- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
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.