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Remembering Bev Norwood, a publicist who "got it"

By Ron Sirak

The first time I met Bev Norwood was in the bar of the Comfort Inn at Jacksonville Beach, Fla., the week of the Players Championship in 1988. Bob Green, who was then the golf writer for The Associated Press, a job I later held, introduced me to him.

The first words Bev ever said to me were: "I was named after four cities in Massachusetts. Beverly. Norwood. Marblehead. And Athol."

So began a friendship that impacted my life in immeasurable ways. Bev was, as a colleague of mine once said, like a mid-level CIA agent no one paid much attention to who had crucial information pass across his desk. He knew it all.

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Bev Norwood, standing left, making his media center rounds.

For nearly 40 years, Norwood worked for International Management Group, IMG, the group founded by Mark McCormack on a handshake with Arnold Palmer more than 50 years ago.

Mark died in 2003 and 10 years later -- at 9:38 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2013 -- Bev Norwood left us as well.

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If Dan Jenkins were to create a character for one of his novels to play the role of a publicist for professional golfers and golf tournaments, it would be Bev. It fact, Bev did appear in a couple of Dan's novels under the name "Smoky Barwood."

What an appropriate name. For many years, until very recently, Bev smoked non-stop. And his fondness for Budweiser and red wine was legendary. As was his love of the Cleveland Indians, his adoptive home, and all things North Carolina, the state of his birth.

For the 15 years I have worked for Golf World, one of my most treasured experiences has been having dinner almost every night the week of major championships with Bev, Dan Jenkins and occasionally Dan's daughter Sally. It was at the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester where, after about our fifth dinner together, Bev christened our gathering as the law firm of Jenkins Jenkins Norwood and Sirak.

To this day, when Dan sends me an email it begins "Yo Firmer..." and is signed "Senior Firmer."

No one has ever appeared in my stories more often than Bev, although I think I am accurate in saying I never once typed his name. He was such a good source of information I never wanted to even give a hint where my information was coming from.

One of the games those in our business -- and Bev's business -- play is to exchange information without compromising the integrity of our professions. And Bev never divulged any information that hurt IMG. Sadly, there are few doing the work Bev did out there today who understand how to tread that line. Mostly, they live in fear and follow the playbook right off the cliff's edge. Bev knew how to call an audible. He understood the art of the leak and how it benefitted all parties.

Part of why Bev "got it" was that he started out as a reporter in Winston-Salem, N.C., after graduation from Wake Forest. He could claim as friends Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Curtis Strange and other legends of the game.

You will hear all of them weigh in on Bev's passing over the next few days. I had dinner with Bev this year in Orlando at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a few times at the Masters and we met every night at the bar at the media hotel for the U.S. Open at Merion.

Bev was having back pain that week and several of us urged him to have it checked out. When he did not show up at the British Open -- an event he had attended for more than 30 years -- I knew it was not good.

During the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., Jenkins called Bev and found out that he had cancer of the bone in his hip as well as tumors in his kidney and lungs.

Always a frail man, the end came quickly and, I suppose, mercifully not as painfully as it could have been.

Bev Norwood was not without his flaws. But that can be said about all of us. Bev was a good man and the best company you could want to have in a bar and the absolute best to do business with. He was an honest man.

My lasting memory of Bev will be this: He walks over to my seat in the media center with a whimsical smile creasing his lips. As he tries to get the words out his shoulders bob up and down as he tries unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh.

And then he tells me something absolutely valuable to what I am working on or, leads me in a direction that was not in my wildest imagination.

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When Bev went into the Intensive Care Unit of the Cleveland Clinic I wanted to call him and have one last chat. But he couldn't take calls, mostly living his days under heavy sedation.

I wanted to thank him for all he had done for me over the years.

I wanted to tell him how of all the publicists I have ever worked with, he got it. He knew how to navigate the two-way street of information and confidentiality.

Few doing it now have that depth of experience and subtly of understanding. Few have a background in journalism, like Bev did, and know what we need and understand that building trust serves all the stakeholders of the game.

Bev did not learn how to be a PR guy in in school -- he learned it in life. Every year, on Tuesday at the Masters, Bev and Dan Jenkins would meet to toast the late Dave Marr, a great player and great TV commentator. I was a newcomer to that party, and I was honored that Dan and Bev included me.

Next April, Dan and I and whomever else wants to come along will lift a glass to Dave Marr in Augusta -- and to Bev Norwood.

Mostly, I wanted to call Bev and tell him that I loved him, and he is probably glad I never got to say words that would surely embarrass him.

He would have laughed, those shoulders bobbing, and said something bitingly obscene to me. Then we both would have laughed.

Of all the great information Bev gave me over the years, the laughs are what I will remember - and miss -- the most.

Goodbye, my friend. We will tell stories about you -- and laugh -- as long as we are able.

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July 28, 2014

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