Sunday May 26, 2013

Playing on a familiar theme from his Masters broadcasts, CBS golf anchor Jim Nantz has summed up Dylan Dethier's post-high school adventure almost perfectly.

"An enterprising and inspirational golf journey unlike any other," Nantz says in a PR release about the Mount Greylock Regional High School graduate's 48-state golf expedition and his resulting new book, ‘18 in America.'

Pushing back his enrollment at Williams College a year, the then-17-year-old's (he turned 18 during the trip) plan was to play at least 18 holes in each of the lower 48 states while experiencing everything from the lowest-end municipal courses to the most prestigious clubs.

Almost perfectly? That's because while golf was the fulcrum around which his trip revolved, as the book reflects, the odyssey turned out to be much more of a coming-of-age experience.

Many nights spent sleeping in his cramped Subaru hatchback with a small ax at his side for safety contrasted to others spent as a welcomed guest of people he had not previously met but who treated him like family.

Moments of loneliness and fear. Others of bonding and joy.

"I never intended this to be a golf book," said Dethier, now 21 and finishing his junior year at Williams. "The themes hardly touch on golf. It's much more about being young. It's about growing up and American life."

When he left his parents and older brother, Evan, behind on Sept. 1, 2010, he wasn't thinking about writing a book, but he did decide to keep a journal, a decision that is paying dividends with the release of his entertaining and insightful book.

"I knew I wanted to write something about the trip," Dethier explained. "At the beginning it was for myself, so I would have a record of the experience. Then I started to blog for friends and family, but many people do that. But what surprised me was that people read mine. They would actually get mad when I didn't post. Because of the way it resonated, I started to realize there was a book there."

Not every experience made it to the blog.

"Some things I couldn't write honestly about at the time," he admitted. "With the book, I was able to be more introspective. There are things in the book that were easier to understand a year removed from when they happened."

There were also a few experiences left out for the sake of his family's peace of mind, like the night he was awakened in his car to find a man's arm come through a slightly opened window in search of the lock (the man fled when the two came face-to-face). Or the day in the wilderness of Wyoming when he realized he was stuck on an icy ledge above the road and thought briefly there was no escape. Or his initial visits to a casino in New Mexico that almost ended his adventure abruptly.

"There was a certain point in the trip when I realized I couldn't really tell people at home everything I experienced," Dethier said. "Calling home and saying ‘listen to how dumb I am' didn't seem like the right thing to do."

Of course, with those "dumb" actions now in book form, mother Nancy has read about those moments.

"I tell her that she can't get scared because it has already happened," Dethier said. "I'm right here."

As news of his trip spread -- USA Today did a story on Dethier that created a buzz -- the golfing and lodging options changed dramatically.

"When the story got out there, it was powerful to see how many people reached out to try to help me," he said. "The trip took a strange turn. Instead of sneaking around, I was a guest. Offers poured in from people I'd never me to play or stay on their couch."

That led to being invited to play at courses like Pebble Beach and TPC Sawgrass, and even getting a chance to caddie in a PGA Tour pro-am in the same group as Phil Mickelson, who told Dethier that his solo trip was "really impressive" and something he wasn't sure he could do himself.

"I enjoyed a full range of American experiences on the golf course. I got to feel for the pull of the game and the people who play it from the cheapest golf courses to the most elite."

As "impressive" as his trip was, having a book published by age 21 -- all while attending classes and playing on the golf team at Williams -- is also quite a feat. The big break came as a result of a story written about his trip by the New York Times.

"The morning that story was published, I opened up my email and was flooded with requests," said Dethier, who eventually settled on hiring Rob Weisbach as his agent. Weisbach helped him construct a book proposal and shopped it to various publishers with New York publishing house Scribner ending up as the best option.

"The writing was done in earnest in 2012," Dethier said. "I produced a rough draft in August and traded drafts with the editor [Paul Whitlatch] at the end of the fall semester."

Whitlatch proved invaluable.

"The most difficult thing for me is that I had lived the entirety of the experience and had more stories, moments and conversations then ever would have made it into the book," Dethier said. "It was really important to have Paul. He helped figure out what to cut down on and what to expand on."

In addition to opening up a Berkshires boy to a bigger world, teaching him how to cope with new and sometimes difficult situations and giving him perspective on golf's place in American life, the 35,000-mile journey in his dusty Suburu definitely helped Dethier grow up fast in other ways.

"The trip has made me more comfortable in a lot of situations," he said. "I don't get bored, really, ever, and I don't get as nervous about some things like before. I am more comfortable confronting new situations and I can also spend a lot of time by myself."

Now he hopes his book helps others realize their dreams.

"The perspective I built up on the road was the most valuable takeaway. It has allowed me to write a story and share my execution of my road trip in the hopes that others will reconsider following a dream they have been considering and just go for it. If people follow the path of something they are really excited about it can only be a good thing."

This experience has also made something else obvious -- this guy can really write, which certainly suggests that the English major's future in the field is bright.

"I think storytelling will be part of my future," he said. "I very interested in seeing where film meets writing and I am interested to see where the next generation of stories will be told."

To contact Richard Lord:

rlord@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6236