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Photo Finish

Classic Golf: The Photographs of Walter Iooss Jr. Introduction by Rick Reilly. Harry N. Abrams Inc., $35.

Golf's visual drama rests less in action than in reaction, so the game's most arresting photographs have little to do with hitting the ball. They're about freezing time to seize joy, agony and whatever falls between.

It is clear, after scanning this marvelous collection by Walter Iooss Jr., shaped over his four decades of prowling the fairways for SI as a staff photographer, that no one understands this better than Iooss. Perhaps that's because--as Rick Reilly tells us in his introduction--Iooss wasn't a golfer until recently. Meaning he set out with a photographer's instincts rather than a golf photographer's instincts, and therefore Iooss had a clear vision of the drama behind the game's curtain.

Look at what he did with Ben Hogan. When Iooss pointed and clicked, he captured what burned within the Wee Ice Mon, not only the familiar glowering stare but also the rare moment of solitary rapture.

Then there's Arnold Palmer, scowling in black and white at the '65 PGA, daring the ball to defy his will. And Jack Nicklaus. Young Jack. Fat Jack. Golden Jack. And one particular Jack--in profile from the shoulders up behind a St. Andrews bunker, gazing like Columbus on the prow. Isn't that Nicklaus in a nutshell?

Iooss's camera extracts the sad clown beneath Lee Trevino's Merry Mex, the thrilling insouciance of the young Johnny Miller, the high-collared poise of Gary Player, the exhaustion of Ken Venturi, the focus of Tom Watson and the despair of Lanny Wadkins. Sadly, there's little from the last decade, but Tiger Woods is represented, especially the unflappable Woods of that glorious 2000.

If there's a complaint, it's the come-on of the cover: Tiger on the tee, which misrepresents what follows. But unlike Tiger's of late, Iooss's aim is consistently true. --Jeff Silverman

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 Palmer at the '64 Open (above) and Nicklaus as bad boy.



 [See caption above]