The death of a cameraman casts a pall over golf's unseen working
When the PGA Tour's traveling circus pulls into town, the
spotlight invariably falls on the performers, with their
outlandish skills and miraculous deeds. Scant attention is paid
to the little people behind the scenes, tugging at the ropes and
levers. Even in death the stars of the show remain transcendent.
Payne Stewart's memorial was carried live on the Golf Channel,
and the world wept. Last week the golf community suffered
another tragedy. It did not attract much news coverage, but the
loss was still deeply felt.
Brian Blodgett, 37, was one of the best TV cameramen in the
business, a freelancer who had his pick of choice assignments.
One of his favorites was Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, which
allowed him to indulge his passion for travel. Since the show
was reinvented in 1994, Blodgett hadn't missed any of the 42
tapings, including ports of call in Africa, Japan and the Canary
Islands among other far-flung destinations. On Sept. 3, a
wonderful, cloudless day in Carmel Valley, Calif., Blodgett was
working his 43rd Shell game, between Mark Calcavecchia and Fred
Couples, on a pastoral new course called the Preserve. As play
concluded on the 2nd hole, a forklift being used as a camera
tower toppled. Blodgett plummeted 25 feet to the ground. He was
pronounced dead on the scene. (Another member of the crew, Jim
Hancock, suffered head injuries; he was treated at Community
Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and released later the same
Blodgett's death was jarring because in the golf world he was
celebrated for the gusto with which he lived. Says Terry
Jastrow, a former Wonderful World of Golf producer, "Since the
beginning of sports television the tech people have spanned the
globe to bring images into American living rooms, and the
cameramen, for whatever reason, have always tended to be
colorful characters, full of spirit and personality. Brian was
the model for that type of guy."
Blodgett was a pleasant contradiction--unfailingly polite and
professional on the job, yet off the course he had such an
outsized presence his nickname was Big 'Un. An enthusiastic
scuba diver and sportfisherman, Blodgett was also an
accomplished magician who loved to entertain, his gallery
invariably perched atop barstools, drinking in his laughter. A
favorite audience was Jack Nicklaus, a frequent Wonderful World
of Golf competitor whose television production company used to
produce the show. "Everybody knows that Jack doesn't suffer
fools, which is why we always put Brian on him," says Jastrow.
"Jack used to have a little more of a twinkle whenever he saw
Brian out on the golf course."
Golf is populated by migrant workers with odd subspecialties.
Every week hundreds of people are employed to set up corporate
tents, build scoreboards or follow the flight of a little white
ball against a bright blue sky with a high-tech camera. These
bands of gypsies work together and live together, and the bonds
can be tight. "On the road you look out for each other," says
John DelVecchio, a Wonderful World of Golf director. "Brian was
like a brother. I probably knew more about him than I do about
half of my family."
After a lifetime of wanderlust, Blodgett had only recently
established his own family ties, having married his wife, Kelly,
last March. They shared a hometown, Jacksonville, and with his
technical wizardry Brian had rigged their house with
remote-controlled lights, window shades and door locks, and a
fancy television that descended from the ceiling in the den.
TV golf will endure even without Blodgett's contributions. The
Calcavecchia-Couples match, immediately canceled in the wake of
the accident, will be rescheduled in the coming weeks. The show
must go on, even for the unsung masses behind the scenes grieving
for a fallen colleague. Says DelVecchio, his voice hoarse with
emotion, "It was just a made-for-TV golf exhibition. No one was
supposed to die."
The Solheim Cup will be a lot more fun than the Ryder Cup. What
makes these matches work is bad blood and accumulated grievances,
and while the Ryder's edge has been blunted by a year's
postponement, the Solheim is still simmering from its tearful,
controversial finish in 2000.
From the Be Careful What You Wish For Dept.: Augusta National
members tell SI that among the new additions to the club are
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who had been campaigning for
membership for years. No doubt Gates's progressive, latte-sipping
Seattle social circle will be thrilled that he has joined the
world's most notorious boys-only club. South Carolina football
coach Lou Holtz was also extended membership privileges. "Go
'Cocks!" as they say around the National.
Justin Leonard didn't prevail at Bethpage, but he did enjoy
another New York-area U.S. Open--this one at Flushing Meadow.
Leonard and his wife, Amanda, caught a couple of matches during
a Manhattan holiday on their way to the Canadian Open.
Catrin Nilsmark, the tart-tongued captain of the 2005 European
Solheim Cup team, last week supplied some juicy bulletin-board
material for this year's U.S. squad. Nilsmark offered scouting
reports on the Yanks for the Swedish website www.golf.se.
Nilsmark on Cristie Kerr: "The one I least of all would want to
lose against. A little brat...." On Kelli Kuehne: "A real Texas
girl, the loudest of them all. But I wouldn't be very nervous if
I met her in match play." Even captain Nilsmark's praise was
damning. Of Michele Redman, she said, "I have to admire
Michele--she has absolutely no talent, but still keeps up with
the best in the world."
Canuck Mike Weir failed to win his national championship again,
finishing 22nd at the Canadian Open, but Weir still has reasons
to celebrate. Ground was recently broken on the Greens of Las
Vegas, a complex of six indoor 18-hole putting courses that Weir
and his onetime BYU teammate, Eddie Heinen, helped conceive and
finance. Located two blocks east of the Strip on Tropicana
Avenue, Greens of Las Vegas features replicas of--or, as the
project's lawyers say, greens "inspired by"--specific holes at
Augusta National, TPC at Sawgrass and a number of British Open
venues. The facility is across the street from McCarron
International, and, says Heinen, the reigning California Amateur
champ, "I know plenty of big-time gamblers who'll come over here
to kill time. They'll be hitting putts for $10,000 just waiting
for their planes to leave."
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
THIS WEEK: Ranked 33rd on the money list, Peter Lonard, 35, is
the leading candidate for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Should
veterans of other major tours--Lonard has won three times in his
native Australia--be eligible for the PGA Tour's top rookie
LAST POLL: Are you as excited about this month's Ryder Cup as you
were about past matches?
--Based on 2,198 responses to our informal survey