Athens, GA (Apr 28, 2008) - Tonight is a very special night in New York City. Jim Nantz will have what he describes as the "great honour and a privilege", the emotional task of introducing 81-year old Frank Chirkinian, the man who made television golf what it is today, as he is honored with a lifetime achievement Emmy. You see, not only is Frank Chirkinian known as the "Father of Televised Golf", he also carries the nickname of the Ayatollah, given to him in the 1970s by Pat Summerall because things were done one way, his way.
Say what you will about television golf, but it is one of those sports that is tailor made for television, much more so than other sports. You can see more in a televised round than you possibly could being at the course personally. And as a bonus, if you are a truly knowledgeable golf fan, you will not have to deal with wannabee fans who applaud bogies.
"I was very fortunate to have started my career with Frank," said Nantz in the CBS Sports 2008 Masters conference call last month. "He worked me with a lot of tough love, though I sometimes wondered where the love was. But seriously, if it were not for him, I would not be where I am today. I could not be more pleased to have the honour to introduce him at the awards."
Lance Barrow, who was the hand-picked and groomed successor to Chirkinian, agrees that he too experienced the tough love of Chirkinian. "I also wondered where the love was at times," said Barrow. "I must have spent ten 10 years sitting next to him and learned so much. Frank and Chuck Will were the heart of golf on CBS. I consider it very important to continue his legacy and grow on it." And the fact that Chirkinian came across so calm in his demeanor in Tin Cup? "Hey, it was a movie,' joked Barrow.
Both Nantz and Barrow agree it is not only them, but also other long times members of the CBS Sports golf family work to honor his legacy every day. "Frank set an extremely high bar for continued excellence that we all share," said Barrow.
On the technical side, Chirkinian put microphones on the tees and had the cups painted white so they would show up better on television. Perhaps the biggest innovation he created, and one he says he is most proud of, is converting the scoring system of + and - in 1960. In an interview on PGATour.com, Chirkinian said:
It simplified things so much. Before you extrapolated and worked with cumulative scores, so you never could give a clear picture of things. I'm proud of that idea.
Chirkinian, in that same interview, is not shy about saying what is wrong with televised golf today:
There are too many graphics, too many different things going on that take away from the flow of the broadcasts. They're dehumanizing the game. It's tiresome, but they think they have to use all the toys they have because they have them. But do they enhance the broadcast? I don't think so, but what do I know? I'm done, and once you're gone, whether you approve or not is irrelevant. The next generation has to do its own thing.
Nantz and Barrow talked about Chirkinian's tough love, but there is a side of Chirkinian that people may not have experienced so closely as Nantz did the day his father collapsed at the foot of his broadcast tower on May 26, 1995. In his forthcoming book, "Always By My Side", Nantz writes
The moment I finished signing off, Frank Chirkinian gently instructed, "Jimmy, don't get off headset yet." Frank's booming bark was now modulated to a solicitous whisper as he asked me, "Are you sitting down?"... "First, let me assure you that your dad is just fine, Jimmy," Frank said. "But he was taken to a nearby hospital"..."I've been getting regular updates for the last ninety minutes, and we've got a car waiting to take you to see him. Now, Son - don't you worry. Everything is going to be all right."
At times like this, Chirkinian instinctively referred to me as "Son", and he and [Ken] Venturi were among several individuals who were important father-figures to me- and the remain so to this day.
Chirkinian was, and is, a true original who will be getting a much deserved recognition from his peers tonight in New York. For Jim Nantz and other long-time members of the CBS Golf Crew, it will be an emotional recognition.