BOB WEST ON GOLF — Golf opened doors for memorable pairings

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, February 19, 2020

With cold, wet conditions limiting the amount of results to report, I’ve decided to dip into my name-dropper Hall of Fame for this week’s lead item. What follows will be a flaunting of big-name sports stars and celebrities that being a golf writer/sports editor enabled me to play at least 18 holes with.

Many but not all revert to local ties. There were some outside heavyweights like astronaut Alan Shepard, PGA Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus, CBS’ Jim Nantz and an actor named Fred McMurray whose name will only resonate with anyone old enough to remember the original Absent Minded Professor movie.

To conserve space, I’ll narrow this exercise down to three categories — golf, football and miscellaneous — and go into detail only when an explanation seems necessary. Let’s start with football.

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My all-time football foursome — actually it would be a fivesome — is Jimmy Johnson, Bum Phillips, Wade Phillips and Little Joe Washington. None of them were all that good, primarily because they didn’t get that much time to play. Little Joe had the most potential. Bum could drink the most beer in 18 holes.

Next is the golf all-time pairing. That would include Nicklaus, Bruce Lietzke, Chris Stroud and Dave Marr, winner of the 1965 PGA Championship and later an ABC golf analyst. I didn’t mention Andrew Landry because I’ve never actually played with him.

Getting to be in a group with Nicklaus obviously needs background. In the late 1980s I gave a young Texas A&M graduate named Mike Ferguson his first sports writing job. To show appreciation some years later, Mike, who came from wealth, included me in a dream package he bought at a Golf Digest auction.

The package, which cost $75,000, included a round of golf with Nicklaus, followed by a week of playing Nicklaus-designed courses in the Southeast for eight people. One of my favorite photos is Nicklaus standing next to me in the 18th fairway in Florida, looking like he’s consulting me on club selection.

Last but hardly least is the miscellaneous grouping. That one involves Shepard, the only person to ever hit a golf ball on the moon, a sleeper named Delvin Miller, McMurray and Nantz.

I got blindly paired with Shepard in a Houston Oilers NFL Alumni Scramble that was a qualifier for bigger things. Our team, which also included former 49ers tight end Dave Parks, won and advanced to the NFL Alumni Super Bowl of Golf in Ft. Lauderdale.

Before it was over, I’d played three rounds with Shepard, had drinks and dinner with him and got the lowdown on the six-iron he struck on the moon. Our team didn’t win in Florida, but I figured I did.

As for Delvin Miller, it was another blind pairing, this time in the celebrity tournament preceding Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena, Calif. I didn’t know him from the man in the moon when we wound up in the same golf cart but was thanking my lucky stars later.

Turns out Delvin was the all-time harness racing champion, an international celebrity, one of Arnold Palmer’s closest friends and a millionaire many times over. Not to mention one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. For some reason, he took a liking to me and it led to several memorable rounds on Florida courses.

Included was access to an ultra-private one he owned in Boca Raton named Adios after his prize horse. Some of the names on the lockers at Adios were a future president named Donald Trump, baseball Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski and Whitey Ford and Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas.

McMurray, likewise, was a pairing in the Super Bowl Celebrity Tournament, this one on a frigid day in New Orleans. It was during the time when he was starring in one of America’s most popular TV shows – My Three Sons. The fact I had three sons was a good conversation starter.

Then there was Nantz. As a result of co-hosting a sports talk show with him in Houston in 1980, we’d played a couple of times before he came to Port Arthur to emcee the 1988 Jimmy Johnson roast. In the tournament the day of the roast, I witnessed his first ever hole-in-one on No. 8 at what was then Port Arthur Country Club.

The first person to sink an ace at No. 8 that day was supposed to win a new car. Unfortunately, I’d been too busy as roast chairman to get the insurance. Jim still speaks to me and even told the story on a CBS telecast.

OK, enough name dropping for today. But one question. If you had to pick an all-time foursome from the names above, who would it be? I’ve tried and never been able to narrow it down to four.

Golf news should be e-mailed to Bob West’s column is sponsored by 5 Under Golf Center.