Heeding his Midwestern instincts (and Frank Chirkinian's marching orders), CBS' Verne Lundquist delivered THE exclamation point to THE putt on 17
As he got to the ninth hole at Augusta National GC on a Kodachrome Sunday afternoon, Jack Nicklaus, five green jackets or not, was a bit player in the 1986 Masters. He had begun the final round four strokes behind and nothing had happened to perk him up. Nicklaus was 46, had played poorly so far that season while trying to right an unwieldy business empire and was six years removed from his last major championship victory. After watching Nicklaus struggle earlier in the week, CBS analyst Ken Venturi told USA Today, "Jack's got to start thinking about when it is time to retire."
Venturi's boss, Frank Chirkinian, the legendary and longtime coordinating producer of CBS' Masters telecasts, loved it when Nicklaus starred in one of his shows, but the Golden Bear wasn't a factor this time. Chirkinian was the ultimate realist, not in the business of telling fairy tales.
At No. 9, Nicklaus faced an 11-footer from the right fringe for birdie. Twice, just as he settled over the ball, roars from elsewhere on the course, jubilation for someone younger and stronger, caused him to back off. Nicklaus turned to the gallery and said, "Let's see if we can't make that same kind of noise here." Nicklaus made the putt. It could have ended there, a sweet moment for an aging icon and his loyal fans. Beyond those spectators ringing the ninth green, few took notice. Except for Lance Barrow.
Barrow was a 31-year-old associate director at CBS Sports with various responsibilities at the Masters, none more important than capturing and cueing up replays, so if Chirkinian decided a shot was important enough to show on tape, Barrow had it handy.
The protégé felt compelled to advise his boss of Nicklaus' stirring. Feeding the cantankerous Chirkinian tidbits was like feeding a shark -- things could go badly -- but Barrow pressed ahead. Barrow was seated only a few feet to Chirkinian's left in the sun-starved production truck, lit by the blue haze of some 60 television monitors. "Frank," said Barrow, "we've got Nicklaus with a birdie at nine."
Predictably, the boss was dismissive. "I don't need him," Chirkinian snapped. Nicklaus proceeded to birdie No. 10 with a 25-foot bomb. The husky, intrepid Barrow, nicknamed "Buddha" by Chirkinian, again tapped his boss on the leg. "We've got Nicklaus with a birdie at 10, Frank."
"I don't need him," growled Chirkinian. "Quit telling me about Jack! Nicklaus means nothing in this golf tournament!" Then came the dressing down, Chirkinian's bread and butter. "Buddha, if you don't learn what drama's all about, I'm going to send you to drama school so you can learn it. Leave me alone. Jack Nicklaus is not a part of this tournament!"
When Nicklaus birdied the 11th hole, Barrow again summoned his nerve. He gently tapped his mentor on the leg and said, "Frank, uh, I know that Jack means nothing to this golf tournament, but he just birdied 11 & and he's two off the lead."
Chirkinian glanced at Barrow and said, "Cue it up, Buddha."
Six holes ahead, Verne Lundquist was sitting in the tower behind the 17th green. A beefy, friendly man, Lundquist was already an accomplished broadcaster. For 16 years he had been the sports anchor at WFAA in Dallas. His work covering the dominant Dallas Cowboys teams of the 1970s had brought him to the attention of ABC Sports, which he joined in 1974. Eight years later Lundquist went to CBS, working mostly football and basketball, and by 1983 he was added to the network's Masters announce team.
The son of a minister, born in Duluth, Minn., and raised for a time in Everett, Wash., and then Austin (he considers himself a Texan), Lundquist gravitated to communication arts from childhood. Having seen his father speak coolly from the pulpit each Sunday,
Lundquist was drawn to and comfortable on the stage. And then there was his voice, a distinctive baritone that delivers smooth, even portions. If gravy could speak, it would sound like Lundquist.
Like any good Texan, Lundquist grew up with an appetite for sports, but his size -- 5-foot-4 as a high school sophomore -- precluded a career on the field. "My way to compensate for that was to write and to talk," he says. "I loved writing. Still do."
Lundquist didn't play golf until he was 31, and he might not have started if it hadn't been for Rives McBee. A well-known Texas golfer, McBee had recently quit the PGA Tour to become head professional at Las Colinas, when he phoned Lundquist at WFAA and posed a question. "Do you ever want to do golf for ABC?" Lundquist assured McBee he did. "Well, then you better learn how to play." Early on McBee asked his new student, "What are you going to do if somebody hits a provisional?"
Lundquist was blank.
"Do you know what a provisional is?"
"No, not really."
"Well, you better be prepared," insisted McBee, who explained the procedure. A short time later Lundquist was assigned to cover the Byron Nelson Golf Classic on radio. Minutes into the broadcast Bob Dickson stood on the 10th tee at Preston Trail and duck-hooked a ball out of play. "I proudly said over the air, 'Looks to me like he's going to have to hit a provisional,' " says Lundquist. "Rives heard it, and he loved it."
The education of Merton Laverne Lundquist paid off. He not only became a lover of the game (unrequited by the way), but just a few years later, in 1976, he got the call for network golf coverage. In February of that year, ABC Sports was contracted to air both the Olympic Winter Games and the Hawaiian Open. With most of its brand-name announcers in Austria, ABC pulled Lundquist off the bench and assigned him to cover a group that featured Lee Trevino. This seemed a fortuitous break, as Trevino, a Metroplex resident, would surely see Lundquist as a familiar face.
"How perfect is this," thought Lundquist at the time. "He's from Dallas. He'll come over and chat. I'll be the bright shining bulb on the Saturday afternoon telecast." Trevino started six shots back and never got on the air. Neither did Lundquist, not a syllable. After the telecast ABC producer Terry Jastrow approached Lundquist, put his arm around him and said, "Verne, I'm not sure if you've looked at your contract very closely, but you should. It says in there that you get paid by the word."
Lundquist's first golf tournament for CBS was the 1983 Phoenix Open. He thought it might be a good idea to arrive early and introduce himself to his new boss. He found his way to the CBS Sports compound, a maze of trailers, cables and cold coffee that looked like the back lot at a summer carnival, and asked to see Frank Chirkinian. As he entered the producer's lair, Lundquist did what any well-bred, mild-mannered minister's son would do. "I said 'Hi, Frank. I'm Verne Lundquist." Chirkinian replied, "I know who the ---- you are. Who the ---- do you think hired you?"
The small talk over, Chirkinian quickly oriented his new employee. "I've got three rules," he growled. "If you follow these three rules we're going to get along just great. Number One: Don't ever say your name on television. Nobody gives a crap who you are, OK? And I hate this 'Thank you, Frank,' 'OK, Pat,' 'Yes, Ben' stuff. Just do the golf. Don't give me your name.
"Number Two: Don't you ever dare talk over a swing. Whatever brilliant commentary you have to add to the totality of this telecast you better wrap it up by the time the club starts going back, and you better not say anything else until the ball lands.
"And Number Three, and most prominent: Don't you state the obvious. We've got 65 technicians out here with cameras and microphones and graphics machines. They'll show what's going on. You're a headline writer. You tell me something that I don't know or can't see."
A tragedy had landed Lundquist in the 17th-hole tower in 1986. Frank Glieber, one of Lundquist's dear friends, had called the action at No. 17 since 1968. Upon Glieber's death from a heart attack in May 1985, Lundquist, whose first Masters assignment was at the 13th hole in 1983, was reassigned. Although the penultimate hole at Augusta National had been the scene of pivotal final-round strokes before -- including Bernhard Langer, just the previous year -- it was about to see a new dimension.
Nicklaus was growing younger and blonder with each passing hole on the second nine. After a bogey at 12, he bounded back with a birdie-par combo at 13 and 14. His Richter-scale eagle at 15 and pine-rattling birdie at 16 made it clear that the audio portion of this story was about to fall on the vocal chords of a guy who started his career as a $1.05-an-hour weekend deejay in Seguin, Texas.