Now on the tee, from Lancashire, England, David Lancaster, the new official starter at the British Open. He assumes the post relinquished by Ivor Robson, an iconic figure whose sing-song voice rang out at the event for the last 41 years. With the changing of the guard, the task of player introductions falls to a 59-year-old golf enthusiast who doesn’t have much time for golf these days, busy as he is running a company that helps corporate executives hone their public speaking skills. And now comes this, a different kind of speaking gig. Unlike Robson, who worked alone, Lancaster will have backup in the form of Matt Corker, a colleague from the corporate speaking world. But he still faces long hours, and a lot of funny-sounding names. With the Open fast approaching at Royal Troon, Golf.com rang up Lancaster to ask about the requisites of his new role, how he plans to pronounce “Joost Luiten,” and whether he intends to mimic his predecessor’s habit of working all day without a bathroom break.
First off, congratulations on your new job.
Thank you. It’s an honor and privilege. And I mean both of those words.
How does someone land a gig like this? Did you go knocking at the R&A’s door?
No. I didn’t pursue them at all. I run a company called Presentation Techniques Limited, based in the UK. I’ve run it for 26 years. We go all over the world supplying presentation training and advice at the top end of the market. I got a referral from a client to the R&A and worked with some of the people who run (the Open). About three months later, I got a call. They said, Rather than just training the guy that we appoint, would you be interested in taking on the role? I said, God yeah.
How do you think this work will compare to corporate speaking?
I think it will be more fun. Above all this is a sporting event, and although it’s one of the world’s premier sporting events and it’s very serious competition, it’s also entertainment. In my corporate world, you can have some fun, but the clients I work with at the top end of the market are trying to make profits for shareholders, so it gets very serious. A lot more serious than this, which is, after all, sport.
You’ll be replacing Ivor Robson, who is pretty much an Open legend. Have you had a chance to talk to him about the job?
Not yet. But that’s one of the calls I plan to make this afternoon just to chat through a few things.
Are you going to ask for advice?
Nothing that I’ll share. But I’ll be talking to someone who did the job for 41 years. People learn things in that time. Only an idiot wouldn’t try to tap him for some information. Maybe there are a couple of pronunciations that he’s gotten his tongue around. Or maybe he has some inside information for the new guy that he wouldn’t share with the world.
Among other things, Robson was known for not drinking liquids and not taking bathroom breaks. But you’re going to have a stand-in named Matt Corker. What, exactly, will his role be?
We actually spoke about that this morning, and the short answer is, we don’t know. I am the official starter. I originally said that I would do it on my own, but then I thought, no, that’s not the best way for me to do it. If the starter is ill, there’s no cover. Ivor didn’t feel he could leave his post, and fair enough. That’s how he wanted to do it. But I don’t think it’s wise to spend 14 hours without a break and not drinking to lubricate your vocal chords. So I told the R&A that I was going to bring a relief starter in every sense of the word. There won’t be a timetable. He’ll be standby. I’ll just say, I need a break. Take over for me. And Matt will be capable of jumping in when necessary.
Your predecessor also had a very distinctive delivery. Will you be trying to replicate that?
No. We’ll do it our way. Matt and I are supposedly professionals in the field of public presentations and in teaching others. Ivor’s voice was unique, and we’re certainly not going to attempt to emulate it. I’ll do it my way. If people say it’s different, well, fine, whatever.
In the meantime, are there any pronunciations that are keeping you up at night?
There are several wonderful gentleman who have difficult names to pronounce. I’m not going to reveal who they are. I think anyone would know. We are lucky in that Matt speaks Mandarin, so with some of the Chinese, Japanese and Korean contingent, it will be easier to get a handle on the pronunciations. We’re doing our research. We’ll also be talking to the players directly and asking them how they want their name pronounced, because at the end of the day, that’s courtesy.
Ok, how are you going to pronounce this one: J-O-O-S-T L-U-I-T-E-N?
Sorry. Say that again?
Ah. That’s Yost LAU-ten.
What about J-A-C-K-O V-A-N Z-Y-L?
Oh. The South African. Yocko van Zill. What is this, a spelling test for you, or a quiz for me?
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A bit of both, actually.
I can see the article now. “I’ve tested David on his pronunciations and I’ve given him an 8 out of 10.”
Getting the names right. That’s job number one. But so is keeping it simple, no? That’s the approach Robson seemed to take.
Absolutely. And he’s bang on there. The starter is unique to golf. No other sport needs it. It’s a ceremonial duty, and it’s part of the show. But it’s not the show. The show is the golfer on the tee. It’s not about the starter. It’s about the championship itself.
So the idea is almost not to be noticed?
The goal is to maintain the flow, to keep it moving. People there are not interested in listening to the starter. I’ve been to the event. My feeling is, get on with it. I know it’s Tiger Woods on the tee. He’s the one I want to see. So if I feel that way, other people do. Ivor had it right . Keep it short. Keep it simple.
Even so, do you think you’ll have first tee jitters?
Yes. I will be nervous. And if I’m not nervous, then I will panic. Because if you are going to do any presenting or announcing job and you’re not nervous, you’re not ready. That’s one of the key things I’ve learned as a professional presenter. Nerves are crucial. It’s what you do with them that matter.
Just in case, are you going to do any kind of dress rehearsal prior to the Open?
No. We’re going cold turkey. At 6:30 on Thursday morning, when I stand on the tee, I will be doing it for the first time ever.