nice putt, Alice!”
What we have here in this one-of-a-kind novel is the compelling story of Kenny Lee Puckett, a journeyman touring Pro who finds himself saddled by the three women in his life (two ex-wives and a current) while right smack in the middle of his first pressure packed hunt to win a US. Open Golf Championship.
So if making birdies while fighting Donnie Smitherton, his “best friend,” for the lead of a PGA Major isn’t enough stress, there’s the weight of the “wives”—Old Number One’s a blackmailing, money grubbing, “whore-lady”; Old Number Two’s fighting cancer (which is emotionally killing Kenny); Old Number Three, well she’s enjoying pro golf’s fast lane, riding her partner (his game, fame and “friends”) like a 15-handicapper two down in a double-press Nassau.
And the story? Well, it’s told by Kenny Lee Puckett, our struggling pro. But the voice is pure Jenkins “his own self” and “stronger than rent.”
PC readers be warned!
You may want to stay well behind the ropes on this novel’s perspective of life on the PGA tour. There’s debauchery afoot—groupies, “whore-lady wives” and more foul language, sex, smokin, drinkin and drugs than you’ll find on your average four-day Vegas weekend.
A bit racist? How about Blazing Saddles with fairways and greens. And there are plenty of passages where gross outdrives humor. The Needham brother’s, Old Number One’s siblings, are disgusting at best.
But that Jenkinsese, the language that conveys the story, well it’s so damned glib good that as readers we may—from time to time—think we’ve known characters who actually talk (funny) like a Kenny Lee Puckett and company. Well we haven’t. Unless we’ve had the rare pleasure of playing golf (or a drink or twelve) with Dan Jenkins, Dead Solid Perfect is as close to this kind of hilarity as we’re going to get.
Mirth aside, one of the great truths of this read we find in the book’s introduction. “If you care to know what it’s really like out there on the PGA Tour, or at a major championship such as the US Open—-on and off the course—I shamelessly recommend the book,” Dan Jenkins (“his own self”).
So if you can live with all that PGA “reality”, hell, tee it up and enjoy your round!
Kenny Puckett on Kenny Puckett: “Just another alpaca sweater and pair of Foot Joys out there trying to make a buck on the PGA tour. I’d basically developed my game on an old public course in Fort Worth called Goat Hills. Which also happened to be where I learned a considerable amount about gambling, thieves, 102-degree heat, copperheads, rocks, dirt, and gourmet food.
“I do have something in common with Jack Nicklaus. During my career, I have skillfully managed to accumulate the same number of wives as Nicklaus has won British Opens. Three!’
Kenny Puckett on his “friend” and competitor for the US Open, Donny Smitherton: “Donnie was the first player on the tour to wear his hair long, over his ears, and also to grow a mustache. There’s no question that he’s made himself a personality slightly larger than his golfing ability. He still has his clothes specially made so he can dress differently from the rest of us.
“We were friends. But somehow that friendship had a tendency to lose quite a bit of warmth when Tom Watson or anybody more important than me, walked into the room and asked Donny to come have a drink or go to dinner.”
Puckett on Joy Needham, who refers to herself “politely” as a whore-lady: “Old number One was simply a part of my wondrous high school and college days. Joy could destroy money as good as me, so I took to hiding it now and then, knowing that her idea of being a good homemaker was seeing to it that we had ‘his and her’ T-birds. Joy was a good-looking thing. She was plenty good-hearted too. But she had this minor problem. She couldn’t stay out of a motel room with any guy who was a good dancer or drove fast or told her a dirty joke.”
Puckett on Beverly Tidwell: “Old number Two was one of those mistakes a man can make when he marries a rich intellectual and as far as I could tell, it might not be possible for any man to be married to Beverly Tidwell unless he was a Nobel Prize-winning poet who could also handle any household problems that came up involving plumbing or electrical wiring.”
Puckett on Janie Ruth: “Janie Ruth, my third wife—Old Number Three—was the one in my gallery wearing a pair of shorts and a halter top that could have gotten her arrested, the girl in the mirrored glasses with the long red hair tumbling down her shoulders.
Puckett on his Goat Hill childhood: “By the time I was fifteen years old I was going on twenty-one. I was teeing it up (at Goat Hills) with bandits like Spec and Tiny and Hope-I-Do and Willard. And a lot of others.
“It wasn’t any different from most public courses. They all had their vultures, and still do. As the weeks and months—even years—went by, the games grew crazier and more expensive. We would play (for $) from the first tee to the third green, a marathon. We’d play the course backwards. We’d play eighteen holes with only one club. We’d play out of the streets and the parking lots, etc. That was Goat Hills.”
Puckett on his home town of Fort Worth, Texas: “Good old Fort Worth. Freight trains, used-car lots, and loan companies. Follow the river and it’ll take you to a pancake house. Chug holes in the asphalt streets and mimosa trees in the St. Augustine lawns. Downtown surrounded by a ribbon of freeways. But it was good because it was all there was. Never knew anybody who didn’t laugh a lot. And nobody would have swapped it for a condominium at the Blossoming Plumeia Golf, Tennis, Beach & Sauna Resort Community, Inc.”
Puckett on money, pressure and gambling: “Where I come from there was pretty good pressure when you were playing some bandits (Goat Hills) named Spec Reynolds, and T. Lou (Tiny) Fawver and Hope-I-Do- Collins for $25 each—-and you didn’t have but $10 on you.”
And Jenkins comes thorough on his (Foreword) promise by giving us the skinny on the PGA tour by dropping us in with the Arnies and Jacks, taking us to the great courses here and abroad—Pebble Beach, Augusta, and St. Andrews. There’s history—how the tour, which is now a Billion Dollar ATM machine, got started.
“The tour began sort of by accident, really. What happened was a few pros decided they suddenly knew how to play the game better than the rich amateurs they worked for in country clubs. These pros had familiar names like Walter Hagan and Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour. Pretty soon people around resorts and real estate developments enjoyed watching them. So a few promoters stepped in and figured out that you could make a hotel or a country club just as famous with a golf tournament as you could with a fire. Now pro golf had a circus to sell!”
And that’s the circus where we find Kenny desperately trying to take that handle journeyman, the one he’d been stuck with all those years, and bury it in one of those US Open sand traps while sticking it to the evil Donnie Smitherton.
That said, before teeing off for the final round he enjoys his US Open moment. “First, I stood there, leaning on my putter, and looked all across the course at the candy-striped tents and the thousands of people encircling several of the greens within my view. I glanced over toward the 18th green at the big leader board which had the names of the ten low scorers through three rounds of the tournament along with their cumulative scoring totals. There was my name on top. K Puckett, 208. Two under par. I thought to myself, man, this is a long way from Goat Hills.”
Okay, even though we know it’s going to come down to the Open’s final hole . . . there is a bit of a surprise at the end. But it reads Dead Solid Perfect, with the reader inside the ropes and inside the head and heart of one Kenny Puckett. We feel his love and compassion for Beverly Tidwell, Old Number Two who is ill, and his hate for his competitor Smitherton, the PGA’s Poster Boy for phony. And we’re always (from the first page turn to the last) within earshot of Dan Jenkins’ hysterical, and ofttimes outrageous. dialogue.
- You can ask for Dead Solid Perfect at your local library, purchase it through your independent bookseller or pick it up on Amazon for less coin than Donnie Smitherton would use to mark his ball or tip a stripper. Just click on the book’s cover.