Local author ponders matchup between golf titans

Have you ever wondered who would’ve hit the longest drives between golf legends Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus at the time when Woods was becoming a star and Nicklaus was closing out what had been a star-studded career?
How would the two of them have matched up against each other when Woods was 21 back in 1997 and Nicklaus had reached 57?

Shelton resident and writer Colin Koenig decided to accept the challenge and has created a fictionalized version of a head-to-head match between the two golfing greats. His book, Major Wager, puts you right there with a front-row seat as the two compete for 18 holes of “pure” golf at a place called Regal Pines in rural Kentucky.

Nicklaus proposed the get-together and the pair each put up $100,000 dollars and go the distance without caddies or pretty much anyone watching.

The only ones who know about it are the course’s general manager, his wife, and an interesting character, “The Intruder,” who shows up periodically and is there for the sole purpose of finding golf balls for further use.

Other than writing sports for his high school newspapers better than 40 years ago, this is the second sojourn into writing for Koenig, who goes about his daily business delivering groceries for a local supermarket chain.

Back in 1987, while working as a trainer in Florida on the harness-racing circuit, Koenig wrote “Side Track.” It’s an insider’s look into the interesting characters that inhabit the sport.

“I just might be an author with the longest duration between books,” Koenig said. “I guess you’d have to say I’m not that prolific.”

Koenig pondered actually writing “Major Wager” for over a year, then wrote it in two months and took about another month re-writing and fine tuning it before it was published earlier this year by Amazon Books. Major Wager is available in both paperback and on Kindle.

“I really can’t give you a definitive answer as to how and why the thought came about,” said Koenig. “I’m usually spending quite a few hours daily driving a truck, and, in between stops, I enjoy listening to the radio. It could’ve come about when I had sports talk on and someone brought up Tiger Woods’ name. I could’ve been passing by a golf course in my travels and it occurred to me again.”

Koenig did realize that it needed to be done while both players were, as he says, “still relevant.”

“Golf is probably one of, or perhaps the only sports, where two towering figures like Woods and Nicklaus could still be competitive even though there’s that big an age difference. It couldn’t happen in basketball, baseball or football, that’s for sure.”

The only obstacle Koenig had to work around involved the setting. At first, he wanted to place the two at Augusta National, the most recognizable course in the world.

“I knew legally that I could write whatever I wanted about Woods and Nicklaus,” Koenig said. “I know that the people who run Augusta National always have issues about anything written about their course. It would’ve been dangerous going there.”

So Koenig, using his imagination, created an 18-hole course and added names for each hole.

“I wanted a secluded setting,” he said. “Again, I wanted to make it as pure as I could. Kentucky seemed like a terrific place.”

Why would Nicklaus, then at an advanced age, being willing to go up against Woods, then the next burgeoning star?

It didn’t take long for Koenig to respond.

“Obviously, Jack had heard all the talk from Tiger about wanting to break his record for Major wins (at the time Nicklaus had reached 18 and there weren’t any more in realistic sight). Woods had gotten off to such a fast start. I thought that Jack definitely wanted to see, if that this time, he could beat Tiger one-on-one. It’s really about Jack thinking: ‘Does this guy really have what it takes to someday break my record.’”

Koenig, who plays the game and admitted that he doesn’t play it well, realized the most difficult part of the book’s development would be the dialogue between the two.

“I knew that Jack would be guarded at times,” he said. “But he would be the antagonist. He would want to get in Tiger’s head when he could, perhaps thinking it would give him a psychological advantage.

“Tiger, being young and from a different generation and being college educated (Stanford), would be likely to say just about anything. And realistically, I figured that the two would talk about things other than golf when they were out there.”

The match goes on with few interruptions. There is one break, where the pair go inside the course’s restaurant for food and also hit the pro shop.

Other than that, it’s straight ahead.

The general manager is always worried because, after all, this is a public golf course, and paying customers are waiting at the front gate, wondering why the course is mysteriously closed.

“I can’t really tell you why I decided to have which one win,” Koenig says, “because we’re not giving it away here.”