The Peter Kessler Interview
I am excited to have Peter Kessler as a special guest here at Shooting Your Age!
An (abbreviated) Peter Kessler Bio
For those who may be new to golf, or have only watched The Golf Channel for the last 10 years or so, you may not know Peter. He was the face, and voice, of The Golf Channel in the early years. His Golf Talk Live and Golf Academy shows at night were must-see tv for anyone interested in professional golf. Everyone who was anyone was a guest on Peter’s show, and it was a weekly who’s who of one-name golfers: Arnie. Jack. Gary. Tiger. Butch. Payne. Shark. Sir Nick, before the Sir. Peter hosted Golf Talk Live from 1995 through 2002, which allowed him to, among many other experiences, capture golf BT and AT (Before and After Tiger).
I re-discovered Peter when I happened upon the Peter Kessler Show podcast on iTunes in 2014, then again when I found his Reading the Break podcast earlier this year. I routinely look forward to his guest appearances on The Augusta Golf Show with John Patrick @WhyILoveTheGame. You can find out more at www.PeterKessler.com
We discussed several different subjects, all of which had golf history as a launching point. As Golf World Magazine said, “Peter Kessler is the Walter Cronkite of golf.” If anyone knows golf history, it is he.
And although Peter has given thousands of interviews in his career, I was hoping to chat about a few areas of interest that might be a little off the beaten path. I asked questions that were of interest to me, with the thought that if I could learn something different, maybe you would, too.
Peter was kind enough to talk about a wide range of subjects at length. Part I is presented today, and more of his thoughts, along with a further stroll down memory lane, will be in an upcoming Shooting Your Age newsletter.
EARLY YEARS AT THE GOLF CHANNEL
SYA: TALK ABOUT THE EVENTS THAT LED YOU TO BEING AT THE GOLF CHANNEL
PK: I began to play golf a lot with this one guy in the 1990’s, and as we talked on the course, my knowledge of the history of the game would come out during conversations. It so happened he was in charge of hiring all the people who were going to be on-air for The Golf Channel. He knew I’d done some acting, and had done public speaking and knew golf history. He said, “You could do a show with great golfers and teachers and interview them.” I said I’d love to do that and would be comfortable doing it. But The Golf Channel wouldn’t let him hire me because I had never been on camera.
They decided to make the litmus test my knowledge of golf. I thought, I’m definitely going to get the job because I can’t think of anything about golf I don’t know. They would wake me up at night-this was before the internet and Google- and ask me golf questions to see if I really knew my stuff. It didn’t really matter what they asked me, I would know the answer.
SYA: WHAT WERE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS?
An example was: Who was the first famous female golfer? I thought for a second and realized they didn’t say first professional female golfer. The first woman I’d ever heard of that played golf was Mary, Queen of Scots. So that’s what I said. They said, no, it was Babe Zaharias (NOTE: That would have been SYA’s answer also…).
I said you’d better go do your research. They called me back and said, you’re right, it was Mary , Queen of Scots.
This went on for weeks with question after question. After asking me about someone obscure, and me knowing more about him than his mother, they offered me the job.
SYA: IT SEEMS THAT ANYONE WHO REALLY LOVES HISTORY LOVES IT THEIR ENTIRE LIFE. I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED HISTORY AND HAVE AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER, SO IT DOESN’T SURPRISE ME TO HEAR THAT YOU WERE A GOLF HISTORIAN FROM THE TIME YOU WERE A CHILD.
PK: I didn’t know anyone else who loved golf history whatsoever. I was given Bobby Jones’ autobiography Down The Fairway when I was thirteen, and I fell in love with Jones and with golf history. So I started to collect golf books, and over the next 30 years I was collecting and reading multiple golf books. By the time The Golf Channel started, I’m confident that there weren’t more than a few people who knew as much about golf and golf history as I did.
[NOTE: Shooting Your Age will talk in-depth to Peter about his book collection in a later segment to be posted in a few weeks. Stay tuned!]
SYA: TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST MEETING WITH ARNOLD PALMER ONCE YOU WERE ON-BOARD AT THE GOLF CHANNEL
PK: I started in October, 1994 by going to Latrobe, PA, to spend three or four days with Arnold. We spent time talking, and played some golf. I had not met him before then.
There were a series of fortuitous things that happened for me that first day. It was a Monday, the course was closed, and we went down to the range after I had interviewed him. The club pro, club champ, Arnold’s caddie, Arnold, and me. He hit a few shots on the range, and looked at everyone and said, “What am I doing differently?”
The other guys said they didn’t know, and Arnold turned to me and said, “You seem to think you know everything, what do you see?” And I said for $20 I’ll tell you, and he said “You’re on.”
I said you’ve squared your back foot square to the target line from where it was flared. And Arnold glared at me for a long second, and said, “That’s exactly right.” I said where’s my twenty, and he said “We’ll play for it.” I said I want to be your partner and he said, “No way, we are playing for it!”
A lot of instances happened like that where I knew an answer no one else did, and we developed an immediate mutual respect.
And it took me about 15 seconds of being with Arnold, during the first show of Golf Talk Live, to realize it was going to be great. I remember that first night of the first show, the guy who hired me came in and said, “Don’t be nervous, you’re the right guy for the job.” I said, “I’m not nervous at all.” The camera light came on, I said my name, introduced Arnold, and I thought,”This is going to be really good.” I never fumbled a question or stumbled over a sentence. Of course, there are a couple of things I regret, but basically it was an incredible fit because it called on the 3-4 things I’m really good at, and not the 1000 things that I’m horrible at.
SYA: I WOULD HAVE ASSUMED THAT EXPERIENCING INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNIQUES BY SOME OF THE BEST GOLF INSTRUCTORS IN THE WORLD WOULD RESULT IN REFINING A VERY GOOD GOLF GAME INTO AN ELITE GOLF GAME. BUT YOU SAY THAT DIDN’T WORK OUT FOR YOU.
PK: We started a teaching show called Academy Live that started in September of 1995. Over the first 12 months we had 50 instructors, one instructor per week for two nights. By the time we finished with the 50 teachers that first year, I literally went from shooting 75 to not being able to break 100.
I had one swing thought that lasted me for twenty years. But then I had so much information after that first year of Academy Live, plus doing my homework and reading all the books of all the teachers that we had on, I was absorbing everything.
And now, over 20 years later, I’m still working my way back down!
SYA: YOU WERE ABLE TO WATCH TIGER WOODS AS HE BEGAN HIS DOMINANT PERIOD
PK: I was at The Golf Channel before Tiger came on the scene, and of course I got to watch him win almost all of his golf tournaments. I got to see him inside the ropes and watched him hit around 650 shots off the tees in the Major Tournaments he won, standing behind him down the target line. I saw him win most of his majors in person. We did a lot of tv together and became pretty friendly.
In the next installment, Peter will talk about how he was introduced to golf, and the first hole-in-one he saw (which is also the second shot he ever saw!). He will detail his early career in broadcasting and how we worked on a Peabody Award-winning documentary.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy Shooting Your Age!