The spring flower of the new baseball season is the arrival of box scores in the back pages of the daily sports section, at least for those of us still wedded to newsprint and the national pastime. The spring flower of the PGA Tour also comes from a newspaper: the arrival of David Westin of The Augusta Chronicle, accompanied by a sidekick, for back-to-back Florida tournaments, gathering string for scores of Masters-week stories. Nick Price once greeted Westin with this: "Here he is -- the face of spring." Which is funny, because Westin's newsroom nickname is The Ghost.
Last week Westin -- along with Scott Michaux, a Chronicle sports columnist -- tilled the soil at the PODS Championship. This week they'll be cornering players at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. They leave no stone unturned. Each man is assigned to write 15 stories for a blowout preview issue the Chronicle runs on the Sunday before the Masters. Michaux gets one Augusta homeboy, Charles Howell. Westin gets the other one, Vaughn Taylor. For the other players, they have a draft, although it's rigged: Westin always gets Vijay Singh because Singh will talk to him. While reporting their stories for the preview issue, Westin and Michaux also fill their notebooks with background for the four stories they'll file every day during Masters week.
Plus, they cover the two Florida tournaments they attend. To keep costs down, they share a $99-a-night hotel room, travel together in one car and often eat dinner at a nearby Cracker Barrel. Their ultimate boss, Billy Morris, owner and publisher of the Chronicle, is an Augusta National member who frequently drives players from the 18th green to the press room during Masters week. The two reporters know their stuff is being read closely on high.
"When I get back, somebody always says, 'Two weeks in Florida on the company dime -- must be nice,'" Westin says. Actually, it is. The job the two reporters do is not pulling teeth. Players like talking about the Masters.
Michaux worked for a Greensboro, N.C., paper before he moved to the Chronicle. During his Carolina days he'd go to the Players Championship and try to get players to talk about the upcoming Greensboro Tour event. "They'd be like, 'I'm trying to play in this thing,'" Michaux says. But he once got Tiger Woods all to himself for 35 minutes simply by walking up to him and asking him ... Augusta questions.
The Ghost has been making a spring training trip to the Sunshine State every year since 1986, a long enough run that he remembers a traveling partner from the early days who insisted on transcribing notes on a typewriter, early in the morning, in that small, shared hotel room. He's happy that has changed, but it's one of the few things that has. He's not trying to solve the mystery of life with his questions. Last week he was reporting a story about what it's like to play in the first group off on Sunday morning. Guys were happy to talk, even if they were remembering a last-place finish. It was David Westin, in Florida, talking about Augusta. Spring had arrived.