LINKS PLAYERS MAGAZINE 2015 ANNUAL EDITION

WHEN A TALKING HEAD HAS A CHANGE OF HEART

My first memory of any kind has to be when I was three and a half years old, during the summertime sitting in a house out in Long Island with my mom, who was many months pregnant with my brother, watching television where my dad was competing. Afterwards she came into the room where I was playing and she explained that Dad just won the PGA Championship and told me how important and special that day was. Then she went to the hospital and delivered my brother, making the day even more special.

Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai - Round OneMy parents got divorced four or five years later. My dad had been working with ABC Sports and pretty soon after the divorce he was promoted to their lead analyst. He had moved back to Houston, so our chances to be with him became limited a few days around Thanksgiving or Easter, a decent stretch around Christmas, and a random weekend here or there. But the most time we got to spend with him was during the summertime when we would go with him to the major championships. At the time it felt like we were getting robbed of the quality time we got to spend visiting him, sharing it with work, fans and his other friends. As it turned out, the experiences we were having at the different US Open venues and PGA Championship venues all helped us develop a special kind of a bond between us with him.

Being born and raised in New York City, we were certainly not the best-behaved kids on tour, with me being the ringleader in that regard. We were a split family, vying for Dad’s attention as best we could, and excited to see our friends on the road. So Dad decided at one point that maybe the best way to take care of our rambunctiousness was to have us go work for ABC as spotters and scorekeepers, which was great for us because we made $25 a day in the mid- to late-1970s. We didn’t realize that it meant seven or eight hours sitting in one place on a golf course, reporting scores or playing orders, but it didn’t matter—that $100 check at the end of the week meant we were rich! A fringe benefit turned out to be the relationships that started with people I would end up working with and for down the road and still work with to this day.

It was a great way to put some cash in our pockets and also give us some life and business experience, which I then took to work at ABC as a production assistant once I graduated college. After leaving ABC and working in freelance production, I fell in love with a tournament called the Tradition, a Champions Tour event at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona. The tournament was conceived by Lyle Anderson and Jack Nicklaus as a means to celebrate the tradition of major champions. The whole philosophy of the tournament mirrored the best events in the game—the Masters, the Memorial, Bay Hill and the three other majors—and their approach to the television coverage was consistent. They didn’t want to brag about the size of the purse, but rather how important the trophy would be one day. All that was important was celebrating the game and the men who added to its major championship history. It was a magical place and endeavor with a great group of people really caring about golf, about its history, and about legacy—all the things that I felt were important in the game, all the things that I’d gotten from my grandfather through my father to me. So it was really a warm place to work.

Obviously, I never inherited my father’s playing skills, but I had similar sensibilities about what was important and why. After he lost his fight with cancer, I thought there might be value in those sensibilities that I could pass it along to golf fans and people trying to learn about the game. Golf Channel was growing but still small in 2000, and an old friend from ABC named Tony Tortorici gave me a chance to show what I could do on the air. I was absolutely horrific on the air, but Tony and the other executives at Golf Channel showed remarkable patience.

About a year and a half after being hired by Golf Channel, I was still reviewing tapes of my broadcasts and while your on-air stumbles and stutters are never as bad as they feel at the moment, after judging my own performance it still wasn’t up to my standards nor nearly as polished as my colleagues at Golf Channel. I was pretty depressed one day at the US Open in the media center at Bethpage Black, and Jimmy Roberts pulled up a chair at my table in the lunch area. I had worked for Jimmy as a runner at ABC and he sensed my frustration. He told me, “For the first two years I was on the air, I felt like I was stealing my paycheck. I felt like any day someone would come to me and say, ‘We just reviewed your tapes for the first time and my goodness, you’re awful. You’re fired, please leave the property immediately.’ Then two years into it I got comfortable, I felt like I belonged and things just developed from that point. Just hang in there.” Now I don’t know if the story he told was even true, but it helped me hang in and about six months later I settled in, just as I was reaching the two-year mark.

I loved New York, and I felt very devoted to and protective of my mother, so that created some issues for me early on in the divorce. I resisted my dad’s guidance. But in my college days, my friends let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I was being too hard on my dad, he probably cared about me more than I gave him credit. He was the reigning Ryder Cup captain but had to take three connecting flights and drive about an hour to visit me at Bucknell, in central Pennsylvania. Things really turned around in our relationship then, but by that point any opportunity to develop the talent to become a touring professional was long gone. But I liked his second career, television, and pursued that and found it was a way to stay close to him.

Growing up, I had always believed that there was some sort of power greater than myself that made the sunsets and children’s laughter and all the beautiful things. At one point in the early in ’90s, a family member of mine was having a difficult stretch and I said the second prayer I can ever remember saying in my life, which was, “If you help him get through this, I’ll figure out who you are.” It took me 15 years of seeking and reading and studying and trying to figure who that higher power was, what the order of the universe was all about. I was going from Eastern beliefs to believing in the Star Wars concept of the light side versus the dark side. I was looking everywhere.


Interestingly, the people who ended up being most helpful on my spiritual journey were guys who had I felt resentment towards much earlier in life, golfers who thanked Jesus after winning a golf tournament. For me that was just a complete affront, shoving God in my face. Who were they to tell me what to believe? The guys I’m talking about specifically were Larry Mize and Scott Simpson. In fact, when Scott Simpson won the ’87 Open and mentioned Jesus, it started a grudge that lasted until he came out on the Champions Tour, when I realized he was just such a sweet, good, and decent guy. We had huge differences as far as politics were concerned and as far as faith at that point. But the way he treated people, the way he thought his way through questions and problems and processes, it was very interesting to me.

I overheard Scott being interviewed one time when he was asked, “How did winning the US Open change your life?” And he said, “It didn’t really change my life that much. I was married to my high school sweetheart, I had two terrific kids. The trophy I was bringing home was bigger, I got a ten-year exemption, which was good because we could move back to Hawaii, but my life was my life. My faith was where it had always been, my faith was solid, my family was solid, my friends were great. The most important things in life don’t change with a US Open win.” He wasn’t able to elaborate in that winner’s interview 15 years earlier and I wasn’t able to understand because I didn’t understand the overall picture. Now I’ve had many conversations about what it means to thank the Lord after you’ve won a tournament. You’re not telling everyone else to repent or they’re going to burn. You’re just thanking the one that put you in the position to win the tournament, that gave you the talent to compete and on that particular day to prevail.

I’m telling you, though hours and hours and hours of conversation with Larry and Scott and with Tom Randall, the pastor out on the Champions Tour, I never got that feeling of that judgmental guy out on the street corner in New York City pointing a finger and shouting at me, driving me away from the truth. I only heard decent human beings who were now friends of mine warmly welcoming my questions, answering them frankly in ways that allow a person to hear the truth, to hit you in the heart. Once you hear a truth, you can ignore it if you want to, but you’ll never forget it and you can’t unhear it. Every one of their answers narrowed the path of my search to where the answer became clear after all of the research, all of the questions.

Bernhard Langer invited everybody to his church in Boca Raton during a tournament down in Boca. I was interested in going, but didn’t want to be a guy who just jumped into Bernhard’s party and ended up sitting with him and Tom Randall and everybody else without fully believing and understanding like they did. They had given their lives to God and recognized Jesus as their Savior, but I was still seeking answers. I wanted to take a look from a distance and see what it was all about. It was at Calvary Chapel in Boca Raton. So they all went and I went separately and sat in a different part of the church and just watched what was going on in there.

I’d never been to a Christian service before; I didn’t know what it was about. At the end, the pastor, Jerry, said, “If you heard something that touched you and want to accept Jesus into your life, you can come up and we can talk about it here, we can pray with each other in front of the stage, or you can just sit in your seat and pray with me.” He then said the sinner’s prayer and everything he was saying was something I believed. I knew I was a sinner. I knew that Jesus died for my sins. I knew that through him I would be saved. I realized really from that point going forward how fully committed I had become. It’s not something that I feel, it’s not something that I hope for, it’s not part of a bargain for eternal life. It’s just something that I know is the truth.

It’s not all about winners. Scott Simpson, Larry Mize, Bernhard Langer, Larry Nelson, all the others I’m leaving out—they’re thankful for finishing tenth, they’re thankful for being in the position to be able to go out to a golf tournament and represent God while they’re out there playing and compete in a manner consistent with their beliefs wherever they finish. While every single golfer, including all those that I’ve mentioned, sometimes value themselves by the scores they put down (more often when those scores are bad than good), all of them understand that they don’t value God by the score that they put down on their card. They end up valuing the experience that they’ve been given, the talent that they’ve been blessed with.

After Bernhard missed that putt to end the ’91 Ryder Cup, Tour chaplain Larry Moody wasn’t able to track him down right away. A couple days passed, and Larry got a little concerned. Finally when he got to Bernhard he asked, “Are you OK?” Bernhard said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know, with the putt and everything. Is everything all right?” He said, “Hey, there was only one perfect person in history and they crucified him, I only missed a putt. I’m going to be OK.” The serenity that true faith brings eases golfers through troubled times, too. That immediate sting of defeat might cloud the mind to a degree, but once that thought clears, they understand what they’ve been given—the opportunity to compete, to make or miss that putt. I’ve seen all the believers be consistent in that regard and to me it’s the most empowering part of it all. To me, that’s the most genuine person I can talk to, the one who’s thankful even after a loss.

COPYRIGHT 2015 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Dave Marr III

    Dave Marr III is a commentator for the Golf Channel, chiefly interviewing tournament players on the Champions Tour. He is also the host of Champions Tour Learning Center. Here he is with Links Player Loren Roberts, talking about sand play.