A Conversation with Mark Frost (Conclusion)

MARK FROST is the author of The Match, The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Grand Slam.

Following is the conclusion to our recent conversation, which focused on The Match, his latest golf book about the duel between pros Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson and amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward at Cypress Point on California’s Monterey Peninsula.

(You can read the first part here.)

ARMCHAIR GOLF: A big premise of your book was that this match was the end of an era. As I’m sure you know, Venturi and Ward came very close to winning majors as amateurs in the 1950s. Billy Joe Patton also came close at the Masters, as Venturi did, and even Nicklaus came close at the 1960 U.S. Open as an amateur. Do you think if one or more of those guys would have been able to pull off a major in the 50s that it might have prolonged this golden era of amateur golf?

Yes, I do. I think that’s what it needed, and that’s what it would have taken to encourage people who were white-collar players who didn’t want to live that grinding pro life to stay out there as amateurs. For instance, if Ken had won the Masters, he’d been given an indication that he would have been invited to take over as host for Bob Jones who was obviously ailing. And that would have continued the lineage of the great amateur champion. The subtitle [The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever] is a little bit hyperbole, but, in fact, this is the only time that you ever really see the top amateurs play the top professionals that I’m aware of in this era. The pros were very averse to play the amateurs, for a lot of reasons.

AG: They didn’t have much to gain from it, did they?

MARK FROST: They had nothing to gain from it, and everything to lose. They really believed that their reputations would have suffered tremendously and, therefore, their ability probably to get extra income off the course would have suffered. Would people really want to buy Ben Hogan irons if he had been beaten by an amateur? It actually is a watershed moment. The game didn’t change directly as a result of this one match, but there’s no question that this is the moment at which the shift begins to take place. Within four or five years, there’s no question for amateurs anymore about whether they should turn pro. They’d be foolish not to, given what the game is about to be able to hand them if they can play at the highest level. Yeah, there’s a hyperbolic quality to the subtitle, but I also think it does demarcate two distinct eras in the game. This is kind of the amateur’s last hurrah.

AG: I think you made a good case for that. Nicklaus, to my knowledge, was the last truly great player to seriously consider remaining an amateur. He had that relationship with Jones, and when he was coming out of Ohio State he was getting ready to have a career in insurance and continue playing amateur golf. But it was over by then and I think he realized that. To make his mark in golf, he would have to be a professional.

I think as we’ve seen with almost everything Jack ever did, it was done with a great deal of forethought. He weighed that decision very, very carefully, and realized that there was a street paved with gold lying ahead of him. And although Palmer had opened the way, it was Jack who turned that into a superhighway. I don’t think he’d look back and regret that decision for one second now. We’ll never see the era of the gifted amateur champion again. And for better and worse, you can mourn its passing. It was a different era and a different time in the country. I think a little bit of the greatness of the sport died with that era.

AG: Do you think you’ll write any more golf books?

: Yeah, I do. I think I’ll continue to try to tell the saga of American golf, trying to find the right stories to move up another decade or generation and continue the narrative.

AG: Any plans for bringing any golf stories to the screen?

MARK FROST: We’re going to make a documentary of The Match. I can’t say too much about it because it’s still in the planning stages. We’re working on developing a corporate sponsor, involving some pretty good names in the game currently to help us tell that story. I’m hoping that that’s going to happen a little bit later this year. Actually, I’m now going to take a break and do a baseball book before I come back to golf.

AG: Are you a big baseball fan?

Yeah, all my life. Played the game and loved the game and always wanted to write about it, so this is going to be a fun one.

AG: How is your golf game and how often are you able to get out?

I’m about a 5 handicap. When I’m happy, I can get out at least twice a week. Right now, it’s more like twice a month, which is harder to sustain a 5 handicap. It’s my No. 1 stress reducer and form of relaxation, so I always look forward to a chance to play.

−The Armchair Golfer

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

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