When I start to get the hand signals down, my nerves settle. Ogrin and Wendy Ward aren't marquee names here, anyway, and we aren't taping yet. I tell myself I'll be ready two groups later, when John Daly and Laura Davies come through. Trouble is, I'm not. Between Daly, Davies and 6'2" Vijay Singh (also in the group is Singh's partner, Marie-Laure de Lorenzi), there's too much mass on the tee. I can't see through it all. I panic. I look for help from Daly's caddie—one finger down for a six-iron, two down for a seven-iron—but either he's not offering or I'm blind. Looking like a mime school dropout, I frantically gesture. No luck. Daly hits, Singh hits, and I start to think I'm not network material. There's a bright side, though. Lee hasn't asked me what anybody's hitting in this group. I start to think my radio is dead. "Steve, you still with me?" I ask.
"Yeah, Cam," he replies. "We haven't started taping yet."
You take your lumps out here, in more ways than one. At popular events, back when the networks dominated sports, ABC put as many as 14 runners in one hotel room. "You had people getting up early to take showers because that shower was pretty raunchy by the eighth or ninth person," says Johnson, who was a runner in the Arledge era. Arledge had a suite at every site, even at tournaments he couldn't attend. Savvy runners knew this was where they could sneak a decent shower.
The big names and the truly anonymous are never separated by much. They're too interdependent, and everyone seems to like one another anyway. Rankin and her husband, Yippy (he grew up on a ranch), are famously nice, and during the JCPenney, Rankin makes chicken-fried steak for the entire crew. Rosburg, too, is friendly. At lunch, when ABC director Jim Jennett asks the winner of the 1959 PGA Championship, "What do you think of the soup?" I expect Rosburg to shout, "This soup's got no shot!" Instead, he says it's tasty. I decide to ask Rosburg about his signature line. "That was 10, 15 years ago. I said that a few times and got kind of known for it," he says. "I was right probably 70 percent of the time, but a few times I wasn't."
I learn a few things about the ABC talent that I didn't know. Rosburg will sometimes send his runner for a cold treat. "Every once in a while you'll see him on the course eating an ice cream cone," Rankin says with a wink. Strange is more easygoing than I expect, joking and laughing with production assistant Amy Faas about her swing. Roger Twibell likes his cigars and shows he's a pretty good golfer when we play four holes after Sunday's final round. Steve Melnyk had fraternity brother Steve Spurrier in his wedding party and will watch the Florida Gators even while he announces golf. Tirico doesn't surprise me. I have heard he's the consummate pro, studying John Feinstein's A Good Walk Spoiled when he got his golf job. He's true to form here, arriving at the compound with a sports viewer-ship survey and college basketball media guides—always ahead of the game.
I'm still stationed on the 15th tee on Saturday when I make my greatest mistake as a runner. It's the last foursome, the teams of Dan Forsman and Catriona Matthew, and Mike Brisky and Barb Mucha. I've got the signals down, so when Lee asks me what Forsman's hitting, I say "Six!" loud and clear. Too loud and clear. I've lost track of the volume of my own voice, and Brisky, his caddie and Forsman's caddie look at me and begin to crack up. I'm grinning, too, partly out of embarrassment but also out of relief because Forsman has not backed off and glared my way.
Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody is good at something. By the end of the broadcast I'm still not sure what my specialty would be in this business. Shapter can tell you, from 100 yards, the difference between Steve Jones and Dawn Coe-Jones. Big deal? It is when the Jones in question is hidden from view in a thicket of bougainvillea. It's then that Shapter looks at the bag for sponsorship clues. He looks at the caddie. Once he knows who the player is, he tells the audio operator seated next to him. That, in essence, is the job description for runners: Do whatever it takes to bring off the show with as few glitches as possible. One runner at CBS made himself an instant legend by heating croissants on the hood of an idling car.
Any task, no matter how menial, any expertise, no matter how obscure, can forge your legacy here. Shirley is renowned for his catering. He knows how to get a hotel room ready for a production meeting, how much beer and pop to buy, where to find the rubber trash receptacles in which to put the ice. He's ABC's ace of access, unrelentingly positive and always there in a pinch. During the week, I watch Shirley sweet-talk a maid right into her linen closet, where he harvests extra towels and trash bags. "Shags is just a phenomenal guy," Rosburg says. "If I want somebody to pick me up at 3 a.m. in south Tampa, Shags will be there. Absolutely."
I will miss these people. They are in some ways more interesting and endearing than the ones you see on TV. They are hard workers and big dreamers. The runners with talent will begin to move up, usually to production assistant (still not much money, but at least the network pays travel expenses) after one or two years. It's been a long time since Shirley caddied for Doug Sanders in the 1971 Sahara Invitational in Las Vegas in October, worked as a substitute teacher for five months and then drove cross-country to the Citrus Open, thinking he would caddie full time. When he couldn't get a bag, he mentioned to some guys laying TV cable that he needed a job. "You don't want to talk to us," they said. "You want to talk to Chuck Will."
Shirley, who retired from his job as a special-education teacher in 1993, has been a runner off and on since then. He operates a small business leasing walkie-talkie radios to the networks, who use them at golf tournaments and other events like the Indy 500 and the Kentucky Derby, where Shirley is a fixture. "You know that song My Old Kentucky Home?" says Shirley. "I cue the band [that plays it on the broadcasts]. I've been in winner's circles. I've been in places millionaires can't go, and they own the horses." The more Shirley talks, the more you're reminded of Forest Gump, the bystander to history. Shirley is everywhere. His greatest ambition, after he finishes building a house for himself and his wife in Pittsburgh, is to operate the most remote checkpoint in the Iditarod sled dog race. At 5'4" and 123 pounds, Shirley looks as if he would be lost in a decent-sized snowdrift. Says Graham, "He's amazing. I hope I'm as energetic as he is and want to hang out with young people when I'm his age."