Legendary golf reporter John Derr is among the inaugural recipients of the Masters Major Achievement Award to be presented Wednesday morning in the Press Building Interview Room at Augusta National Golf Club.
(Photo: John Derr interviewing Ben Hogan.)
John Derr covered his first Masters in 1935. Later he was the lead CBS-TV announcer at the Masters from 1958-73. Last month John answered my questions about the award and his Masters experiences.
Armchair Golf: Please tell me about the new Masters Major Achievement Award.
John Derr: As I understand it, the award recognizes those reporters who have written or spoken about the Masters for as many as 40 years. I covered 62. Some reporters may have covered more than 62, but believe me, they started young.
Mr. Roberts once asked why I had missed the 1934 tournament -- the first one. My answer: If there had been any child labor laws in North Carolina in 1935, I'd probably have missed that one, too.
Armchair Golf: OK, I thought you had covered them all. What has the Masters meant to you?
John Derr: No, I have not seen them all. Before closing shop I had missed three of the first 65 renewals, a lot of missed putts in 250 rounds.
Most unique were the two years when I was the reporter for the World TV network, into 132 countries. They told me we had 600 million viewers. That didn't bother me. If every one of my mistakes was heard by 600 million, it would have taken me a long time to apologize to each, though. But reporting it is always a thrill.
Armchair Golf: If you had to pick, what are your Masters highlights?
John Derr: Perhaps the '53 Masters, third round, Hogan and Oliver paired. They shot better ball of 60 that day. Palmer's trip across half of Georgia to par the third hole in an early win. Art Wall's streak of 3's on holes 4-5-6. Horton Smith's caddie catching a baby rabbit in the rough at the 5th hole, putting it in his bag and later telling Horton he knew he'd win. "If one rabbit foot is good luck, Mr. Horton you got four in your bag."
Armchair Golf: What was it like to cover the Masters in earlier days?
John Derr: Exacting, frustrating, very rewarding. I always felt fortunate to be there, seeing the play, and it was my pleasure to try to let others share my joy through my description. I was heard by many, but I always tried to put myself in the position of being a reporter for a "shut-in" who could not be there in person. I was telling him or her what was happening -- that one person.
My job was reporting it fairly and honestly, even though some of the golfers were especially good and close friends. As a reporter you must be neutral. You are no longer a cheering fan. Communications were critical in the early days, both for a writer and especially for a broadcaster early on. But we found a way to do it.
Armchair Golf: What is most striking to you about Augusta National?
John Derr: The beauty of the place. It's not the toughest course by any means, but a fair examination of the skills of every player. That was what it was for many years before some recent alterations were initiated. It is still one of the truly great venues for sports. I walked those Georgia hills for decades and was amazed how they grew in steepness as the years accumulated. Now I no longer walk that much but chase cobwebs with the few elders remaining from my era.
For years Lloyd Mangrum and I met on a bench outside the locker room and recalled the early days and did a thorough job of "character assassination" on some old acquaintances. Then one day I found no one to help me remember. So I don't sit there anymore.
Armchair Golf: Any other anecdotes you would like to share -- recollections of Bob Jones or Clifford Roberts, for instance?
John Derr: I save those for lectures, books and special appearances. My rates are reasonable. I make about 12-15 personal visits a year. Have putter, will travel -- but not too fast.
To learn more about John Derr's speaking engagements, contact me. (No, I am not Mr. Derr's agent or business manager, nor do I receive any remuneration.)
Masters Major Achievement Award Recipients
Ron Green Sr.
Tomorrow: Masters by 10s
The Armchair Golfer