It's time to lay off Hord Hardin, golf fans. No more jokes about the hopelessly stiff Augusta National chairman being a 19-handicap interviewer during the Masters' green-jacket ceremony. No more groans about Hardin hogging the camera at the top of every Masters show to let us know how few commercials we'll be seeing. And if Hardin wants to ask next year's winner how much he weighs and how tall he is, the way he did Seve Ballesteros in 1980, why he can go right ahead. All is forgiven, Hord. You're our boy because, in effect, you tell CBS how to cover your golf tournament, not the other way around.
This proper relationship is unique in TV sports, but it made for two superb broadcasts last weekend. CBS doesn't want to lose the Masters to ABC or NBC, so it shoots the tournament the way the Masters people want it shot—which is to say without gimmickry, hyperbole, loud voices or promos for CBS's next dogsled race from the Yukon Territory. Just golf—beautifully uncluttered shots of the greens of spring and stretches of what the late Henry Longhurst, for years a Masters commentator for CBS, once called "brilliant flashes of silence." These were telecasts with announcing imperfections—"Crenshaw may not have a major championship," Pat Summerall said at one point, "but as a human being he is one already"—that were soon forgotten. And they were easily forgotten because the Masters again proved itself a human event that happened to be shown by television, not a TV event that happened to be shown to humans.
The venerable Hardin, whose interviews of amateur Richard Fehr and Crenshaw this go-round were mercifully brief and fairly enlightening, deserves a pat on the back for keeping CBS's coverage restrained. It's Hardin, who since 1979 has maintained the Masters' policy of one-year contracts with CBS at the relatively piddling sum, for a major event, of about $750,000. This means CBS executive producer and director Frank Chirkinian, for all his claims of creative freedom, must cover the event the way he's supposed to or risk seeing the tournament on another network the following spring. In fact, with Chirkinian having produced the Masters for 26 years now, the Masters' way has become his way.
Hardin's predecessor as Augusta National chairman, the late Cliff Roberts, literally told CBS what to say; he once banished announcer Jack Whitaker from the booth for five years when Whitaker referred to a stampeding gallery on the 18th fairway as a "mob." Hardin exercises control more subtly, but last weekend CBS nonetheless obeyed the unwritten list of don'ts: Don't talk about money—it's too crass. Don't run network promos, even if 60 Minutes is next. Don't harp on terrible golf shots. Don't chitchat with players on the course. Don't estimate the size of the gallery. Don't say trap, say bunker. Don't say pin, say flag-stick. Remember, the event is calling the shots, not TV, even if the event seems heavy-handed in doing so.
CBS's observance of the Don't List often produces delightful understatements. David Graham hit a timid putt last Saturday that hardly would have reached the windmill hazard on a miniature golf hole. Said the obligatory Englishman-in-the-booth, Ben Wright, "That is not his most distinguished effort." Then there are some hilarious obfuscations made necessary by the announcers' compliance with yet another commandment: Thou shalt honor the beauty of Augusta National. When Frank Glieber suggested that Saturday's rain had made the course easier, Ken Venturi rushed to the rescue. "The rain," he corrected, "has made this course absolutely beautiful."
Aside from his one peccadillo, this may have been Venturi's finest Masters as CBS's resident analyst. His comments about the emotional equilibrium that first Mark Lye and then Crenshaw needed to maintain were fitting and satisfying. Summerall's line as the likable Crenshaw stood victoriously on the 18th green—"I've been here since 1968 and I cry every time"—was human and tender. Kudos also go to the convincing Tom Weiskopf. Please, Hord, devise a rule requiring Weiskopf to stay in broadcasting.
During the Roberts era, the Masters used to send Chirkinian critique sheets. Here's ours: 1) Evidently subscribing to the theory that American announcers don't lend enough social class to prestige events, CBS used not one Brit in the booth but two. Clive Clark joined Wright, contributing little more than his accent. 2) Chirkinian still has the maddening habit of showing golf shot/golf shot/golf shot by the likes of Tommy Nakajima and Payne Stewart on the back nine, say, when he could be showing the leader on the front nine. We didn't see Lye, the 36-hole leader, until 55 minutes into Saturday's telecast.
But this was the Masters' way as much as it was Chirkinian's. So here's to you, Hord. Your green-jacket gig is cornball, but it's not too much to bear.
Chirkinian and Hardin are virtually coproducers.