Once, before the advent of Golf Channel and golfblogger.com and the PGA Tour Network’s Satellite Radio XM 146 — are you dizzy yet? — there were men, and a few women, who walked the course, talked to the players and wrote up what they heard, smelled, felt and saw. You’d read about a golfer with grass stains on his trousers while you got ink stains on your fingers. The reports, the good ones, left a golf deposit in you. All over the country, there were folks typing golf (among many other things): Art Spander in San Francisco, Furman Bisher in Atlanta, Dave Anderson in New York, for the Times.
It’s hard to imagine a more unassuming Times man. The new golf year will begin without him. He has no rite-of-spring Masters trip planned, for now. After more than a half century as a newspaperman, Anderson, 78, has “retired,” although his retirement will include 18 columns a year. He really should get a new agent.
Anderson and Arnold Palmer were both members of the birthclass of ’29, both solid to their core, and both with a knack for saying something memorable by saying something true. At Augusta National, and nowhere else, there are no inside-the-ropes armbands for reporters. Some years ago, when an old Augusta National member asked Anderson what he thought of the new, gleaming press building, Anderson said, “I’d trade the whole thing for an armband.”
At the ’93 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, Tom Watson got himself in contention on Saturday. A bunch of writers waited for Watson off the 18th green, Marriott pens in hand, on deadline. Steve Melnyk, working for ABC, cordoned off Watson. He was waiting for his earpiece to tell him what to do. A couple of scribes called for Watson.
“Do you mind, guys?” Melnyk said. “I’m live.”
“Steve,” Anderson said, “we’re live, too.”
Anderson covered everything and everybody. The best interview of them all? “Nicklaus, oh, yeah,” Anderson said recently. “Jack answers in paragraphs, and he doesn’t care if you’re from The New York Times or SI or Dubuque.” Not long ago Anderson asked Nicklaus about changes to Augusta National. Nicklaus started going through the card, hole by hole. When he got to the 7th, Anderson made a reference to the 10th. Nicklaus said, “Hold it — I haven’t finished number 7 yet.”
In ’76, on the Monday after the first playing of the Memorial, Anderson played Muirfield Village on a press day. He hit his Sunday best off the 1st, 225 and straight. Nicklaus happened to be watching.
“He not only can write,” Nicklaus said, “he can play.”
Anderson was telling that story the other night. He was at home in New Jersey, his wife of 54 years, Maureen, waiting on him for a date. They have four children. Steve is an executive at ESPN; Mark is a high school teacher and an artist; Jo is an actress; Jean Marie is a producer for Golf Channel. Dave Anderson is a third-generation newspaperman, but the streak is over. Still, between the columns and the kids, a nice legacy.
The Nicklaus comment, it’s something. Jack was never a glad-hander. “That’s one you can take to the bank,” somebody said.
The old columnist had a correction.
“That’s one,” he said, “you can take to the grave.”