Uncertainty confronts us all as we wake up every morning, not only as it relates to the spread of an invisible killer but also to lower burning fires such as the economy and our jobs and on down the list until we arrive at the most frivolous of our concerns – what to do with our time at home.
The only way I know how to balance the foreboding feeling of this slow-motion disaster is to turn off the news and dive headlong into the history of this game, using YouTube to find any round from any major ever televised, including every Masters Sunday from 1968 until last year. If you want to watch Tiger Woods shoot 63 in the second round of the 2007 PGA Championship, where he looks as if he alone fell into a perfectionist vacuum, it’s right there. Another of my favorites is the final round of the 2001 Masters, when Woods shot 68 and won his fourth major in a row. Concentrated within him and with every step he took was a vulgarity of high purpose, as he put the finishing touches on the greatest stretch of golf ever played.
That week has a particularly nostalgic tug on me, as it was the first week that I ever worked for Golf Channel.
Earlier in the year and still looking to qualify for the Masters, I came close, sort of, losing in a playoff in Los Angeles. I say "sort of" because it was a six-man playoff, and there aren’t many playoffs where one has less than a 20-percent chance of winning. Anyway, I lost and then failed in the run-up to the Masters to make the field.
Perhaps I was on Golf Channel’s radar because I had been writing for years for GolfWorld and on occasion for Sports Illustrated, where some of those columns landed me on TV. Or maybe I was the only one they asked who said yes. Regardless, I agreed to do a whole week of analysis at Golf Channel’s studios.
I bought two Armani sports coats – one black and one navy blue – a few shirts and a half-dozen ties, even though I didn’t know how to tie a tie. I called a lawyer friend and we debated whether I was a half-windsor guy, a full-windsor guy or maybe a Nicky Knot guy. Turns out I was none of the above and went with what’s known as a four-in-hand knot. It’s still how I tie my ties.
Learning to tie a tie was one thing, but learning to do TV, well, there was no lifeline for that.
It was sink or swim.
I tell people that I was told to sit in a chair and talk in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I’m sure I was given instructions; it’s just that I don’t remember any of them. After the first show, my producer, who is the person who is meant to be talking in your ear while you are meant to be talking to the world, asked why I never answered him in a commercial break: Because I never heard him say anything the entire show. It was only then that I found out my IFB (the molded piece of plastic they put in your ear, through which instructions are barked) had not been working. The producer looked relieved, which I thought was strange. But now, looking back, it’s likely he was thinking that I was ignoring his instructions and was indeed just another prima-donna athlete. I wasn’t being a jerk; I was just mechanically deaf.
In the next show, I not only answered him during commercial breaks but also answered him when we were live on air. While the camera had both the host and me in the shot, the host asked me a question. I was supposed to turn to another camera on a single shot and answer the question for 90 seconds. Halfway through whatever it was I was saying, the producer gives me directions to turn toward the other host when I’m done talking. I stopped mid-sentence and said, ‘OK,’ and then continued talking and turned to my host.
Laughter erupted in my ear.
I did the shows that week with two hosts, Mike Ritz and Jennifer Mills. On Friday, with the second round well underway, a Japanese player, Toshimitsu Izawa, was moving up the leaderboard, and it was inevitable that we were going to have to talk about him. I said to Mills, offhandedly, that I had never heard of him. She said, “Yeah, right.” I repeated myself. She looked at me with a smile and said, "You’ve really NEVER heard of him?" She then told me, incredulously, that he was in the playoff with me in Los Angeles. I thought for a minute, there were five other players besides me, their caddies, Tour officials, media members, TV people and cameras everywhere. It was raining and umbrellas were up. I said, "Hell, Jennifer, you could’ve been in that playoff and I wouldn’t have known it."
I learned a lot that week, besides the fact that Izawa was in the playoff with me in L.A., and I suppose the thing that most appealed to me about TV is that – unlike professional golf, which is a selfish endeavor – TV is the team game to end all team games.
The person you see on TV likely has dozens of people helping him or her with every aspect of the show, from the graphics department, to makeup artists, to directors, and finally to the producer whose job it is to bring it all together and make it look seamless.
It is easy to be consumed by the news of a disease that hides effectively, doubles quietly and has robbed any sense of normalcy from all of us. But I suppose if there is an upside to being sequestered at home, it gives one a great deal of time to think; and with Golf Channel soon to be moving from Florida to Connecticut, it’s hard to not to look back on nearly 20 years since I changed careers.
I fell in love with golf when I was 13 and it was a love affair that lasted until I was 38, when, during the Masters of 2001, I fell in love with my TV family. Even if they do, often, interrupt me when I am trying to talk.