It is the daybefore the Super Bowl, and Frank Chirkinian is sitting at Emerald Dunes, a WestPalm Beach golf club where he is part-owner and full-time front man. Chirkinianis holding court, telling stories, busting chops. It happens this way a lot atEmerald Dunes, whose clubhouse, because of Chirkinian's presence, often feelsmore like a frat house. Today he is talking about the 1975 Masters, one of 38straight he produced for CBS Sports. It was Jack Nicklaus against Johnny Millerand Tom Weiskopf at Augusta, and it might be the greatest golf telecast of alltime. Chirkinian was later nicknamed the Ayatollah because he was dictatorial.He was also profane and hilarious and, oh, by the way, the guy who reallyinvented golf as a television sport. Now he is 80 and sits at a tableoverlooking the 18th green at Emerald Dunes, describing how he went from thispicture to that one on the back nine that day in '75, remembering everything.He talks about the cheer that Nicklaus, standing on the 16th green, heard from15 as Weiskopf made birdie behind him. Chirkinian does his gravelly impressionof Ben Wright's British accent as he says, "Ah, evil music for Mr.Nicklaus's ears." Chirkinian then recalls Nicklaus's making his monster40-footer for birdie on 16, leaving the green with his putter raisedtriumphantly. Now, Chirkinian imitates the late Henry Longhurst, who said in agentle voice, "My, my, never before have I seen such a thing."Chirkinian says to the table, "That's why I hired writers, to put words tothe pictures. That's how we told our stories." Dick Ebersol, who has runNBC Sports for 18 years and who is in the golf business himself, describesChirkinian's talent, his amazing body of work, this way: "Frank made golfon television into the ultimate unscripted drama. He took a static sport andput movement into it. He knew what the story was, and he grabbed it, and thenhe followed it all the way through." At Chirkinian's first Masters, in1959--when he put the camera on Arnold Palmer and pretty much left it there--hebegan to show the possibilities of golf as television entertainment as much assport. Some of it sounds simple now: Microphones in the cup, the on-screenscoreboard showing how the leaders stood against par, even his use of a blimp.It was so much more than that. Chirkinian, sitting there in the truck, barkingout orders, provided a blueprint on how to keep people watching. He did it bytelling stories, with Wright and Longhurst, with Pat Summerall and JackWhitaker, later with Jim Nantz and characters like Gary McCord and DavidFeherty. This is all a preamble to saying that Frank Chirkinian belongs in theWorld Golf Hall of Fame, belongs there now. "All of us associated with thissport, and that includes the players, owe him a debt of gratitude," saysEbersol, who has been pushing the idea of Chirkinian's enshrinement in theHall, located in St. Augustine, Fla. Imagine, an NBC guy talking about a CBSguy this way. Chirkinian would go into the Hall in the Lifetime Achievementcategory established in 2000. The late Mark McCormack entered this way. So didHarvey Penick, Karsten Solheim, Alistair MacKenzie and Charlie Sifford. All ofthem, in their own ways, were pioneers. So was Chirkinian. Everybody in golfknows: The best story has always been the Ayatollah himself. Ebersol's right.He belongs in Cooperstown.
This is an article from the Feb. 19, 2007 issue
by JIM GORANT
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