20 Years of Golf: Talking golf and sharing stories

By Rich LernerJanuary 15, 2015, 1:30 pm

(Editor’s note: Golf Channel turns 20 years old on Jan. 17. In recognition, we are looking back at golf over the last two decades with a series of articles and photo galleries throughout the week.)

You’ve known me for long enough, so let’s break bread and reminisce on the week of Golf Channel’s 20th anniversary.

A few years ago I sat around a table at a Houston steakhouse with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Gary Player for a show called “Legendary Conversation.”  It’s a good assignment, if you like golf, which I do.

Anyway, at one point I wanted to understand what made Jack so good.  “You’ve won nine majors, Gary,” I said. “And, Arnold, you won seven; Lee, you won six. You guys were among the greatest to have ever played this game.” They all had a slight smile, because legends never mind when you repeat their record. 

“So how do you explain …” and now Trevino knows where I’m headed with this and without saying a word he starts pointing toward the ceiling, toward the sky.  “How do you explain Jack winning 18 majors?” I finished the question – and I really emphasized the number 18. Trevino, still thrusting his index finger to the roof, says, “He hit the high ball, hit it so high and could land it so soft, see that’s how you win 18 majors.”

Tiger Woods looked like he’d win 25 majors. Sunday afternoon at the 2001 Masters, he was on the verge of four in a row. The atmosphere was electric, with a long morning buildup to Tiger’s mid-afternoon tee time. When word spread that he was about to come out of the clubhouse, two lines formed from the door all the way to the ropes just before the practice putting green.

20 Years of Golf: Articles and photo galleries

Tiger’s mom, Tida, was standing to one side near the patio. You could not miss her. Tiger would walk out, get a good luck hug from Mom and then make history, right? Tiger popped from the doorway. He walked right by his mother. He saw nothing and no one but the task ahead. And then he won his fourth consecutive major.

I started at Golf Channel just as Tiger won his first major title, the 1997 Masters.  It was a great period because not only would we cover Tiger’s rise but the game’s all-time giants were still around, men like Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen.

I encountered Sarazen in Naples, Fla., in 1999 at a charity event hosted by Ken Venturi. It was Monday after Doral. Jim Nantz was introducing players. Through it all, Sarazen sat silently on the first tee box under an umbrella, dressed to the nines with his plus-fours, sport coat and tie, a straw hat and a cane. He was 97.

Eventually, Nantz brought up Ernie Els. Keep in mind that the day before, Els made double bogey on the final hole to kick away the tournament. Always gracious, Els said in his familiar accent, “What a great honor it is to be here in the company of such a great man like Mr. Sarazen.”

And then Nantz moved towards Sarazen and said, “Mr. Sarazen, how about that, isn’t that wonderful?” Sarazen, one hand holding the cane, still seated, took the microphone with a shaky hand. He looked up from under his hat toward Els and said, “Ernie Els. Huh, first time in my life I’ve seen a man blow a chip shot for 500,000 dollars.” The place exploded in shocked laughter. Sarazen passed just a couple months later.  

Through the years, we brought back more than features and highlights from our travels. There were ribald tales, wrong turns, equipment malfunctions and bizarre interviews – and we spilled it all in the old newsroom after a late “Golf Central,” usually with a stray putter in hand. Scott Van Pelt and I did some of our best work in that setting, with an audience of only three or four, imitating the likes of Richard Pryor, Vin Scully and Keith Jackson. John Feyko, one of our longtime cameramen and our resident Don Rickles, always called Van Pelt and me “13 feet of stupid,” since Scotty’s 6’7” and I’m almost 6’5”. Feyko understood the basic principle of good reporting: Get it right. He did.  

Van Pelt came through the door as an entry-level producer and Kelly Tilghman through the library. I jumped from radio in Dallas and we were fortunate to be carried along in those early days by consummate pros like Brian Hammons, Jennifer Mills, Kraig Kann and Mike Ritz. They were the originals and the network grew on the sturdy foundation they built.

A few years into my stint, I took one of my sons to the local ice skating rink in Orlando where I ran into our co-founder, Joe Gibbs. Making small talk, I’d mentioned that my wife and I were considering moving out of our apartment and into a house, but that I was unsure of my future at Golf Channel. As a father would to a son, he turned to me and with a knowing smile said, “Buy that house.” I owe Mr. Gibbs, and of course Arnold Palmer, a good deal.

We also owe much to the players. At the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland, I stood outside the U.S. team room moments after another embarrassing defeat, looking to snag a few post-match interviews. Jim Fuyrk stormed in my direction. This wasn’t the time for a smile and a “Hey, Jim!” They’d just been obliterated. He was hot, that was plain to see.

So I did what I’d so often done through the years, just slightly tilted the Golf Channel microphone - with the big G on it – toward him, subtly letting him know that it was time for me to do my job. Furyk stopped in his tracks, turned to me and angrily said, “I’ll do the interview as long as you don’t ask me any stupid, f*****’ questions like they just asked me over there,” pointing toward the green where he’d just been surrounded by press. “Fair enough,” I said. “How do you explain what happened this week?” He replied, “That’s better.” And then he calmly told me that the Americans play tight and there was no good explanation for it.

The larger point here,though, is that through the years we’ve only had to tilt our mic flag in the direction of the players for them to stop and give us a few minutes. They’ve been generous with their time from “Golf Talk Live” to “Feherty” to “Playing Lessons with the Pros” to “Live From,” “Golf Central” and “Morning Drive.” More than the announcers, the players are the face of our network, and we’re grateful for their immense talent and their time after they’ve put it on display.

Lastly, and you’ll forgive me for getting schmaltzy, we’re grateful to you, our audience. You read about golf, watch golf, play golf, dream golf, love golf and need golf. 

Every now and then, in an airport or restaurant or at a tournament, someone will point to me and exclaim, “Hey, Golf Channel guy!” And then we’ll talk golf. That’s what we do. That’s what we love to do.

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Watch: Koepka highlights from the Travelers

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 21, 2018, 3:30 pm

U.S. Open hangover? Not for Brooks Koepka. The two-time national champion has carried over his form and confidence from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands.

Koepka began his round with a par at the par-4 10th and then reeled off four consecutive birdies, beginning at No. 11.

And here is the capper at the 14th

Koepka turned in 4-under 31. Here's more action from his opening nine holes.

After a par at the first, Koepka added a fifth birdie of the day at the par-4 second.

A bogey at the par-4 fourth dropped him to 4 under, but just one off the lead.

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Lyle going through 'scary' period in cancer recovery

By Associated PressJune 21, 2018, 12:58 pm

MELBOURNE, Australia – Jarrod Lyle's wife says the Australian golfer is struggling through a ''really scary'' period in his third battle with cancer.

Lyle, 36, underwent a bone marrow transplant last December following a recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia.

''It's been 190 days since Jarrod's stem-cell transplant and we are going through a really rough patch at the moment,'' Briony Lyle wrote on jarrodlylegolf.com. ''I'm typing this blog on his behalf because he's not able to do it. Jarrod's not able to drive, struggles to prepare any food for himself, can't read stories to the girls and is not able to offer much help at all around the house.

''He is also starting to look like a very frail, sick person.''

Briony Lyle added: ''We are both very aware of the amount of drugs and medication that has gone into Jarrod's body over the years but things are starting to get really scary at the moment. It looks as if this recovery is going to be the longest and hardest one so far.''

Lyle has twice beaten acute myeloid leukemia, in 1998 and 2012, and was able to return to play professional golf.

He made an emotional comeback to the golf course during the 2013 Australian Masters in Melbourne before using a medical exemption to play on the PGA Tour in 2015. He played four seasons on Tour, where he earned $1.875 million in 121 tournaments.

Lyle has since returned to Australia permanently to be with Briony and daughters Lusi and Jemma.

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Vermeer wins PGA Professional; 20 make PGA Championship

By Associated PressJune 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

SEASIDE, Calif. – Ryan Vermeer won the PGA Professional Championship on Wednesday, overcoming front-nine problems to top the 20 qualifiers for the PGA Championship.

The 40-year-old Vermeer, the director of instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, Nebraska, closed with a 1-over 73 on the Bayonet Course for a two-stroke victory over Sean McCarty and Bob Sowards.

The PGA Championship is in August at Bellerive in St. Louis.

Three strokes ahead entering the day, Vermeer played the front in 4 over with a double bogey on the par-4 second and bogeys on the par-4 seventh and par-4 eighth. He rebounded with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-4 11th and also birdied the par-5 18th.

Full-field scores from the PGA Professional Championship

Vermeer finished at 5-under 283. The former University of Kansas player earned $55,000. He won the 2017 Mizuno Pro/Assistant Championship and finished ninth last year in the PGA Professional to qualify for PGA at Quail Hollow.

McCarty had a 68, and Sowards shot 69. Sowards won the 2004 title.

David Muttitt and Jason Schmuhl tied for fourth at 1 under, and 2012 and 2015 champion Matt Dobyns, Jaysen Hansen, and Johan Kok followed at even par.

Marty Jertson, Brian Smock and Ben Kern were 1 over, and Zach Johnson, Craig Hocknull, Matt Borchert and 2016 winner Rich Berberian Jr. were 2 over. Nine players tied at 3 over, with Shawn Warren, 2017 champion Omar Uresti, 2014 winner Michael Block, Craig Bowden and Danny Balin getting the last five spots at Bellerive in a playoff. Balin got the final spot, beating Brian Norman with a par on the seventh extra hole after Norman lost a ball in a tree.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”