Twenty-five years ago I had the honour to call one of the greatest moments in sport.
“There’s a new day about to dawn at the most magical setting in golf.”That day was Sunday, April 13, 1997, when Tiger Woods changed the game of golf forever. For the hundreds of us at CBS who had the honour of broadcasting the tournament, it was the biggest assignment of our careers.
“A place where legends are made, where dreams have been realised…” These were my words for the opening of the show, known in TV parlance as a “tease”. I narrated the script against the grand yet reflective musical strains of “The World of the Heart”, the title track of the movie “DragonHeart”. It replaced another tease we had in the can for Sunday. Producer Chris Svendsen and I had dubbed it “Triumph and Tragedy”, and it outlined the many heartbreaking losses at the Masters, like Greg Norman’s the previous year. But after the third round in 1997, we decided to ditch that concept. “Svennie” disappeared into the CBS compound and emerged at 4am with his show-opening masterpiece.
“Men like Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead…”Perspective was an important part of our storytelling that week. On Friday, when Tiger holed an eagle putt at the par-5 13th hole, I said, “Let the record show, a little after 5:30 on this Friday, April the 11th, Tiger takes the lead for the first time ever at the Masters.” I just had a feeling the moment should be marked.
“Where Arnold Palmer stepped into the world to embrace his army…”I arrived in Augusta after a thrilling Monday night NCAA men’s basketball national championship game in Indianapolis, where Arizona had upset Kentucky in overtime. My vocal cords were raspy and stretched from trying to cut through crowd noise. A few days later, after inhaling a high dose of the spring pollen, my voice was shot. A visit to the doctor and a steroid shot in my backside restored my voice for the weekend.
“Where in 1965 Jack Nicklaus’ performance was so singular, he won by nine…”By Saturday night Tiger had a nine-shot lead. From the Augusta home of Frank and Eleanor Barbee that CBS had rented for my colleagues Tom Spencer, Brandt Packer and me, we sat around the kitchen table discussing storylines to be told the next day.
“In 1976, Ray Floyd ran away from the field. He had an eight-shot lead through three rounds, a margin many thought would never be matched.”On Sunday morning, Barrow assembled the announcing team in his CBS compound office. The crew consisted of Peter Kostis, Bobby Clampett, Jerry Pate, David Feherty, Sean McDonough, Peter Oosterhuis and Ken Venturi. To start the broadcast I was in our makeshift studio on the lower level of Butler Cabin.
“But little did they know, four months earlier a golf prodigy was born. While Seve was winning his first green jacket, 4-year-old Eldrick Woods was beginning a journey to one day be a champion golfer.”Eventually I scurried with my head down over to the 18th tower. Suddenly I was stopped by an old friend. It was Lee Elder standing between the 10th tee and putting green. He looked fatigued and overwhelmed by it all. He had driven through the night to Augusta to witness a day that he had paved the way for. In 1975, Elder became the first Black golfer to play in the Masters.
“The fundamentals of youth have transformed into the Tiger of tomorrow.”As Tiger played 18, tens of thousands of patrons gathered for a glimpse of history. Dozens more stood beneath the CBS towers as our camera operators turned their viewfinders around so that the patrons could see what was happening through a six-inch screen.
“With a power and grace like the game has never seen before.”Earl Woods had arrived behind the 18th green for the last hour of the round. He stood near our Bob Welch, who was providing sweeping images from his crane-like jib camera. Bob thoughtfully turned his viewfinder into a program monitor to let Earl watch his son play the incoming holes.
“Today all of Augusta’s legendary records are in danger.”When Tiger hugged his father after leaving the green, a CBS rookie, Eric Leidel, was there with his handheld camera to capture those precious seconds. Twenty-four years later, Leidel would provide another Masters classic – Hideki Matsuyama’s caddie, Shota Hayafuji, bowing out of respect to Augusta.
“As 21-year-old Tiger Woods is poised to make history in the final round of the Masters!” The narrative that accompanied the final putt would be one of the most important short sentences
I would utter in my life. An announcer’s final call is best when it is spontaneous, but the inevitability of Tiger’s victory –and its historical impact – required more permanent framing.As Tiger knocked in his final putt, the only way I knew to describe it was, “There it is, a win for the ages!” A quarter of a century later, Tiger’s conquest at Augusta remains ageless, a gift to the sporting world that will be shared forever.
Image by Getty images: timothy a. clary/afp