After 37 years, Open announcer Ivor Robson still rules the first tee

Wednesday March 3rd, 2010
Ivor Robson at the 2012 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Sports Illustrated/Thomas Lovelock

SANDWICH, England — Ivor Robson lifted the sleeve of his trademark green blazer and peered at his watch. It was 4:10 p.m., nearing the end of a long, drizzly workday at the 2011 Open Championship.

Robson looked down the fairway. Then he looked at his watch again. He spends a lot of time doing that. Finally, he grabbed a cordless mic off his podium and raised it to his lips. Nine hours and 41 minutes after Robson announced his first player of the day (Jerry Kelly), he was ready to announce his 156th and final player of the day.

"On the tee from Singapore ..."

Robson paused, just for a beat.

"Chih ..."

It's pronounced "Chee," and here Robson's pitch rose:

"Bing!"

Then descended.

"Lam."

If you're scoring at home, it was another flawless delivery from the ruddy-faced Robson on a day full of them. Prayad Marksaeng? Nailed it. Lucas Bjerregaard? Piece of cake. Tadahiro Takayama, Tetsuji Hiratsuka and Neil Schietekat? Check. Check. And check, mate.

"When I started in 1975," Robson told me recently, "we used to have golf ball reps on the tee, and one of them said to me, 'I don't know how long you're going to be doing this job, but could I give you a bit of advice?' He told me, 'At the very least sound convincing.'

"And he was right," Robson said, laughing.

After 37 years as the official Open announcer, Robson, 64, doesn't just sound convincing, with his authoritative, no-nonsense deliveries and melodic Scottish lilt. He looks the part, too, always nattily clad in a jacket and tie, with an admirable head of neatly parted white hair. The man brings gravitas to a post that he believes warrants it.

"It's not a job you can just take for granted," he says. "You've got to treat it with a lot of respect. You've got to understand that you're in the public eye. You can't go out on the town the evening before and just show up in the morning."

Any other advice for aspiring announcers? Four words, Robson says: get to the point.

"The players don't want to know if this player or that player has won 100 tournaments," he says. "They want to get on the tee, announced and off the tee. Keep it simple. And get it right."

That last part isn't always so easy. One year at the Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews — Robson announces many European Tour events, not just the Open — he was confronted with a player named Peter Akakasiaka.

"When I saw that name on the program, I thought 'Oh my God, what is going on here?'" Robson says. "The press was taking bets that I would get this really screwed up.

"So I said to Peter, 'How do I do this?' And he said, 'It's dead simple — it's Ak-aka-siaka.' And I thought, 'Yes, when you do it like, it's very easy!'"

Naturally, Robson stuck it.

Another would-be train wreck came at last year's Open in the form of Louis Oosthuizen. While the media repeatedly mangled Oosthuizen's name — it's Oost-HAY-zen — Robson didn't sweat it.

"There was another Oosthuizen on the tour in the late '70s and '80s — Andres Oosthuizen — so I knew the name," Robson says.

Experience pays, and so does having a front-row seat to one of golf's tensest stages. Robson has seen some stuff: rookies gripping their drivers so tightly that he could see the whites of their knuckles; veterans whose hands were quivering so violently that they had trouble teeing up their balls; Tom Lehman topping his opening tee shot in his first Open, right here at Royal St. George's, back in 1993.

"I don't know what he was thinking about," Robson says. "It went about 20 or 30 yards."

Another difficult moment came at the 1989 Open at Royal Troon, when Tom Weiskopf stepped to the tee.

"He shook hands with me and said this was his final game, that he was retiring from competitive golf," Robson says. "Then he topped his drive into a bush. I'll tell you why. He was so emotional, his eyes were full of tears.

"I don't want to see that, nobody does. And I probably felt more upset than anyone because I regard all players as my friends, you know."

The feeling is mutual. Just ask any of the pros who have played in the Opens or Ryder Cups or any of the other events at which Robson has dutifully manned his post. Which makes the prospect of an Open without Robson a dismal thought indeed.

"Oh, no, no," he says, quickly deflecting his rightful place in Open lore. "Seven days after I've gone, they'll say, 'Who was that gray-haired old man who used to announce the players?'"

The answer, of course, is Ivor Robson.

That's EYE-ver ROB-son.

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