Kevin Cook’s Tommy’s Honor, winner of the 2007 Herbert Warren Wind Book Award, has been made into a major motion picture that will be released on April 14. Tommy’s Honor was Cook’s first book; his ninth will be released later this year. Cook recently answered nine questions about the book, the film and the journey that led him to explore the lives of “Old” Tom and “Young” Tommy Morris.
How were you introduced to golf?
I started playing when I was about 10 years old. I learned how to hit bunker shots from reading cartoon strips of Jack Nicklaus. I went on to play in high school and in college [at Butler University], where I actually led an NCAA Tournament for about 10 seconds after four holes [laughs]. I’ve continued to play recreationally for years.
What drew you to this particular story?
I made my first pilgrimage to Scotland in 1986. Some locals told me the story of the Morris family and it piqued my interest. It wasn’t just a golf story, but was about family, class and romance as well. There was conflict between father and son, and of course the tragedy of Young Tommy’s early death.
How long did it take you to research this book?
About one and a half years. I made a visit to the USGA Museum, which led me to take several trips to Scotland. Most notably, I went to the archives at Royal Liverpool, the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and the library at the University of St. Andrews. I immersed myself in magazines and newspapers. It is amazing that there were such detailed, sometimes shot-by-shot, accounts of the matches.
Did you uncover any new information?
I discovered that Tommy made the first recorded ace in golf history. I was also amazed at how strict a divide there was between classes in that era. The biggest events at that time were the gentlemen’s matches at clubs, but Tommy gained attention by barnstorming Great Britain with other caddies that were the game’s best players. He was the forerunner of the modern professional golfer.
When did you start to understand that you had something special?
Before writing this book, I was working at Golf Magazine. This story interested me since my first trip to Scotland, but I hadn’t had time to dive into serious research. But the deeper I got into it, the more fascinating it was. I felt that it was powerful because of the complex relationships among the characters.
What was your reaction when you were told “Tommy’s Honor” won the Herbert Warren Wind Book Award?
I was surprised and delighted. At first, the book got very little attention. The USGA’s award was the first recognition that the book received and alerted golfers to take a look because this story could enhance their experience in the game. It raised the book’s profile and it sold steadily after that. I was flying for days. I still am.
When were you approached about turning the book into a movie?
About five years ago, [film producer] Jim Kreutzer read the book during his pilgrimage to Scotland and loved the story. He thought it was pretty cinematic. He asked me if I wanted to write the movie. I had no experience with this, but my wife, Pamela Marin, had written a screenplay and knew more about the craft of turning a book into a movie. We became the screenwriters for the film.
Was it a challenge to adapt the book into a film?
It was hard to choose which stories to cut. The book covers Old Tom’s entire life, so we had to pick the events that were central to the story. In a book, you can fill in background about the characters, but in a film, it’s not as leisurely. All of the information has to come on the screen or through dialogue. But when I saw the talented actors delivering their lines, it sounded even better than I had imagined in my head.
How is the story of “Old” Tom and “Young” Tommy still relevant today?
Golf is a family game. Most of us learned it from one of our parents. Jason [Connery, the film’s director] said that when he was young, the most memorable times that he had with his father [actor, Sean] were on the golf course. The family dynamic occurs throughout the movie and is something that we can all relate to, whether we are golfers or non-golfers.
Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.