Bret Baier, in his decade as anchor of Fox News’ “Special Report“ and the network’s chief political anchor, has interviewed many big hitters—presidents and prime ministers, kings and kingmakers—but likely none that resonated as memorably his interview with the big hitter from Tibet.
On a June day in 2016, Baier, a self-described golf nerd and an avid and skilled player, was told by his producer of the possibility of an interview with the Dalai Lama.
“I’m hearing the Dalai Lama and I’m thinking of Bill Murray and ‘Caddyshack,’ ” Baier said via telephone on Tuesday.
Murray, in his role as Carl Spackler in the legendary golf film, talked about how he once caddied for the Dalai Lama. “Big hitter, the Lama,” Murray says.
“I thought, man, if there’s an opportunity at the end of the interview I’m going to do it,” Baier said. “Obviously, there were serious issues to talk about—Tibet and China and inner consciousness and … ”
Yes, he went there.
“Last thing,” Baier said to the Lama. “Have you ever seen the movie ‘Caddyshack?’ ”
“What?” the Dalai Lama replied.
“ ‘Caddyshack,’ the movie. Have you ever played golf?”
“You’re not a big hitter?”
The reaction was what you might expect in golf circles. “It was very funny to my golf buddies,” he said. “I got a number of emails.” Among those checking in was Graeme McDowell, who was sitting out a rain delay during the first round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club. “He said they were dying laughing.”
The news and the video had gone viral, not surprisingly, given the enduring popularity of “Caddyshack.“ Baier had asked the questions that no other news anchor likely would have thought to ask, for which the golf world is grateful.
It was a lighthearted moment that briefly belied the fact that Baier is a serious news broadcaster, and an accomplished one. In the wake of his 10-year anniversary as anchor of “Special Report“ last week, he was awarded a new multi-year contract, Fox News announced on Tuesday.
But he also is a serious golfer, who was transfixed by the game early in life. The first time he set foot on the grounds of Augusta National was April 13, 1986. He was 15, and he became a witness to one of the most memorable days in the history of golf, Jack Nicklaus, 46, winning the Masters for the sixth time.
“My dad, through his company, was offered a couple of tickets,” Baier said. “I was blown away, first by being there at Augusta. But those moments, I distinctly remember hole to hole from 15 on. Goosebumps. Every time I heard a roar someplace else it was answered. There’s been nothing like that ever.
“I recently played with Jack. I’ve been fortunate getting to know Jack and [his wife] Barbara through his work with the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital [in Miami] and our work with Children’s National here [in Washington, D.C.]. I said, ‘There was nothing like that that I’d ever heard. He said, ‘You should have been where I was.’ ”
Baier, who was the captain of the golf team at Division III DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., is a member at Congressional Country Club and Pine Valley Golf Club and plays to a 3.7 handicap index. “But I’m a giving three-seven, a walking wallet,” he said, “because I haven’t played as much as I could.”
Still, he shot a 72 from the members’ tees the first time he played Augusta National, and he has the scorecard framed and hanging on the wall in his office.
“I’ve been blessed to play it a few times. Every time I go back to Augusta, to be on the property is really special. It’s an amazing place because it is something that’s in your brain as a golf fan—where Phil hit the shot through the trees on 13, where Tiger got up and down with that chip at 16, where Seve hit it into the water at 15. It’s a constant film in your head when you’re there.”
He identified himself as a golf nerd while explaining how he played the Masters theme song while driving down Magnolia Lane for the first time. News has to come first in his life, obviously, but golf is second and not a distant second.
“I love watching golf,” he said. “I like the analysis of golf. If I’m watching something other than news, it’s usually the Golf Channel, my joy after I get home, if i get my boys to sleep and my wife is wrapping up her day. Everybody goes to bed, and I turn on the re-run of the tournament of the day. That’s kind of my unwind time. I’ve kept in touch with Brandel Chamblee. I love looking at swings and analysis.”
The time constraints of the job do not allow him to feed the voracious appetite of a golf jones, so in season, it’s restricted to “super early in the morning at least once a week, when I try to hit balls or play a quick 18 before going to the office,” and on the weekends, “with the boys, if I can.”
Golf with the boys, Paul, 11, and Daniel, 8, well, golf with Nicklaus no doubt comes in third. “They started out when they were really young,” he said, “and they were making sand castles in the bunkers. But that’s OK. They were there.
“It’s the best. I’ve caddied in these little kid tournaments. It’s a tough job being a dad caddie. But it’s special. My oldest son had three open heart surgeries. He’s doing fine now, but when I sat there in those hospital rooms, one of the things I focused on was walking down the first fairway with him. Fortunately I’ve been able to do that a lot.”