KindredApril 6, 2010

Master Craftsman

Golf Digest's own Dave Kindred will be honored Wednesday with the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award

Dave Kindred's career has included stints at the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Washington Post, The National, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Sporting News and Golf Digest.

Dave Kindred's career has included stints at the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Washington Post, The National, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Sporting News and Golf Digest.

Dave Kindred is the sports writer in the room you don't notice. He's got kind of a short, tall, heavy, thin, bald, hirsute look about him. In an earlier day, he'd be wearing a felt brim hat and a dark suit with wingtips and holding a newspaper under his arm. Unlike so many in the modern crowd, he doesn't call attention to himself. You won't find him shouting rude opinions on a cable sports show. He's a listener, not a shouter, which is what makes him such a good writer.

Frankly it's gratifying to see that the PGA of America had the observational skills and good sense to recognize him with its Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award, but talent as pure as Dave's should be inescapable. For 40 years he's followed the arc of sports, golf in particular, chronicling heroic achievement and simple human interest with the same artful expression. He's been a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, The Washington Post, The National, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Sporting News and Golf Digest. More journalist than sports writer, if you get my drift, Kindred takes his craft with a seriousness and respect. He's written a shelf full of books, including his next one, Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post (to be released this summer).

Golf Digest Executive Editor Mike O'Malley has an ear for good writing and the telling anecdote, plus an amazing recollection of authors at their best. When he heard that Dave was to be honored at the Masters, golfdigest.com's John Marvel immediately went to O'Malley, who reached back and threw together a portfolio of Kindredisms that have appeared mostly in Golf Digest over the last couple of decades. Here's one cellmate's homage to another. -- Jerry Tarde

Dave has always excelled when mayhem meets golf. In fact, one of his first-place GWAA awards was for a column on the killing of Augusta National's chef. His stories -- all with golf as a theme -- have been on everything from mob hits, plane crashes and war-time rescues to fires, tsunamis and stick-ups. It was always about getting a good story, as in this item that Dave wrote for the National Sports Journalism Center about breaking into the business:

At my first job, the scissors necessary to cut up wire copy were tethered to the desk with a chain. I asked, "Is that so we don't lose them?"

"Chain's so you can't stab the guy across the desk," a geezer said. "Happened."

In time, whenever an unusual story came up at Golf Digest, someone would suggest, "Sounds like a Kindred column." Dave was in on the joke and sent the following e-mail years ago:

  • Mike, *

    Thursday, I passed out in the hospital lobby, 21 stitches in my head; Friday, during a stress test, passed out again.

    Monday afternoon I have a cardiac catherization. Doctors expect a simple stent solution. I expect to be home Tuesday or Wednesday.

    Sounds like a Kindred column.

    Dave writes beautifully on any subject, of course, mixing a stylist's touch with a reporter's curiosity. And he listens, which somehow is becoming a lost art. Some examples from the pages of Golf Digest:

    On Negro Leagues star Buck O'Neil, then a 94-year-old golfer (September 2006)

    He knew players named Steel Arm and Copperknee, Sea Boy and Gunboat. On a night of romantic maneuvering, Satchel Paige stood in a hotel corridor calling for Nancy, Nancy, Nancy. His fiancee, Lahoma, suddenly appeared and asked, "Nancy?" At which point, Buck O'Neil, familiar with his partner's multilayered love life, popped open his door and said, "Here I am, Satchel."

    The grateful Satch said, "Oh, Nancy, there you are. I've been looking for you." And forever after called him Nancy.

    Which explains why the golfer Buck O'Neil cries out, "C'mon, Nancy, hit it," when his tee shots don't fly all that far.

    On golf hustler Titanic Thompson (May 1996)

    Before you write your Titanic Thompson tale, you arrive at a state of mind called the willing suspension of disbelief, which means you might not believe every word of a story, but you are willing to listen. You've heard enough to think, maybe, some things did happen.

    You know he never hit a golf shot into Babe Ruth's beer. He never threw Amelia Earhart over the Brooklyn Bridge. He never bottom-dealt the queen of spades to the Queen of Sheba. He never married Gypsy Rose Lee, never shot J. Edgar Hoover and never caused a one-eyed jack to squirt cider in a sucker's ear.

    But you get the feeling that if the money talked, soft and sweet, Titanic Thompson could have and would have done it all. For when the money talked, however preposterous the proposition, Titanic Thompson always found a way to do it. He was America's Robin Hood, sort of. He stole from the rich. And kept it.

    After the death of newspaper buddy Tom McCollister, who famously wrote before the 1986 Masters: "Nicklaus is gone, done. He just doesn't have the game anymore. It's rusted from lack of use. He's 46, and nobody that old wins the Masters." (July 1999)

    The last time I spoke to Tom McCollister, the subject was stock-car racing, one of those connections so old that friends forget them in the rush of living. We'd met 30 years ago on my first trip to the Daytona International Speedway.

    Atlanta's racing writer had no reason to help a know-nothing from nowhere. But McCollister took me to a mysterious garage where mysterious work was done by mysterious men who pour 10W-40 oil on their Wheaties. There he introduced me to a slouchy bag of bones wearing a big black cowboy hat decorated with pheasant feathers.

    T Mac told that man, "Richard, talk."

    So Richard Petty kept talking until I begged him to stop.

    Golf made Tom McCollister's heart sing. He could shoot 82 anywhere with a gentle man's game built on an unhurried swing and a Crenshaw putting stroke. I can see him still, a happy camper in the old Quonset hut press barn at Augusta National Golf Club. I can smell the sea air as we stand smiling along the 18th fairway at St. Andrews.

    We made the pilgrimage to Scotland in 1988. The first day, on the holy land's Turnberry course, Tom played so well that slower twosomes made way for him and our friend Tom Callahan. They finished the round in three hours and change, even allowing for stops to gaze at the famous old lighthouse and the Ailsa Craig stone mountain rising from the Firth of Clyde.

    Of life's gifts that ought to last forever, golf at Turnberry is high on any thinking person's list. So as McCollister left the 18th green there, he said, "Y'know, Callahan, we went too fast."

    Callahan remembers Tom at St. Andrews. I'd hear him calling the famous bunker 'the Principal's Nose,' and walking into the swale at the 18th saying 'the Valley of Sin,' " Callahan says. "He sounded like a boy who'd just gotten a puppy for Christmas. Our friend had never set foot in Scotland and he knew every blade of grass."

    On a three-part series with Callahan, "Around the World in 18 Holes," that was also a book detailing their 37,319-mile-long course that included stops at the likes of Moscow Country Club, Royal Calcutta, Beijing Golf Club as well as the Old Course, Pebble Beach and Augusta National (May, June and July 1994)

    For however long it took, Tom Callahan and I would do what almost everyone wants to do. We would run away from home. We would leave troubles behind. We would be who we wanted to be. We would laugh all the way to the next tee, a pair of fugitive 14-handicappers with golf swings built from papers clips, prayers and spare parts. "In every parting," Goethe said, "there is a latent germ of madness." Exactly.

    On Col. Gene Hambleton, an avid golfer, escaping from behind enemy lines and foiling North Vietnamese radio monitors by following directions that were a mix of popular culture and golf (January 2001)

    Hambleton had been hiding six days, sometimes crawling out to report enemy traffic that U.S. jets then strafed. "Finally, they said, 'We've come up with a new plan,'" Hambleton says. "'You're going to play 18 holes, and you're going to get in the Suwanee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna. The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National.'"

    Maybe only a navigator with a compass in his brain could have broken that code. "It took me a half-hour to figure out they were giving me distance and direction," Hambleton says. "No. 1 at Tucson National is 408 yards running southeast. They wanted me to move southeast 400 yards. The 'course' would lead me to water."

    On investigating a golfer's claim of making 16 holes-in-one in six months, at odds estimated at 1 in 2,253,649,101,066,840,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (November 2007)

    If it's true (and it is) that reports of holes-in-one are so easily invented as to be irresistibly tempting--a Nashville newspaper once listed a recidivist cheat's witnesses as Stevie Wonder, Roy Orbison and Ronnie Milsap--if holes-in-one are the most abused achievements in golf, then it's time, right here to say of that hole-in-one and all her others--yes, she claimed a bunch more--it's time to say:

    Aw, c'mon.

    On a caddie surviving the tsunami in Thailand (April 2005)

    Smiley Thalmueller placed a chair in the center of his bungalow bed. Then he stood on the chair seat. To keep the chair from rocking back and forth, Smiley put a hand against the ceiling. He did this circus act in his beach-running shorts, no shirt, no shoes.

    Sounds like a Three Stooges sketch except for one thing.

    There was water in the room, and it was rising.

    It was rising quickly.

    First, over the bed.

    Then at his knees.

    And his chest.

    Throat next.

    On lightning, recalling the deaths at Hazeltine National in 1991 (August 2002)

    Strange thing is, for all the doom-shadow and thunder-fear, lightning kills silently.

    It kills this way: There's a storm at the golf course. You run to get out of the rain. You take shelter under a weeping willow tree. You remember looking at the young man beside you. You remember his face.

    Then, nothing. No noise, no light, no pain, nothing.

    On a stick-up of Champions Tour players (August 2003)

    It was a Rolex.

    To die for.

    Or, maybe, not to die for.

    Not if you were Butch Sheehan one night in Mexico City. What Sheehan remembers most is not what the bandits looked like. He remembers the steel in his ear.

    "They put a 9-millimeter pistol in my ear," he says.

    "In your ear?

    "IN my ear."

    Sheehan felt danger. Walter Hall heard it. A Vietnam veteran who'd been an Air Force security police sergeant, he recognized the sound. "The guy chambered a round."

    All of us who beat the earth with crooked sticks know the sainted Bobby Jones had it right when he said golfers are dogged victims of inexorable fate. Yes, we know trouble's looking for us. We know trouble's going to find us.

    On Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (January 2003)

    Where Sandra Day grew up, in a cowboy world that no longer exists, she knew Gila monsters and coyotes, kerosene lamps and outhouses. As early as age 8, a Shirley Temple on horseback, she rode with stinking, grizzled, heart-of-gold cowboys who on their days off drank whiskey in a dirt-floor bar called The Snakepit.

    Golf at the Lazy B Ranch was about as likely as pet rattlesnakes reciting Shakespeare's love sonnets.

    On Ken Green saving his dog, Nip, from an alligator (December 2003)

    "Up comes the rest of the gator, and now everything's moving toward me, like, 'Whoa!' So I take it, and I fall back, all the way in the water, over my head. Now the gator can do anything he wants, right? If he had grabbed me, I'd have been at his mercy. I'd have been done. I mean, I'm not afraid of dying. But not like that."

    On Ken Green losing his brother, his girlfriend, his dog and his leg in a motor-vehicle accident (October 2009)

    With both hands, ever so gently, Ken Green rubs what is left of his right leg below the knee.

    Tender?

    "Tender's not the word," he says. "I always thought of myself on the upper level of tolerating pain. I've had the back issues so long, the shoulder issues. You get the shocks and bolts, but you just play through. But the shocks you get with this . . . "

    He raises the stump.

    " ... are mind-boggling. From here . . . "

    He touches the sewn-together end of his leg.

    " ... the nerves send pain shooting everywhere through my body. I just end up crying."

    On the priest and the rabbi (October 2004)

    What's a rabbi to do when his best friend, a Catholic priest, invites him to meet Mother Teresa?

    This was in June 1997. The nun was 86 years old, frail, failing, about to die. She had made her last trip to New York and soon would return to Calcutta.

    The priest, Monsignor Tom Hartman, had taken other friends to meet Mother Teresa. One was hard-edged politician. "He acted like a fourth-grader in her presence," the priest said.

    So Hartman wanted Rabbi Marc Gellman to meet the woman the world loved, a woman who had won the Nobel Peace Prize, who on her death would be recommended for sainthood.

    "Can't," the rabbi said.

    "Can't?" the priest said.

    The rabbi felt a need to explain. He said to the priest two words that he knew his best friend would understand, if not approve.

    He said, "Winged Foot."


A couple of last words, especially because Dave's piece above referenced Mother Teresa. On their golf trip around the world, one of the stops for Kindred and Tom Callahan was Royal Nepal Golf Club. Callahan speaks for his friend after a visit to Mother Teresa's infirmary:

"Standing in the dark, low-ceilinged ward, we would have felt like unconscionable intruders if the shrinking people in the beds had not pressed their palms together, bowed and smiled so generously.

"We tiptoed through the ward back out into the light of a courtyard, where the ambulatory followed, carrying unusual horns, drums and stringed instruments. Sitting cross-legged under the eaves, they played us a concert as slow and sweet as honey sifting through a comb. Fortunately, sportswriters don't cry.

"As we departed, Dave crammed all of the money we had on us into the slot of a collection box. 'It's either $8,000 or 16 cents,' he said. 'I'm not sure.' "