‘A Month of Masters’, presented by East Coast Golf Management, continues on Golf Connections, as host Mitch Laurance welcomes the legendary broadcaster Ben Wright, Golf Connections’ inaugural guest, to the show for a second appearance, and as the second guest on ‘A Month of Masters’ leading up to The Masters in April.
Mitch begins the show thanking Billy Mac once again for leading us off with “Augusta, Sweet Augusta” from his ‘Tee It Up’ CD, and welcomes Ben to the show, citing his 27 years of covering The Masters for CBS and other outlets, and his amazing body of work through a decades-long and brilliant career. Before getting to the conversation about Augusta and the event for which we all wait, Mitch connects Ben’s history as a Russian interpreter for the British Army to the just-concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi. Listen as Ben, unique as ever, gives us an insight into his history and teaches us all the correct pronunciation of ‘Sochi’. Wonderful beginning to the show.
Mitch then asks Ben to share two of the stories about his relationship with the man that jumps out relative to The Masters and to Augusta National above all others, Mr. Bob Jones. Ben says that he ‘has goose bumps’ already just thinking about it, and you will, too, as he recounts being witness to a true classic moment in history, the day that Mr. Jones received the Freedom of St. Andrews medal in 1958. His retelling of the scene and reaction is told with the clarity and detail that can come only from Ben Wright. Ben then tells of his last meeting with Mr. Jones, after years of letter correspondence, at Mr. Jones’ cabin at Augusta National, as the great man lay on his deathbed in 1971. The conversation between the two men, which focused on a subject still controversial today, pace of play, reflects Mr. Jones inner moral quality and concerns at an amazing time in his life, and to hear Ben’s reaction to the memory of his time with him is nothing short of emotional and dramatic.
Mitch then moves to Ben’s incredible career covering The Masters, and Ben details his journey from newspaper correspondent to the towers at Augusta, beginning in 1967 . Ben speaks of his first trip to The Masters during those years, from the first year he was flown over to Augusta for The Financial Times newspaper, and the heady atmosphere of his trip, to his first assignment on the 14th hole tower for CBS in 1973. Saying he was “in awe” of the event at that time, he then details an amazing first year for TV, and we get an inside glimpse of what happened behind the scenes. Ben talks about the Saturday coverage that produced cold temperatures and rain delays, and his first-ever experience inside Butler cabin when whisked away and called upon to interview Peter Oosterhuis, who was leading the tournament when it was delayed. His subsequent interview of 27 minutes cemented his position, and we learn of Clifford Roberts’ proclamation regarding Ben that forever changed the importance of his position on the broadcast team. It’s an amazing inside story of the beginning of Ben’s work at Augusta, which led to his being assigned the 15th hole, a position he held until 1996.
Mitch then asks Ben about 1974 and Gary Player’s second Masters’ victory. Ben details the atmosphere prevalent at the time, and through his stories about Lee Elder, the first African-American golfer to play in The Masters, and Gary Player’s participation, we get a glimpse of the historic context of the world at the time. Ben talks of his long friendship with Gary Player, beginning in 1959 at the Open Championship, and his recounting of an incredible story relating to Mr. Player’s victory at that event is the kind of story that will have you laughing and shaking your head. Ben also discusses Mr. Player’s Masters history, and reminds us all of the great contribution to the international game that he has made.
Mitch then asks Ben about some of the iconic moments he’s covered at Augusta, and Ben’s detailing of the 1975 Masters win by Jack Nicklaus, in a battle with Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller, which he calls the second best he’s ever covered after Mr. Nicklaus’ 1986 win, is fantastic. Saying that long-time producer Frank Chirkinian called the exchanges between legendary commentator Henry Longhurst at Hole 16, and Ben at 15 in 1975 “the greatest commentary he’d heard in the game of golf”, Ben admits that 1975 was the year he realized that The Masters was the greatest golf event on the planet, even more than his beloved Open Championship. Wow.
Mitch then connects Ben with another seminal year at Augusta, 1980, in which Seve Ballesteros became the first European to win at Augusta. It’s here that Ben’s insights and history with the game’s greatest players really shines, from his writing a story on the young Seve for Sports Illustrated, and his description of the poverty from which Seve had come to a one-of-a- kind story about a bet he made with Seve’s brother Manuel, and the subsequent match Ben had with Seve in which Seve beat Ben over 9 holes, ON HIS KNEES. It is truly mind-boggling. He talks of Seve’s 15th hole at the Masters on Sunday, a pivotal hole in the run to the title, and again we’re treated to an inside look at one of the event’s amazing history.
Ben then details, on Mitch’s prompting, how the course of Masters’ history truly was changed for the Europeans and the world of golf with Seve’s victory. His detailing of how Seve came to play again in 1983, and the inside battle regarding Seve, Tony Jacklin, European and PGA of America, and the Ryder Cup is another insightful one that lends historic background to the event. Seve’s 2nd win in 1983 propelled European golfers to begin a new assault on The Masters, and Ben was of course witness to it all.
Finally, Ben details what he calls ‘the high point of my 27 years at The Masters’, the 1986 Masters. In a vivid retelling of the final Sunday on the 15th hole, Ben tells us how he went from doubting Nicklaus’ chances to fully grasping the historic nature the eagle at 15 (describing how loud the roar was in brilliant detail) and his birdie at 16. Mitch asks about how Ben watched the end of the ’86 event, and Ben describes how he went on a mad dash in a golf cart (“driving like hell to the CBS compound”), and how the memory still is as thrilling now as it was then (“I shed some tears when Jack won that Green Jacket”).
Mitch closes the interview with a sincere thanks to Ben for once again connecting us all to the history of The Masters , and reminds us that ‘A Month of Masters’ continues on Golf Connections, leading up to April in Augusta.
Golf Connections is produced and broadcast by the Zeus Radio network for TheGolfDirector.com.