You Never Know Who You'll Meet at Augusta
If I had to tack up a motto on my office wall it might well be: You Never Know Who You'll Meet while on assignment. So it was on Tuesday at the Masters. Everywhere I turned it seemed I was crossing paths with a carousel of characters from the past along with some new-found friends.
The first Character, with a capital C, was David Feherty, CBS Sports' intrepid on-course golf reporter. David showed up at our remote site at Augusta Country Club before dawn wired for his live shot on The Early Show. And I mean triple Venti, double-caff, three sugars kind of wired. Really, no sooner had we shaken hands than David, in his Irish brogue, launched into a hysterical yarn featuring breakfast, a broken rib, an Alpha sneeze, some All-Bran cereal, the fetal position, and - as the punch line - the prospect of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by his esteemed but suddenly shaken CBS colleague, Vern Lundquist. What a way to start the day.
Moments later, shortly after my live report, I looked over to the ABC location next door to view the arrival of two old friends, Rick Reilly and Christine Brennan in advance of their appearance on "Good Morning America." Riles is now part of the ESPN/Disney empire and simply one of the best sports writers on Earth; Christine a remarkably insightful, no-nonsense columnist for USA Today. Rick and I got to reminiscing about our days together at Sports Illustrated in the '80s, while Ms. Brennan - ever the versatile one - took to applying a little makeup to the face of both Feherty and Reilly. Don't ask. In the meantime Rick is telling me about his new book out next month. It's based upon his two-year trip around the world seeking - and I kid you not -- the stupidest sports on earth. I won't reveal the winner but word is it involves a...ferret.
My next stop was Tiger Watch, Day II. As luck would have it, no sooner did I step on the immaculate, sun-splashed grounds of Augusta National than Woods and his practice partner for the day, his good bud Mark O'Meara, were walking off the ninth green. The crowds swelling around the pair were enormous, double in size from the day before, so I strolled on over to Amen Corner, the iconic stretch of holes - 11, 12 and 13 - where, I imagine, more than a few prayers have been asked and answered over the years.
It was there I bumped into my highlight of the day: a young couple from Minneapolis, John and Lee Ann Donovan. John and I got to talking and it turned out he was a member of the Minnesota National Guard and had served two tough tours in Iraq and another in Bosnia as a member of 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. In fact, he just got back from Basra in January after being away since April 2009. John said he was a golfer and had longed to visit Augusta, so much so that Lee Ann, thinking ahead to his return from war, said she had entered her husband's name in a Masters lottery for tickets.
"A far cry from Basra," I said.
That was the idea, said Lee Ann.
"And we won," said John.
"I'm not so sure," said Lee Ann, "that John's name ever got into the lottery."
That's because, Lee Ann explained, she'd been writing the tournament committee since last October explaining John's story, how much he loved the game, what he had done for his country.
"I think that's what did it," she said.
I think you're right, I said.
After wishing the Donovan's well...I meandered around in the 90-degree heat for a spell before heading back to the air-conditioned comfort of the press center. As luck would have it I ran into Art Spander at lunch. Art is one of those old-school sports writers who gave our profession a good name with his passion and decency and real nose for news. As a columnist and golf writer, he owned the Bay Area sport pages for decades, first for the SF Chronicle then the Oakland Tribune. But that was before the downsizing, and the note Art said he received from his bosses at the Trib that his services were no longer required as he was covering the British Open. He laughed. This is Art's 44th year covering the Masters and he seemed as excited as his first.
In no time he was regaling me with stories of his new life - at age 71 -- hustling up stories for Internet sports sites and big city papers looking for a second, experienced set of eyes, a way to help pay for the fine wine he likes to collect. Soon we were off and running in that direction, talking about French Bordeauxs, the Haut Medoc region, extolling our love for reds from California's exquisite Russian River region and the surprising elegance of certain costal Pinot Noirs. Having a damn fine time of it until I suddenly realized - yikes -- I needed to hustle back out to help grab some Mark O'Meara sound on his practice round with Tiger. To his ever-loving credit, O'Meara emerged from the stately clubhouse and under the shade of the famous Old Oak Tree delivered just the kind of pithy, professional insight we needed.
"You know you never bet against him," said O'Meara, himself a Masters champion. "Confidence is a big thing in this game, even at Tiger Woods' level. And that takes a bit of time to develop. But I like what I saw today. He's ready."
At that point, so was I. My journalistic needs completely met, I departed for the day. Standing outside Gate 6 waiting for a ride I watched a good looking young reporter do a smart on-air interview with an EA Sports executive about the debut of Tiger's video game. Turns out it was CNBC's Darren Rovell. He came over to say hello, and soon the two of us were standing along Washington Road talking shop, my move to CBS News, his recent sports business documentaries, agreeing to meet in New York sometime soon.
But that's a story for another day.
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