The King and His Scribes
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
Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage
NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:
Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)
Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)
Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.
1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.
Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.
Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.
“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”
It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.
Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.
“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”
It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.
Tweets by GCTigerTracker
McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.
McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.
But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.
“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.
“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.
“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”
McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.
“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”
McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.