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Tom Spencer of CBS Sports

Fred Couples Enters World Golf Hall of Fame

Posted by Tom Spencer

Monday, October 1, 2012 at 10:56 AM

“The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle.” (Perry Como - 1969)

Bing Crosby once said, “Perry Como invented casual.”  Como, the noted singer/entertainer, loved golf and featured golfers on his television show He was self-effacing and known to discount his legacy.

Fred Couples, who honed his game on the public courses under blue and cloudy skies in Seattle, has exuded those same Como-like traits throughout his Hall of Fame career.  A character in the golf world since taking up the game, Couples has always honed his craft in his own unique way.

Due to the cost of buying golf gloves, as a kid he decided would play without one; that hasn’t changed.  As an amateur, he captured the Washington State Open wearing tennis shoes – have you noticed a recent trend he helped start in footwear?  His swing, while always powerful and fluid, was completely home made.  In fact, Couples didn’t take his first formal golf lesson until teachers Paul Marchand and Dick Harmon got a hold of him in the late 1980s.

The slow stride, the twitches and stretches, the nickname (“Boom Boom”), the smile and the on-course attitude…all are unique to Fred.  Who didn’t buy Ashworth clothing after seeing Couples wear the comfy threads? Things he’s never totally embraced: driving, books, phone calls and a steadfast commitment to his job (He first used the word “retirement” in his mid-20s). 

Yes, 15 career wins with one major (’92 Masters) and two Players Championships may not match the total output of other recent inductees.  However, greatness is measured in other ways—some subtle and others much more relevant—if you dig beneath the surface of the numbers.

As a teenager, Couples watched the great Lee Trevino, another self-taught player, put on a clinic.  At that moment, he decided to become a professional golfer.  Little did he know that four years later, he would be paired with the Merry Mex in the 1979 U.S Open at Inverness CC where Fred emerged as low amateur.  At age 52, Couples shared the 36-hole lead in the 2012 Masters—his fifth decade competing in major championships—and captured the Senior British Open at Turnberry.  If he stays healthy, retirement is still a ways off.

Couples’ path to the Tour was as unusual as his hands-on-the-shoulder finish to the swing.  Coach Dave Williams led the University of Houston’s powerhouse golf program for decades.  In the late 70s, Williams recruited Couples via phone, not after hearing about Fred’s superior ball-striking or putting touch, but because of how he could escape from troubling lies—notably in Washington state’s giant trees—as well as any youngster in the country.

Three years later, after Couples lost in the quarter-finals of the 1980 U.S...

Frank Chirkinian

Posted by Tom Spencer

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 12:25 PM

On September 10th, 1950 Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio blasted three homeruns for the New York Yankees at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C During that same day, the television business received a jolt of energy as a young Frank Chirkinian commenced a career that would last nearly 50 years. By the age of 32, the up-and-coming studio director from WCAU-TV in Philadelphia was hired to oversee CBS Sports’ coverage of the PGA Championship at Llanerch CC. From that point forward he made his sports television product an indelible feature in homes across America.

That first Philadelphia-area major tournament had three announcers—led by Jim McKay—15 technicians and six black and white cameras covering the final three holes. The network showed an hour on both Saturday and Sunday. By the time he retired in 1996, golf broadcasts had grown to where remote compounds resembled small cities and 18-hole coverage was becoming commonplace at the majority of big events.

The players and the tournaments he documented for 38 years at Augusta National are permanently etched into the minds of sports fans around the globe. Three of Arnold Palmer’s four Masters titles were covered by Chirkinian. He showcased all six of Jack Nicklaus’s six Green Jackets as well. Frank helped make the international contingent at Augusta into household names: Gary Player (three wins), Seve Ballesteros (two) and Nick Faldo (three).

He also flourished when covering the heartbreaking stories as well. At the peak of Palmer’s powers in 1961, Arnold inexplicably double bogeyed the 72nd hole to lose the Masters to Player. But what really disturbed Chirkinian was the South African’s on camera stoicism as the collapse unfolded.

“(Player) was just sitting there, doing nothing,” recalled Chirkinian. “For a moment, I thought he was just going to shake hands with his wife (Vivienne). It was a moment that demanded emotion, so I said, ‘Kiss her, you fool,’ which he did.”

Seven years later, Argentina’s Roberto de Vicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard in the 1968 Masters (he signed for a par 4 on the 17th hole instead of the birdie 3 he’d actually made) and lost to Bob Goalby. In one of the most turbulent years of the 20th Century it was perhaps a fitting conclusion.

“We knew about [de Vicenzo’s error] before he got to the studio,” said Chirkinian “We made the announcement on the air and when Roberto realized he had made a mistake, he said, with tears in his eyes, ‘I am stupido.’”

Sometimes the agonizing finishes at Augusta were drawn out over long periods of time. In those situations Frank slowed down the pace of the show, cutting fewer cameras and insisting his commentators limit their dialogue, thus allowing us to experience the pain of a Tom Weiskopf or an Ed Sneed or a Greg Norman. On the flip side, when the excitement reached its zenith, Chirkinian conveyed that energy right into the hearts of his announce team and thus to the senses of the viewing audience. 


The 1986 Masters, captured by a 46-year old Golden Bear, could be CBS Golf’s crowning day of coverage. But tied for the lead in that category might be the 1975 version when a slightly younger Bear outlasted two heavyweights in Weiskopf and Johnny Miller. 


Enhancing the spine-tingling action was the fabulous commentary emanating from the mouths of the announcers - including an exchange between Ben Wright (15th hole) and Henry Longhurst (16th hole) that Chirkinian long considered one of the best storytelling moments in sports television. He once told Sports Illustrated that the reason he hired experienced writers like Wright and Longhurst was to put the proper words to the pictures...

West Coast Swing

Posted by Tom Spencer

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Another West Coast Swing has come and gone with several highlights and a few lowlights to acknowledge.  The weather patterns echoed the unpredictable winter around the nation with: perfect conditions all week at Pebble Beach, snow in Arizona and torrential rains in Hawaii.  A promising Vegas act named Jhonattan took the Bob Hope and a Byrd called Jonathan soared at Kapalua—different spelling; same result The opening performances by some of the game’s prominent veterans proved to be less than stellar.  Tiger Woods’ game actually regressed since the end of ’10 as he searches for a full swing and short game that feels natural again.  Tiger’s dip to #5 in the world rankings is his lowest perch since pre-1997 Masters.

Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and defending Fed Ex Cup champion Jim Furyk all got off to sluggish starts as well.  Though Phil did give us a thrill with his Walter Hagen-like move at Torrey Pines where he asked caddie Jim MacKay to tend the flagstick on his final wedge shot from the fairway.  Mickelson’s dramatic bid to tie Bubba Watson came up empty and so did his hope of passing Woods in the world rankings and creeping up towards the #1 ranking he’s yet to obtain in his stellar career.

Speaking of #1, Martin Kaymer is the third man to hold that lofty distinction in the last four months—and he looks the part.  The German already owns a major championship and has multiple wins across the globe in recent years.  His next goal is to make a run at Augusta where he’s surprisingly missed the cut in his three previous trips.  May I suggest borrowing fellow countrymen Bernhard Langer’s yardage books from 1985 and 1993?

Kaymer’s ascension to the top spot highlights the continuing youthful movement that threatens to push the seasoned vets off the first pages of the leaderboard.  The aforementioned Watson, though not in the 20-something crowd, is still a relatively fresh face and full of unpredictable moments.  In the past Bubba has struggled getting comfortable inside the ropes, but now appears to have embraced the spotlight; even to the point of showing off whenever possible.

For the next five to eight years here’s a group of some additional names we will be following closely (listed from young to youngest): Dustin Johnson (26 years old), South African Charl Schwartzel (26), Rickie Fowler (22), Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (21), Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa (19) and Italy’s Matteo Manessero (17). 

Finally an acknowledgement to two Northern California products making big strides during the season’s first two months.  Elk Grove’s Spencer Levin finished 2010 with a flurry, has played in every event he could enter and nearly won the Mayakoba Classic losing in a playoff to Johnson Wagner.  Levin outplayed Wagner down the stretch and was only undone by a loose tee shot in sudden death.

Stanford’s Zach Miller came out of Q-School and has made as big a splash as any rookie Miller already fired five rounds of 66 or better (with two 64s), is 37-under in six events and made five straight cuts.  His NCAA champion teammate Joe Bramlett didn’t fare quite as well, making two of five cuts, but looks to have the confidence and game to match Miller down the road.

The wild West Coast was a memorable one; however, lots of questions still need to be answered on the Florida Swing as we begin the run up to the Masters. 


Unique Events - Phoenix and Pebble

Posted by Tom Spencer

Monday, February 7, 2011 at 3:47 PM

Trying to come up with two more unique, yet totally different events than the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is hard to do One is held in the normally dry, still desert air of Arizona while the other is contested in the typically breezy, heavy conditions of the picturesque Northern California coastline.

The weather in Phoenix took a strange twist this year, feeling early in the week like Green Bay or Pittsburgh, before eventually settling into the fun in the sun environment that brings fans from around the country Nevertheless, due to frosted greens and frigid temperatures the tournament featured delays all week...

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