Golf was only a part of Jack Whitaker’s glittering resume, a small part at that, but undeniably it was a memorable one, for reasons unrelated to his renowned skill.
Whitaker, who at 95 died of natural causes in Devon, Penn., on Sunday, was working his first Masters telecast for CBS in 1966, when on Sunday evening he referred to the crowd coming up the 18th hole as a mob.
A month before the ’67 Masters, CBS informed him he would not be working the telecast, citing the fact he had called the crowd a mob, while also failing to inform viewers of the green jacket ceremony on the putting green at the conclusion of play.
Whitaker always believed that the call was made not by CBS, but by Clifford Roberts, the co-founder of Augusta National and its chairman at the time.
“It looked like a mob of people scurrying toward the green, but Mr. Roberts took offense,” he told the Associated Press in 1979. “He said the gallery at the Masters was not a mob. And that was that.”
In 1972, CBS invited Whitaker to attend the Masters as a guest. “I jumped at the chance,” he told the Associated Press, “because one of the charms of the Masters is that it’s a reunion and I could be there with no worries.”
When Henry Longhurst, a member of the CBS broadcast team at Augusta, took ill, CBS’ legendary producer Frank Chirkinian informed Whitaker he would be working the 16th hole and that they needed to go down and meet with Roberts.
“Young man, we’re delighted you’ll be able to work with us,” Roberts said. After that, Whitaker worked several more Masters for CBS.
A member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, Whitaker was renowned for bringing prose to his work. “It was sophisticated and smart,” his page on the Hall of Fame website says. “He had style, which is why today, his admirers say he stands apart as one of the most accomplished of television’s early generation of wordsmiths, not so much an announcer as an essayist who dared to be poetic when just clever would do.”
When working a British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews, he said this: “Nobody designed this course. Nobody with a pencil and $2 million and five bulldozers. This was made by nature. It comes out of the ground. It was done with wind and rain and sun and the help of a few sheep. And so, while, for most Americans and other people, it’s not love at first sight at St. Andrews. St. Andrews’ Old Course is like a dry martini, an acquired taste, and, as such, it remains with you forever.”
Whitaker was a long-time member of Merion Golf Club and anchored the 1985 Walker Cup there for ABC, one of three Walker Cups he worked for the network. He also was the voice of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf when in 1994 it was revived after a 22-year absence.
Jim Nantz, who anchors golf telecasts for CBS, issued a statement to the network on Whitaker’s passing.
“When I first met Jack Whitaker in 1986 at Pebble Beach, I felt like I had just been introduced to Ernest Hemingway,” he said. “I grew up watching him deliver contemplative and contextual prose with his famous short essays, bringing class and dignity to his industry. He was enormously proud to have called Super Bowl I for CBS and was the last surviving network commentator from that landmark game. I spoke to him this week after hospice came to his home and his mind was still brilliantly sharp right to the end.”