(This is the first part of a series of web posts about golfers’ entry into the game and their journeys within it)
Part 1. George the Sports Geek and My Start Into the Game
The funniest and smartest guy in Atlanta radio twenty years ago hardly ever got any airtime. It always puzzled me why the station management would never give the guy a real chance. This was when I was in my early twenties and couldn’t understand the petty jealousies and immature competitiveness that existed in broadcasting. Or any business, sadly, for that matter. But my good buddy George, or “George the Sports Geek” as he was known then, could mix in one-liners with the best opinions on just about any sport.
He was a natural. A virtuoso. Our old boss used to say, “With a mouth like that, I can’t believe you still have all of your teeth.” College football was his specialty, although that’s not really fair because he went to the University of Alabama, so it was basically like a backwoods preacher talking about the scripture. When he got on a roll, his sermon wasn’t over until the snakes were back in the box.
Wait, wait. I know what you’re thinking. No, this isn’t a eulogy, because George the Sports Geek (GTSG) is doing just fine down in Palm Beach these days living the dream. Well, not exactly every man’s dream, but every grandmother’s dream for their granddaughters: he married a doctor. Okay, that was a cheap shot because while GTSG is in fact married to an OB-GYN, he also has a very successful real estate business down there too. And he plays a lot of golf. A lot. As in “100 rounds a year” a lot.
When he got on a roll, his sermon wasn’t over until the snakes were back in the box.
Twenty years later, GTSG is still my good friend. Though I don’t talk to him as often as I’d like since he’s three time zones over and we both have careers, family, etc, he’s always good for the most fun 20 minute phone call you can have. (Remind me if you ever see me to retell GTSG’s story about buying his champion Labrador from a billionaire dog breeder. It’s wet-your-pants funny.)
And GTSG has an even more significant place in my life than he even could appreciate (though he’d definitely have a good zinger about it) because he’s the guy who truly brought me into the game of golf.
GTSG was and is an excellent golfer. He actually went to the U of Alabama to play golf, but ended up majoring in beer and social life. Come to think of it, that might have actually been a double major for him. And he would have been Phi Beta Effing Kappa, no doubt.
So his golf career kind of started and ended with a missed tee time in a Saturday team qualifier his freshman year. One strike and you’re out. Team rules. (Incidentally, when you’re the golf coach at the University of Alabama, how can you schedule a qualifier at 10am on the same day Bama is playing Penn State? GTSG had a valid point in the eyes of millions of SEC football fanatics. Just not valid to one very important, and decisive college golf coach.)
He actually went to the U of Alabama to play golf, but ended up majoring in beer and social life.
After several post-Bama years, GTSG ended up working at Sportsradio 680 The Fan in Atlanta (Atlanta’s first full sports radio station). And so did I, right after college. We were part of the first team there to get the all-sports format up and running in 1992.
And as the results of a conspiracy of the golf gods, we ended up working as co-producers of the same morning show and sitting behind the glass from 4am until 10am every day, Monday through Saturday. And then some awful weekend shift too. GTSG would usually take a college football show, and I would usually take one of the general sports talk shifts. Good times. That’s where I first got addicted to coffee, but that’s another story too.
I would also say without any hesitation that had the station management ever just put a live microphone back behind the glass and let GTSG and I have our own show, we would have been the best things in radio. Seriously. The “air talent” guys back then were horrible and couldn’t understand why two young guys behind the glass were laughing hysterically while they were talking about something incredibly boring and uninteresting like whether Bobby Hebert should replace Jeff George as QB for the miserable Falcons. (Of course he should have. Jeff George is one of the most gutless QBs in the history of the NFL. All Hebert had were guts, guile, and a healthy dose of Cajunism. I digress).
We’d talk about Jerry Glanville’s “Run and Shoot” offense. Or as GTSG said, “that’s the offense where you throw it a little, run it a little, and punt A LOT.” Hilarious. We’d talk about Mark Lemke’s scrappiness and intangibles. “I’m not sure this guy could start for a high school baseball team…well maybe a small, private school he could…if his dad was coach…and his mom was principal…and his grandfather was the largest donor…”
We’d also talk a lot about college football, but mostly I would just listen to GTSG break down every SEC team and their co-eds. “The greatest coaching job anybody ever does is at Mississippi State. If they win one game it’s a miracle. Just go walk on that campus and if you can get one decent recruit who cares anything about nightlife and dating to sign to go there, they should immediately put you in the Hall of Fame.” Classic GTSG.
We’d talk about Jerry Glanville’s “Run and Shoot” offense. Or as GTSG said, “that’s the offense where you throw it a little, run it a little, and punt A LOT.”
And we would talk about golf. A lot about golf. GTSG’s idol was The Golden Bear. He grew up in North Palm Beach with Jack’s kids. So the Bear walked on water. And since the Bear was also my golf idol, that was common ground.
But I wasn’t a player, really. I had only played occasionally growing up, even though I had an uncle who was a PGA club professional and both grandfathers were avid golfers. My uncles used to drive down from Columbus, GA (AFLAC!) to the PGA Merchandise show every year and I have memories of them talking about it with us, but I really had no immediate interest in the game.
And since the Bear was also my golf idol, that was common ground.
The playing bug never quite bit me as a kid other than trying to hit my uncles’ whiffle practice balls over my grandparents’ house. And golf was definitely not a cool sport to play when I was growing up. It was for country club snobs and kids who couldn’t really play any other sports. This snide opinion coming from a guy, me, who played another lunatic fringe sport competitively growing up—soccer. So golf was really some strange, esoteric thing.
But somehow GTSG made playing the game sound fun and cool. We’d talk about the guys on Tour, his background playing competitive junior golf, the characters he grew up with, the cool places and courses, and some equipment stuff. We’d talk about the guy he knew who drunkenly commandeered a golf cart at the 1987 Ryder Cup and ended up leaving it in a ditch. About the guy he knew who was so upset at his poor putting that he dragged his putter on the ground behind a station wagon the entire drive back from a junior golf tournament.
And so I decided to maybe give the game a try. I mean, I had entire afternoons free and could easily get in a nap before going to Fulton County Stadium or the Omni to cover that night’s game. (“Cover the game” was sports talk producer lingo for using our media pass to sit courtside or in the press box, have a few drinks, and then go get some interviews after the game. It wudn’t no rocket surgery). I was intrigued by being outside carrying my bag and meandering through the tree lined fairways. Something was remarkably rustic and romantic about that, but sporting at the same time.
I didn’t have incredibly high expectations for playing golf, and it had been years since I had set foot on a golf course, so I was definitely a little out of my element.
I was intrigued by being outside carrying my bag and meandering through the tree lined fairways. Something was remarkably rustic and romantic about that, but sporting at the same time.
I didn’t even own a pair of golf shoes or any golf equipment at all. No problem, GTSG would show me the ropes…