Crank up suspense? Watch a golf match.
I enjoy watching a wide variety of televised sport. My age has excluded a more active participation, though my wife claims bone idleness is the determining factor. I am currently watching the final day’s play of the Ryder Cup and vainly wishing I could harness a small fraction of the suspense for my fiction. Crazy as it may seem, I submit that a closely contested golf match is a perfect blueprint for creating suspense. Let’s examine my hypothesis more closely. Professional golf is an individual sport, rarely played as a team sport. So right off you are placing characters in an alien situation. The players have the skill and experience to adapt, but in a boiler-room environment even Tiger Woods can crack. Each player has a back story which can make their performance all the more remarkable. They may have beaten cancer, lost a partner, developed the yips, whatever. The rookie player might be matched against the world’s number one and come out a winner. And what reader doesn’t empathize with a protagonist from the wrong side of the tracks making good? A player may be on the verge of a thrashing, but somehow claws his way back to scrape an unlikely victory. Add in the jingoism, the partisan crowd, the glamorous WAGs, the treacherous weather, the captains’ leadership, the passion, and the exhilaration or raw disappointment. Any writer would be thrilled to have so much material to weave into a story.
With all this to work with, why does so much golf fiction suck?