Editor's Note: This is the first of a special, three-part Lerner's Journal, as Rich recounts his recent road trip covering the Masters, the Hootie & the Blowfish tournament and the LPGA in Las Vegas.
April 6, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
I had the privilege of emceeing the Golf Writers Association of America golf tournament banquet Sunday night before the start of Masters week. For 50 years, the scribes have made this three-day soiree to Myrtle Beachs venerable Dunes Club a pre-Masters ritual, a natural geographic stop over on the road to Augusta. It was a way for snowbound northern reporters to renew acquaintances and breathe the southern spring air.
This year, Arnold Palmer was honored with the Jim Murray Award. Murray was Musial. Or Williams, Im not exactly sure. He was a sports-writing legend of the highest order. He wrote a column for years for the Los Angeles Times. Never needlessly wordy, he got to his point, often with rapier wit or in such a fashion that as a reader you immediately understood.
Arnold knocked the ball way into the rough, into a pile of twigs and leaves, the late Murray once wrote. I think there was a dead squirrel and a beer can in there too. Anyway, he walked over and stared down at his ball. And then he saw me standing there and asked, Okay, wise guy. What would your idol, Hogan, do here? And I told him, 'Hogan wouldnt be here.
He wrote of Jack Nicklaus that Jack moved slowly around the course, picking things off the green like a German housewife picking lint off a suit.
Jim Murray loved golf, made it and its heroes a more colorful sport. In his honor, The Golf Writers Association of America gives an award to the person who displays a cooperative and generous spirit with the media. Palmer was as legend in this respect as Murray was at putting words to paper.
At the banquet, dinner at the dais with Arnold was very enjoyable. We chatted about the world, how its changed, how he wouldnt trade his Depression-era upbringing for anything because it taught him the value of family togetherness, forcing his father to be strong - a characteristic Arnold acquired as life went on.
Arnold converses one-on-one so well. Hes an interested listener and more than willing to share his own point of view.
With regards to his relationship with the media, its important to understand the character of the writers who covered him during his glory days. You had the likes of Murray, Bob Drum and Dan Jenkins ' hard-charging, Damon Runyon classics that drank, smoked and told the funniest stories you could ever imagine. Obviously, I was too young to have heard them first hand, but talk to any of the old-timers or just read their work and you understand.
Drum, like Arnold, was from Western Pennsylvania. He wrote for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and did those dry, rumpled, bar-room funny bits for CBS golf. For more than 40 years, he covered Western Pennsylvanias pride and joy, Arnie.
If Arnold wanted to tell Drum about the Masters that got away - and win or lose, Arnie talked and never sulked - hed do it with the boys over a beer, a cigarette, a laugh. For whatever reason, those days are gone. It was simply a different time.
Today, all the moneys built wealth, but its also built a wall between the athletes and everyone else. Theyre like kings, royalty. Its ironic that Arnies known as the King, and yet, he was more a commoner than any athlete. Essentially, thats why he was honored.
There are athletes you work with, Murray wrote, and no matter how nice they are to you, you know theyre difficult with other people, whether its other writers, photographers, fans, whatever. But Arnold Palmer is one of the few people in sports who Ive never heard anyone say anything bad about. He was perfect for our business.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two, the Masters and Mike Weir