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Shot Maker
MIKE LUPICA
February 19, 2007
Why Frank Chirkinian belongs in the World Golf Hall of Fame
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February 19, 2007

Shot Maker

Why Frank Chirkinian belongs in the World Golf Hall of Fame

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It is the day before the Super Bowl, and Frank Chirkinian is sitting at Emerald Dunes, a West Palm Beach golf club where he is part-owner and full-time front man. Chirkinian is holding court, telling stories, busting chops. It happens this way a lot at Emerald Dunes, whose clubhouse, because of Chirkinian's presence, often feels more like a frat house. Today he is talking about the 1975 Masters, one of 38 straight he produced for CBS Sports. It was Jack Nicklaus against Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf at Augusta, and it might be the greatest golf telecast of all time. Chirkinian was later nicknamed the Ayatollah because he was dictatorial. He was also profane and hilarious and, oh, by the way, the guy who really invented golf as a television sport. Now he is 80 and sits at a table overlooking the 18th green at Emerald Dunes, describing how he went from this picture to that one on the back nine that day in '75, remembering everything. He talks about the cheer that Nicklaus, standing on the 16th green, heard from 15 as Weiskopf made birdie behind him. Chirkinian does his gravelly impression of Ben Wright's British accent as he says, "Ah, evil music for Mr. Nicklaus's ears." Chirkinian then recalls Nicklaus's making his monster 40-footer for birdie on 16, leaving the green with his putter raised triumphantly. Now, Chirkinian imitates the late Henry Longhurst, who said in a gentle voice, "My, my, never before have I seen such a thing." Chirkinian says to the table, "That's why I hired writers, to put words to the pictures. That's how we told our stories." Dick Ebersol, who has run NBC Sports for 18 years and who is in the golf business himself, describes Chirkinian's talent, his amazing body of work, this way: "Frank made golf on television into the ultimate unscripted drama. He took a static sport and put movement into it. He knew what the story was, and he grabbed it, and then he followed it all the way through." At Chirkinian's first Masters, in 1959--when he put the camera on Arnold Palmer and pretty much left it there--he began to show the possibilities of golf as television entertainment as much as sport. Some of it sounds simple now: Microphones in the cup, the on-screen scoreboard showing how the leaders stood against par, even his use of a blimp. It was so much more than that. Chirkinian, sitting there in the truck, barking out orders, provided a blueprint on how to keep people watching. He did it by telling stories, with Wright and Longhurst, with Pat Summerall and Jack Whitaker, later with Jim Nantz and characters like Gary McCord and David Feherty. This is all a preamble to saying that Frank Chirkinian belongs in the World Golf Hall of Fame, belongs there now. "All of us associated with this sport, and that includes the players, owe him a debt of gratitude," says Ebersol, who has been pushing the idea of Chirkinian's enshrinement in the Hall, located in St. Augustine, Fla. Imagine, an NBC guy talking about a CBS guy this way. Chirkinian would go into the Hall in the Lifetime Achievement category established in 2000. The late Mark McCormack entered this way. So did Harvey Penick, Karsten Solheim, Alistair MacKenzie and Charlie Sifford. All of them, in their own ways, were pioneers. So was Chirkinian. Everybody in golf knows: The best story has always been the Ayatollah himself. Ebersol's right. He belongs in Cooperstown.

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