In Part III of the Peter Kessler interview, we discuss the first tournaments he remembers, the first tournaments he covered, the tournaments that left their mark on him, and more. Enjoy this “All Things Tournament” interview with golf historian Peter Kessler.
WATCHING, AND COVERING, GOLF TOURNAMENTS
SYA: WHAT WAS THE FIRST TOURNAMENT YOU WENT TO THAT YOU REMEMBER- ANY THAT LEFT AN IMPRESSION WITH YOU?
PK: When I was still living in New Jersey, they played the Westchester Classic at the Montclair Country Club, and at the Westchester Country Club. I saw Jack win, and Arnie win, and Tony Lema win, and I was enthralled.
Then we moved to L.A. and I went to the L.A. Open and saw Arnold win there, and saw George Archer (1969 Masters Champion) win one year. Then I went to school in San Diego and joined La Costa CC for $500 a year and $10 annual dues. They held the Tournament of Champions (TOC) there, but nobody went to those tournaments then- nobody. You could walk down the middle of the fairway behind the players on Tuesday and Wednesday. In 1972 and beyond, I walked behind Jack Nicklaus and talked to him the whole time. He’d let you hit a chip around the greens, hit greenside shots. I hung out with him on the range and got to know him during those tournaments.
In those days caddies used baseball gloves to shag golf balls hit by their players on the range and fill their range bags up [Read the SYA Newsletter 1978 Masters when I watched Seve Ballesteros do exactly this]. I spent a lot of time on the range watching Nicklaus do incredible things, as well as on the course. I watched Arnold and Trevino, and later, Seve at the end of the decade. That (the Tournament of Champions) made a tremendous impression on me, watching the greatest players in the world up close.
When I was still working on Wall Street (see Peter’s thoughts about working in investment banking HERE) and living in London I went to the 1980 British Open at Muirfield that Watson won, and there were like 10 people there. Seriously, I kept running into my friend even though we had split up. I followed Watson around on Saturday when he shot 64 and kept hitting these 5 irons under the wind and kept banging in 25 footers. I got to know Tom much later when I was at The Golf Channel, and I always say to him, “I was there when you shot 64 on that Saturday,” and he always says in response, “Yeah, but Aoki shot 63.”
And I respond with,”Yeah, but you WON!” And we both always chuckle at that. Seeing that 64 and his win left a big impression on me.
So ever since I was 11 years old going to the old Westchester Classic, I loved going to golf tournaments.
SYA: WHAT WAS THE FIRST PROFESSIONAL TOURNAMENT YOU COVERED?
When I started at The Golf Channel we had rights to the Nike Tour (now the Web.com tour), and I was an on-course reporter, following groups and reporting how long their next putt was and that sort of thing. I did that for just a few months.
The first big tournament was the 1995 Masters. The Golf Channel had just started a few months before. We rented a big house in Augusta and we broadcast every night. I had Dave Marr, and Peter Alliss, and Pat Summerall on, plus an incredible group of journalists from that time.
I went to Augusta on Tuesday that week. Initially, they didn’t have a ticket for me. I was there to cover The Masters but wasn’t going to be able to get in to see the course! Then late in the afternoon, I was told they had rounded up a ticket, and I immediately went down and saw the course for the first time, and walked it and marveled at the colors and the beauty and the holes at the bottom of the hill and the contours of the greens. I was hosting shows every night, so the 1995 Masters was the first big tournament. That was the one Crenshaw won after his teacher Harvey Penick had died the week before.
SYA: ANY TOURNAMENTS DURING THAT ERA THAT STOOD OUT TO YOU EVEN THEN- THAT YOU IMMEDIATELY THOUGHT “THIS IS SOMETHING SPECIAL?”
PK: Certainly in the beginning the TOC at La Costa in San Diego because it was close to me and I could go and see the best players every year.
I remember one year Seve was in the TOC after winning his first tournament, so that would have been around 1979-80. He was extraordinarily long then. Tom Weiskopf who was also really long then was in the field. They were playing the 18th hole, which was, and still is, a long uphill par-4 into the wind. Weiskopf hit a driver and 3-iron. Seve was in the next group and hit 3-wood and 8-iron. That left an indelible impression of how long, and good, he was.
The next chapter in the Peter Kessler interview series will be the last one. Peter will reveal his pick for the person golf history who has had the most influence on the game; plus will talk about his Bucket List items, and more.
Until next week- thanks for reading, and enjoy Shooting Your Age!