The Hole By
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|Good Bounces &
The autobiography of Ben Wright
By Ben Wright with Michael Patrick Shiels
At first I thought this book would be a long rant by a bitter old fool. I was mostly wrong.
While there are certainly sizable traces of bitterness in some portions of Ben Wrights autobiography, he appears to have released most of the demons that would otherwise have marred this predominantly fond look back at a long career in golf entertainment.
John Bentley-Wright had a tough childhood, especially during and just after World War II. This part of the book was frankly the most interesting. In biographies and autobiographies one usually looks for hints of the adult in the recollections of childhood. Until Wright describes his first encounter with Ben Hogan at the 1953 British Open at Carnoustie, however, its hard to determine any seminal moments as a child that gave a significant hint of the adult to come.
Wright does well in recounting his history in British journalism and the zigzag path that led to his career at CBS. His British television predecessors such as Henry Longhurst were "characters" in a very real sense. Those who are squeamish at tales of exploits in an alcoholic daze will not appreciate these and several other segments of the book.
Other parts are great fun. Wright recounts a fabulous history of the Ryder Cup, including Jack Nicklaus role in expanding beyond the British Isles to the rest of Europe. Wright properly credits Nicklaus with saving the Cup competition from oblivion. Wright returns the favor with his chapter on the Masters, focused on Nicklaus wins in 1975 and 1986.
Parts of the book were jarring, nonetheless. Wright seems to recognize some of his responsibility for having four failed marriages, but only partially so. His segment on the intervention by his friends that led to his stay at the Betty Ford clinic seems appreciative of their efforts. He now understands he needed the help. On the other hand, hes obviously uncomfortable with labeling himself as a recovering alcoholic. He searches for a term with less finality, but his less-emphatic suggestions dont seem quite on the money.
Wrights not shy with his opinions on others in the golf entertainment business. Some of these comments are sharply worded, if not mean-spirited. For example, Wright is clearly not a fan of Steve Melnyk, and his comments about Ken Venturi have at least two edges to them.
I was primarily interested in how he would deal with his LPGA press debacle that eventually led to his dismissal from CBS. I have extensive personal experience with reporters and editors at the Wilmington, Delaware News-Journal, the Gannett publication that started this episode. For example, the editors of that paper are not averse to inserting a definitive slant into a reporters copy for their own purposes.
While I cant say that everything Wright says happened rings completely true, it certainly read like Wright believes his version.
Wrights account, both fascinating and painful, includes his subsequent interview fiasco with Michael Bamberger of Sports Illustrated and a long talk in 1998 with Valerie Helmbreck, the original reporter on the story.
At the time I wondered how Wright could have gotten himself into this mess. Perhaps Wright felt protected by the fact he had been a journalist himself for decades. Maybe he forgot that by the time Ms. Helmbreck had her story, he was primarily an entertainer, with much to lose if he wasnt careful. I couldnt help but think that for all his years in the media, Wright forgot some basic rules of press relations, at least with that paper:
There is much else to the book to recommend it. One forgets at times how old Wright is. His attitudes toward women, alcohol, and his ideas of a good time are shaped by his generation. This book will remind you of an earlier time in the PGA Tour, when fitness and family took a back seat to babes and booze. Wright is clearly fond of the old days, but seems to recognize that they are unlikely to recur, with good reason.
The passages dealing with his verbal sparring with Gary McCord were puzzling, perhaps intentionally so. Some of the stories were laugh-out-loud funny, and others produced winces. I had the impression that Wright would not mind a chance to repeat these bouts in the future.
Wright seems wistful at times. He clearly would like to return to golf broadcasting, but thus far the networks have not shown any real interest in hiring this prodigal son. Perhaps this interesting book will help bring him back. He seems to have learned his lessons.
Review Date: September 12, 1999
Good Bounces & Bad Lies: the autobiography of Ben Wright
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Good Bounces & Bad Lies
by Ben Wright with Michael Patrick Shiels
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