Fred Couples by Katherine Bissell

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Fred Couples by Katherine Bissell

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Category: Biography
Rating: 2/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A superficial review of an interesting and charismatic man left us feeling that we knew less about him after we'd read the book than before we started. Don't buy it and only borrow it if there's absolutely nothing else on the shelves.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 320 Date: May 2000
Publisher: Contemporary Books
ISBN: 0809224852

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I don't play golf, but my husband does and I have a vicarious interest in his play and the professionals right at the top of the game. In an age when it seems to be the thing for sports stars (I deliberately didn't say 'sportsmen') to be temperamental and difficult, Fred Couples has always appealed to me as an exception. He's obviously a talented golfer, but I've never seen a tantrum when he loses or when things don't go his way. A biography seemed like an ideal way to find out a little more about the man behind the golf.

The author, Katherine Bissell, has written for various golf magazines and has worked as a media consultant in the golf industry. So a writer deeply involved in the sport played by our superstar should be able to provide some real insight, shouldn't she? Unfortunately this isn't the case. A golf journalist is not necessarily a biographer.

The first problem that I encountered was that this is an authorised biography. It's there in the first line of the preface: "I want to thank Fred Couples for allowing me to write about his life and career." The book is dedicated to Fred's recently deceased parents. To say that Fred is never criticised in the book rather understates the situation. He has, apparently, in his life only ever done three reprehensible things. He once told a fib when he was in college and he has twice uttered an "unmentionable expletive". Apart from that he has led a completely blameless life.

If you read between the lines you might just get a hint that all is not quite as you're led to believe. After the break-up of his first marriage to the flamboyant Deborah Morgan, Couples began seeing and then became engaged to Tawnya Dodd. It's said that he didn't do this without a great deal of thought, but the next thing we hear is that he's seeing someone else. There's no explanation of what happened or of how Tawnya Dodd and her young son coped with the split. She's simply written out of the book as Fred moves on.

In fairness Fred doesn't seem to have taken advantage of his superstar status as many others have done. He has a deep loyalty to his friends and family, but a biography which doesn't confront the less-than-perfect aspects of the subject's life leaves a feeling of unreality. (As an aside, the indexing in the book is poor. I looked up "Dodd, Tawnya" and was surprised to find that she appears only twice - once when he "began seeing" her and once when she and Couples became engaged. She actually appears in the book on many other occasions including before Couples "began seeing" her. She seems to be an uncomfortable fact which is being minimised.)

The book has obviously been written with the assumption that it would be read exclusively by golf fans and American golf fans at that. There's an awful lot of golf jargon - "birdie", "eagle" "dormie" and the like - which isn't immediately comprehensible to the non-golfer. A glossary would have helped. There are also numerous references to events in the American golf calendar, such as the Skins Game, which take on a particular format, but there's no explanation of these.

Bissell frequently resorts to lists to make a point about the amount of money earned by Couples in a particular month (he has been nick-named 'Mr. November' by some journalists as it's a month in which he seems to be consistently successful) or how he has fared in various tournaments over a period of time. I'm afraid they made very boring reading.

The style of writing didn't endear itself to me either. The book's littered with clichés. This is the first sentence:

"Bermuda Dunes Country Club wasn't quite Augusta National, but for Fred Couples, who had recently navigated another heart-stopping, hairpin turn on his E-ticket, roller-coaster ride called Life, the 1998 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was as good a place as any for a mid-course correction."

This is the last couple of fragments:

"Finally. Happily ever after."

Add to this lengthy match reports which made me lose the will to live and you'll see why I didn't enjoy the book. Throw in some sloppy editing - "pared" for "parred" and "Twnaya" for "Tawnya" for instance - and my two stars are generous. Would I enjoy the book more if I was a golfer? I asked my husband what he thought of it and he confessed to having been very disappointed and not even troubling to finish it.

Fred Couples has had variable form throughout his career and I was interested to know what made the difference between winning and losing. Apart from obvious reasons such as the break-up of his marriage, the death of his parents and the illness of his second wife I didn't really feel that the book gave an indication of what drove him to win or to lose. In fact I didn't feel that I knew Couples any better at the end of the book than I did at the beginning. I even wondered if the author knew him particularly well. I've just spent half an hour on Google and learned far more than I did from the book.

The photographs in the book leave a lot to be desired. They're all black and white and printing has left them rather grainy. A picture of an unremarkable gate over which Fred used to climb is included, along with a photograph which appears to be identical to the full-colour front cover, but isn't. There's a picture of Fred and his caddie - but a white patch appears over the caddie's stomach. I don't know whether this is poor printing or a clumsy attempt to edit the photo, but it does suggest an attitude of having thrown in every available photo to make up the numbers.

Katherine Bissell has managed to make an interesting and charismatic man seem boring.

If you'd like to read a biography of a golfer that really gets inside the skin of the man, you might like to read Gavin Newsham's biography of John Daly.

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