Thursday, February 15, 2007

I daresay that many of you take the photographic images that appear on the pages of this glorious publication for granted, but I, for one, spend far too much time in the company of the men and women who create them to do so. Our still photographers have to perform their tricks from within an arm's length of the ropes, oftentimes with a brain-dead announcer between them and their subject, and, believe it—folks like me make a far better door than a window.

But the greatest challenge for any still photographer is not photographing Vijay Singh and Billy Mayfair together, as you might suspect. No, it is a great deal more difficult for most of them to make it around 18 holes without strangling a marshal. While the majority of marshals have enough initiative to realize that these people need to be allowed to work, there is always—and I mean always—one goosestepper who wants to enforce the arm's length rule by the book, whether it is necessary or not.

On many occasions I have jumped to the rescue of the photographer on such an occasion, most recently at last year's PGA Championship at Medinah, where the brilliant Jim Gund, who is responsible for many of the great photos you see in the weekly Sports Exaggerated, was being accosted by a marshal. Jimmy had committed the cardinal sin of being 50 yards from the action, behind a tree, but about 15 feet from the ropes up by the 10th green, a corner of the course where there was no spectator access. He was manhandled by a marshal, who informed him in a voice that disturbed the players, that he was disturbing the players. Jim, who like most of us, has a mild aversion to being prodded by dolts, told the man, as far as I can remember, "I hope you like sewing, because if you don't take your hands off me, I'm going to give you something to stitch."

Call me old-fashioned, but I sensed that there might be a monopodectomy in this man's imminent future, so I stepped in to assure him that Mr. Gund was in perfect position as usual, and posing no threat to either players or spectators, and, therefore, common sense should prevail and he should be left alone to go about his business.

Okay, that was a crock. But it was what I meant when I told him that if he didn't keep his voice down, he could add my microphone and probably Steve Pate's putter to the list of things he would shortly be having surgically removed from his personal self at Chicago let's Hope not. That was when he informed me that he was a Medinah member and they never wanted any of us here in the first place, although, in fairness I have to say that he was the only Medinah member who gave us that impression all week.

This kind of thing is all in a day's work, however, for our happy snappers out there on the PGA Tour, and it brings me to my favorite lensman of all time, who handled these situations better, and with more humor, than anyone else.

Virtually anyone who has been interested in golf over the last 25 years has seen the photographs of Lawrence Levy, who died of cancer six years ago next month. This is really a tale of a photographer and his friend, because Lawrence was seldom seen without Howard Baws by his side. Together, these two idiots traveled the world for years, with Lawrence splitting his time between taking pictures and working with various children's charities, and Howard splitting his time between cooking in boxer shorts and finding creative ways to look busy while doing absolutely nothing. Lawrence and Howie were a perfect example of what happens when independently wealthy meets certifiably insane. This was a strange chemical reaction.

They were great friends of Laura and Greg Norman, loved by Payne Stewart and many other players, and there is not a photographer who was out there with them that does not have a story to tell.

Sadly, Lawrence did not get to grow old, but it's a blessing to all of us who knew him that he didn't get to grow up either. Photographers carry a lot of very valuable equipment, and frequently rely on their colleagues to guard their gear. One of Lawrence's favorite tricks was to take an occasional photograph with his friends' gear. Unfortunately for those friends, the subject of these photographs was invariably the dangly bits of one Howard Baws. Over the years, Lawrence's work in this area was prolific and led to the naming of Howard's privates.

"Little Milton" made many a surprise appearance and Howie claims that whenever he was presented with one of these images, he could always tell how old he was at the time simply by counting the rings, rather like a tree. Lawrence felt that no human had that kind of eyesight.

The most unfortunate recipient of one of these gifts was Dave Cannon of Allsport, who, after landing his first contract to work for an American golf magazine, was excited, to say the least. His first submission was a rush job, and he had no time to check his work. Fortunately the boys on the cutting room floor were already familiar with Lawrence's work, and no harm was done.

My favorite tale of these two took place in southern Spain, where, at a European Tour event, they shared a room at a beachfront hotel. It was very early one morning when Howard, who is an occasional sleepwalker and a frightening sight when naked, got up, still fast asleep, and decided that the balcony was as good a place as any to relieve himself.

As fate would have it, upon this particular morning, a large family of German tourists was having breakfast at a big circular table on the pool deck below. There were kids, a Chihuahua named Fritz, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles—the lot. About 12 of them in all, and none of them were over the moon when it became apparent that H. Baws, Esq., was raining on their parade.

Of course, Howie was totally oblivious, and seconds later he was back in bed, snoring like a water buffalo. In a few moments, a loud hammering on the door awakened Lawrence and when he opened up, he had no idea what the hotel manager was yelling about.

Naturally, Howard was horrified when he learned what he had done, and being a man of great character, he wanted to make amends, so he immediately jumped into the shower, got dressed, and rushed downstairs to apologize, pausing only to pick up a couple of bottles of Dom Perignon on the way. The family by this time had been relocated in the conservatory, where they sat, in a state of shock, on large wicker sofas. Howie strode up to manfully face the music, apologizing profusely, and offering the champagne as a token of his sincerity.

The atmosphere softened a little after the first pop of the cork, and everything looked as if it were going to turn out swimmingly, until Howie, who wears a size XXL, sat down heavily beside the grandmother, killing Fritz the Chihuahua instantly.

Needless to say, the fizz immediately went out of the champagne breakfast. But the bubbles never seemed to leave Lawrence and Howie. They were inseparable mates, Lawrence working the cameras and Howie working the clubhouses and hospitality tents, continually showing up in places where he had no right to be. Lawrence died in Howard's arms, but only after Lawrence played his last and greatest practical joke. Knowing full well that Howard had never done a day's work in his life, Lawrence asked Howard to take charge of his beloved charity outing, a once-a-year vacation for about 30 children suffering from cystic fibrosis. Howard has taken up the slack, safe in the knowledge that somewhere Lawrence is still laughing at him.

Lawrence and Howie represented the best about those of us who cover golf for a living, and we wouldn't have had them any other way. After all, we're just a bunch of vagabonds who bring you words and pictures. We just dress a little better than your average hobo, that's all. All of us except Howard, that is.

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