Athens, GA (July 27, 2008) - "Listen Chris, I am sure you are a nice guy. But you are just a punk college asshole that will be going home to mom and dad at the end of the summer. I have guys out here struggling to put a roof over their heads and they need the job more than you do," was what the legendary and infamous CBS Sports Associate Producer Chuck Will told me when I first tried to get hired as a spotter over the weekend after missing a cut in a PGA Tour event.
Getting a job as a weekend spotter was important for caddies who missed the cut and needed extra money for the week. Without that, it often meant carrying doubles for 36 holes during the pro-am hoping that some loaded pro-am participant would tip you well. It did not always work that way, like the time the organizers of the 1981 Greater Milwaukee Open pro-am told Joe Garagiola (our "partnership" pictured left) that they would "take care of me". How "taking care of me" translated into $15 is beyond me, but money was money.
So fast forward to the 1981 Canadian Open at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ontario. A tour player, who I will leave nameless here, asked if I would drive his car to Oakville so he could fly. Talk about a car! Here I was, at 19 years old, driving a brand new, jet black Firebird that was fully loaded. For a week! I made the mistake of stopping overnight to see my brother in Niagara Falls. More than anything, he wanted to drive that car, but I would not let him. But he won by hitting me with very strong drinks at the bar he managed, and he got to drive the car, I, on the other hand, woke up the next morning sick, hung over and late. By the time I got to Oakville, it was too late to get a bag in the Monday qualifier. So here I was in Canada with no car, no money and no job.
This meant going to Mr. Will, hoping against hope that he would hire me for the week. By some unknown force or Grace of God, the Canadian Broadcasting Company was on strike that week, and Chuck gave me a break hiring me for the week. After that week, he told me I was "all right" and I could work for him anytime (well excpet when the Tour would hit Westchester and he would have to hire the kids and friends of network executives). That simple luck of the strike helped give me the chance to work a lot of great sporting events in the 27 years since then.
In his 1980's book, The Green Road Home: Adventures and Misadventures as a Caddie on the PGA Tour, current Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger wrote his similar experience with Chuck in milder terms:
"I'd love to help you out Bamberger, but look at this list," Chuck said. The Memorial, with a field only two-thirds the size of a regular tournament, left many caddies without a bag that week. They sought employment, as I did, from CBS. "I've already got tweny-five guys on the list, and thats already more than I could possibly use. And then Jack Nicklaus calls and says, 'Chuck, can you get jobs for three more boys?' Nicklaus, Bamberger, Jack Nicklaus. And one of the jobs is for the son of the tournament chairman. What am I going to say, 'No, Jack, sorry, but I can't help you out?' Sorry, Bamberger."
It also gave me great insight as to how Chuck Will treated caddies. For caddies needing a break, Chuck did not represent the Columbia Broadcasting System, but the Caddie Benevolant Society. Without a thought, he would loan them money when they were down on their luck. Well, there was some thought as he always kept a note card of who he lent money to, how much and when. When they came looking for money or work, he would always pull that card chastise them for not repaying the loans. (chastise is a kind word here, as you will find if you read Bamberger's full book). If caddies were honest with Chuck, he would help them. If they went back on their word, forget it.
That is how people became one of Chuck's army of spotters, giving information on distance, club selection and player order so the announcers sounded so good. Being one of the spotters also meant that you were invariably referred to as an "Asshole", but always in a loving way. This is differnt from how David Feherty, in a 2002 Golf.com column, wrote:
Chuck Will, who was a legendary associate director of golf at CBS sports, once said that there are three kinds of assholes, and he's from Philadelphia, so he knows an asshole when he sees one. Chuck said you have your common asshole, your flaming asshole, and then, the top of the line, your gaping asshole.
Wearing the old style telco headsets on the golf course, somebody or everybody, would be referred to as an asshole by Chuck. He would get on line and tell everybody to lay out (i.e. be quiet) and ask "Asshole, who is away?" If you were not listening to the whole context of the exchange, you wanted to say "Which asshole , Chuck?" This was also captured in Bamberger's book:
Chuckles looked at the piece of paper in his hand, and then at me.
"Michael Barnblatt?" he asked, reading off the paper.
"Michael Bamberger," I said.
Will dropped his glasses to the tip of his nose and looked at me. "If I wanted you Bamberger, I would have asked for you, you asshole," he said.
Such was the life on the tour back then. There were no guarantees for players, and less for caddies. So much has changed since then (except for the fact that golf is so unwatchable on NBC Sports, despite winning the an EMMY this year). The tour went all-exempt, making players less hungry but much richer. Caddies can actually earn a decent living doing what they love. Most of the players I knew, and some that I caddied for, are plying their craft on the Champions Tour. Lance Barrow, who started as a spotter for Pat Summerall, is now the lead producer for CBS golf. The job that Chuck did is now filled by Mark Dibbs, who also started out as a spotter when he did not make the cut as a caddie. Technology is used more and more in telecasts. And Michael Bamberger became a successful writer.
Today, CBS Sports is broadcasting the final round of the 2008 RBC Canadian Open from Glen Abbey in Oakville. Jim Nantz is not in the tower, as he is still probably mourning the loss of his beloved father last month. Being at that tournament in 1982 enabled me to work my first "gig" in television and Chuck saved me from starvation and homelessness that week. It is simple things like this that make you grateful for the good people behind the scenes like Chuck Will.
CBS Sports coverage of the final round of the 2008 RBC Canadian Open from Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville, Ontario, will be from 3:00 - 6:00 PM ET.