Remembering my days as the starter for the U.S. Open, and my dad's critique
The job of starter at a golf tournament is straightforward: meet and greet the players at the opening tee, provide them the official scorecards and some other printed materials, cover a few rules basics, and send them on their way at the appointed time--and not a minute sooner.
I served as the starter at six U.S. Opens in the 1980s, and though I did an acceptable job (translation: no major screw-ups), I would never be confused with Ivor Robson. Ivor has been the starter at the British Open since 1975. He's an institution. In addition to having a distinctive voice and delivery, Ivor takes no breaks--bathroom or otherwise--in the four rounds of calling every player to the tee. The only distinctive feature of my shtick was the use of a tinny-sounding bullhorn--the type favored by cops, firefighters and carnival barkers--in announcing each player to the gathered fans. Hey, it wasn't my idea--it was part of the USGA's job description. I suspect that had Ivor been forced to use the bullhorn, he might have re-thought that no-break policy of his.
Ivor has described his announcing style as follows: "The players want to get on the tee, announced, and get off. Get it right."
"Get it right," as in: Do not botch the pronunciation of the player's name.
My debut as U.S. Open starter (Pebble Beach, 1982) went smoothly. Every player was on time to the tee. I pronounced the names and hometowns of each of the 153 players accurately. I stopped two players from hitting in front of the tee markers (a two-stroke penalty). I encouraged four players to hit provisional balls (having a player trudge back to the tee after hitting a ball O.B. is a time killer). And, in the course of introducing the players to the walking scorers and standard bearers, I learned that some professionals have a phobia about shaking hands with folks who might have applied lotion to their hands. (Greasy hands are grip killers.) I got to see plenty of good golf swings, up close. And, unlike Ivor, I snacked on candy bars and coffee. (It's a long day.) Relief in the form of a port-a-john was a few steps away. In short, the job of starter was fun. Stress-free.
I was looking forward to the weekend rounds, when I'd be dealing with only the 66 players who'd made the 36-hole cut. And I'd be a minor (very minor) celebrity, as I'd be on live TV, announcing the players and officials in the last two groups. Fearful about having a Jackie Gleason/Ralph Kramden "hamana, hamana" moment where I either froze or forgot my lines, I wrote out cue cards containing the information I'd read on air. I had this image of myself being another Johnny Addie, the boxing announcer at Madison Square Garden. Without the stylish tuxedo, of course, and without the cool microphone dangling above.
Saturday came, and I survived my few seconds of fame. The cue cards were my crutch. The TV producer said I did fine, as did my wonderfully supportive wife, Joan, who'd watched my performance from our home in New Jersey.
Then I called my dad. He was not impressed with the cue cards.
"Son, can't you memorize the names of four well-known golfers and four guys who are your [USGA] board members?"
As I knew my dad was a huge boxing fan, I explained my Johnny Addie approach. I also joked about a possible Kramden moment, but my dad wasn't buying any of it.
"Son, Johnny Addie covers the fighters' tale of the tape. He introduces the referee, the ex-champs in attendance as well as a bunch of nitwit officials from the New York State Boxing Commission. It takes Addie minutes to cover his material. You spoke for about 37 seconds."
My dad was right, of course. Another lesson learned.
The next day, I handled my 68 seconds on air (wrong about the time, Dad!) without cue cards. When I called to wish him Happy Father's Day and get his review, he told me how well I'd done. But not before leaving me with one final suggestion:
"Son, you gotta get rid of that silly bullhorn."