Perhaps the most amazing connection to the history of The Masters, legendary journalist and broadcaster John Derr, joined an already stellar list of guests on “Golf Connections with Mitch Laurance” as ‘A Month of Masters’, presented by East Coast Golf Management and in association with the Myrtle Beach Golf App and BogeyTeesOff.com, continues on TheGolfDirector.com.
Mitch begins the show by thanking Billy Mac, as always this month, for his beautiful “Augusta, Sweet Augusta”, as well as ‘Fairways of Life’ PGA Tour Radio host Matt Adams, who first made Mitch aware of John Derr on his great radio show, and Tom Stewart of the Old Sport Gallery in Pinehurst, NC, good friend of John’s who facilitated his appearance on “Golf Connections”. Mitch then introduces John to the listeners, mentioning not only a stunning bio of the 96-year old legend, but some of his accomplishments and mind-boggling relationships over the course of his career, all to be found in John’s wonderful book, “My Place at the Table”, available at JohnDerrSports.com. A short list of John’s chapters in the book follows, illustrating his connections to a who’s-who of culture and sports history in the 20th century. Bobby Jones, Clifford Roberts, Mahatma Gandhi, Babe Ruth, Gen. Eisenhower, Grace Kelly, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Bing Crosby and more are but a fraction of the list of people with whom John spent time along the way.
Mitch notes that John’s career of over 70 years led to induction into 4 Halls of Fame, and to receiving the Masters Major Achievement Award in 2007, for covering the Masters for 62 years. Mitch welcomes John to the show.
Mitch begins the conversation by asking John to talk about his life in western NC growing up on a farm. John recounts that life, and the 2 hole golf course his father built for him. Hear why golf was the biggest part of a young John Derr life, what drew him to the game at such a young age, and how his involvement in covering all sports for the local newspaper prepared him for the next phase in his career. Mitch asks John to detail how covering the Duke-Georgia Tech football game at age 17 changed his life, and John’s telling of how he found himself sitting next to O.B.Keeler, who was Bobby Jones’ most famous journalistic follower, and the events that followed are truly fascinating. Listen as John talks about Mr. Keeler inviting him to ‘a little tournament that Mr. Jones had in Augusta, GA’ in 1935, then in its second year, an event that would become the Masters. John details his trip to Augusta in the spring of ’35, and how the first person he saw there was Mr. Keeler, who then took John immediately to meet Bobby Jones, who in turn introduced John to the greatest sportswriters of the day, including Grantland Rice and Damon Runyon. At age 17, John Derr had already begun a journey that would lead him around the world, and to hear his clear-as-day description of the events leading up to the 1935 Masters is stunning.
Mitch then asks John to relate to the listeners the incredible relationship John had with Bobby Jones from that time on, and John tells us all about the privilege of acting as Mr. Jones’ strong body, assisting the great man at both the funeral of Grantland Rice, as a pallbearer, and when Mr. Jones was presented with a painting in his later years, at the Golf House in Augusta, that was done by Gen. Eisenhower. Mitch asks John to linger on 1935 for a bit, and does he ever. Find out where John was when Gene Sarazen hit ‘the shot heard ’round the world’ (“that shot made history”) on Masters Sunday, what playing partner Walter Hagen said to Mr. Sarazen right before the shot (it will make you laugh, guaranteed!), how the press assembled reacted to what they thought was a mistaken piece of information about Sarazen’s shot, the true story of how many people actually saw the shot, and how that Masters would set the tone for the success that followed.
Mitch then asks John to discuss his relationship with Clifford Roberst, co-founder of Augusta National and Masters. John’s detailed account of the years spent in Mr. Roberts’ company during Masters week, and why he felt differently than most people about the type of man Mr. Roberts was. John talks about many of the rounds he played with Mr. Roberts, why John only got to play the short course a few times, and about a visit Mr. Roberts paid to John at an event in Jamaica that will make you smile. He then tells a remarkable story about the 15th hole at Augusta, a hole that John had covered in the tower for 20 years for CBS, and a time that he and Mr. Roberts played there. You won’t want to miss an incredible piece of Augusta history about how Mr. Roberts came to have his ashes spread in the pond at #15. History that only someone like John Derr can possibly recount. Mitch asks John to detail the atmosphere of The Masters in the years before TV coverage started in 1956, and John mentions the reasons why he believes the event grew to such an incredible sporting event. Hear what those 3 reasons are, how Gene Sarazen, Gen. Eisenhower and Arnold Palmer are connected to that story.
Mitch then asks John about his part in negotiating the rights for CBS to broadcast the Masters. This is truly a story that only John can tell, since he was instrumental in acquiring the rights for CBS. Find out the intriguing story of how NBC and CBS were vying for the rights, and how a classic mistake led to decades of CBS success in covering the Masters. John then proceeds to talk about that first telecast in 1956, about his part in covering the event from the tower on #15 and hosting the interviews in Butler Cabin at the end of the final round. John’s retelling of his time on both fronts, and of sitting with Bob Jones in the cabin and the introductions of the champions is heartfelt and warm. Mitch also asks John to tell listeners about how the 1956 Masters was a truly unique situation in terms of Gen. Eisenhower. Find out what event caused John to be one of the few people to ‘walk out on the President’ and to ever leave Gen. Eisenhower after playing only 9 holes with him on Tuesday after the Masters. John also recounts what it was like to play golf with Bob Jones, on the day that Mr. Jones broke par for the last time, at East Lake in Atlanta, and what was so special about Mr. Jones game. With clarity and warmth, John talks about that once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Mitch closes this wonderful interview by thanking John for his time and memories, and reminds people again to buy “My Place at the Table” through JohnDerrSports.com, a truly worthwhile read, and that “Golf Connections” is produced and broadcast by the Zeus Radio Network for TheGolfDirector.com.