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Rosaforte: Chirkinian's remarkable legacy

March 05, 2011

When I last saw Frank Chirkinian, he was sitting in a recliner in his townhouse in North Palm Beach, Fla., iPad by his side. We looked each other in the eye and promised this would not be our "goodbye;" even though we knew it probably would be. He was trying to stay up for an acceptance speech to a party hosted by CBS at Pebble Beach. "I don't want to make some flippant remarks like, 'I'm glad you guys finally got me in,' " he said. "I've only got one ball left."

The poignancy of this golf metaphor -- dying of cancer, Chirkinian down to his last golf ball in life -- was not lost in both the elation and sorrow of the moment. This was three weeks ago, on the night it was announced that through an emergency vote of the World Golf Hall of Fame board he was be inducted on May 9 under the Lifetime Achievement category. Through the lobbying efforts of CBS host Jim Nantz, and the push of PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, one of the great oversights was rectified, and Frank would have his rightful place among the game's greats in St. Augustine, Fla. As it happened, Chirkinian was able to savor knowing he would be in the Hall, but he would never make it to the induction. He passed away at his home Friday night surrounded by his family. The legendary producer was 84.

"The criteria is 'achievement' and certainly there are a lot of people who have achieved more for the game of golf than I have," Chirkinian said. "My platform was a whole lot different than their platform.  I wasn't trying to win something as much as I was trying to present something, as opposed to these Hall of Famers that went in with achievements to the fact they won and brought the game of golf to a new level. That category was something I could never compete against. They played the game and won."

When I mentioned to Frank that he had finally won, too, there was only a brief pause.

"In an abstract way, but it wasn't a question of winning or not," he said. "It was a question of being associated with something that was the heart and soul of a sport that has endured over a couple hundred years and continues to grow as an endless and boundless creation that I was so pleased to be associated with."

"Erudite," was the word Nantz used to describe Chirkinian, and this is what he was to the end, reading a book a day, critiquing golf broadcasts, even as his body was shutting down. Frank had goals of visiting Augusta National one more time, attending the Friends of Golf tournament at his beloved Bel-Air CC in Los Angeles and celebrating his 85th birthday at Pebble Beach in June. But Frank knew what had been written: his cancer was aggressive, was taking his life, and soon the scene would be fading to black.

Frank's legacy was wrapped into that final quote about the "endless and boundless creation" that he brought into our living rooms. He won Emmys and a Peabody Award, but induction into the World Hall of Fame meant more to him than any of the achievements on his resume. He called it "the most coveted in the game of golf." After all, he was the "father of televised golf," a pioneer and an icon, larger in life and now in death.

Just last week watching his favorite movie, "Patton," with son Frank Jr., Chirkinian let the closing scene play out with the general, played by George C. Scott, walking his dog and relating in a voiceover the celebration of returning heroes to ancient Rome, "A slave stood behind the conqueror holding the golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning, that all glory is fleeting."

Frank turned to his son and said, "My glory lasted 40 years."

-- Tim Rosaforte