Ranger gets fictional double

[Link to story]By Jason B. Smith
The Augusta Chronicle

Fletcher Handley isn’t willing to claim all of Peachy’s habits or his golf swing.

But he can’t deny some of the trouble Peachy and pals – the main characters of the new novel Flatbellies – got into. After all, the character created by friend and author A.B. Hollingsworth is modeled after Handley.

“I’m the one he gave everyone’s bad habits to,” said Handley, a lawyer from Oklahoma City. “I wasn’t as bad as what Peachy seems like in the book. And I had a hell of a lot better golf swing than Peachy.”

This week, Handley has spent his days at the Augusta National Golf Club working as a ranger on the first hole. It’s his 16th year coming to the course to work, but the first as a quasi-celebrity in the making.

The book chronicles the lives of five small-town Oklahoma boys growing up around golf and eventually vying for the state championship as part of the El Viento High School golf team.

“The tagline of the book is, `It’s not about golf. It’s about life,”‘ Handley said. “I think Alan did a really good job of talking about some of the struggles school kids have growing up.”

Each character is based on a real person, all part of the group of friends Hollingsworth and Handley grew up with. The characters have been embellished a little, Mr. Hollingsworth said.

Especially Peachy.

“He’s identifiable to people who know him, the belief system, attitude and dialogue are the same as (movie character) Fletch,” Hollingsworth said. “He was the clown and the wild man growing up.”

Flatbellies is a name given to the young golfers by a group of middle-age duffers who played at the same country club – La Viento Golf and Country Club in the book.

“They resented us because we beat them,” said Hollingsworth, who is Kyle “Chipper” DeHart in the book – a nod to his proficiency around the green.

Hollingsworth spent four years writing the book, another year revising and cutting more than 50 pages out of it, then was rejected – sight unseen, he said – by 47 publishing companies.

Once Hollingsworth found Sleeping Bear Press, he sent copies of the manuscript to his friends.

“He didn’t want it to offend anybody or anything like that,” Handley said. “We all thought it was great fun.”

Then there was another hold up.

“The author would not sign the contract until `The Peach’ OK’s the manuscript,” said Brian Lewis, publisher of the book and owner of Sleeping Bear Press. Lewis said the book has been on shelves three weeks and there’s already been three calls from movie studios.

“It’s probably the best sports novel in 10 years,” he said.

Handley brought several copies of the book with him to the Masters this year to give to co-workers. He said he knew he was Peachy from the first time he read it.

“Alan told me, `You won’t have trouble figuring out which one you are,”‘

Handley said. “There wasn’t much question who each of us was.”

Actually, anyone who knows the author or his friends shouldn’t have too much trouble identifying pieces of the story. For example, the guys grew up in El Reno, Okla. In the book, they’re in El Viento.

“It’s thinly veiled,” Handley said. “Alan has not worked very hard at camouflaging it, I can tell you that.”

Overall the story is fiction, but many of the little individual vignettes really did happen, Hollingsworth said. For example, the Lettermans’ club initiation has a full chapter in the book.

“You had to box,” he said. “We were golfers boxing to get our letters. We all had to box somebody.”

The book is the first work of fiction by Hollingsworth, who is the director of the Women’s Center at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City. In August , he released The Truth About Breast Cancer Risk Assessment – a more clinical effort – as Alan B. Hollingsworth, M.D.

For Flatbellies he left off the M.D.

“We figured people may think it was an exercise book,” he said.

One of Hollingsworth’s favorite scenes in Flatbellies is near the end of the book and involves Chipper and Jay.

“Jay says to Chipper,” Hollingsworth said, “If you do become a writer would you put us all in a book one day?”‘

He did.