He’s not Mr. Ed but California Chrome has a great spokesman in jockey Victor Espinoza and I spoke with him from his Southern California home this morning to get his take on winning Saturday’s Kentucky Derby and his chances to be the first triple crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Tops on my bucket list was covering the Masters and that was a great experience for sure. But just as important to me was to meet my childhood football idol Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers. We had spoken on the phone a few times but he lives and works on the other side of the country from me in Birmingham, Alabama not far from where he once played at the University of Alabama. The last time we had spoken he said if I was ever in the area to please call him. Well Augusta, Georgia was close enough for me and fortunately his schedule was open to meet on the Tuesday after the Masters and the 4 hour drive was well worth the trip.
With Bart holding a bronze figure of Lombardi in his office
Bart is a true gentleman in every sense of the word and he was gracious to allow me a few hours of his time to finally meet him in person. My other boyhood sports heroes were Don Drysdale and Elgin Baylor who I was privileged to get know both for many years. I was immediately welcomed by Bart and as I shook his hand and said Mr. Starr…before I could say another word he quickly said to call him Bart and the rest of our get together was something I’ll never forget.
After lunch with his son Bart, Jr. and three of their nice office mates…I sat down with the MVP of Super Bowl I and II and talked about some of the highlights in his career mainly focusing on the Ice Bowl, Super Bowl I (which was played in my hometown of Los Angeles), and his relationship with Coach Vince Lombardi and how he had changed the lives forever of every Green Bay Packer who ever played for him.
Starr to McGee first TD pass in Super Bowl history
Starr with Lombardi who borrowed an L.A. Rams visor to use in Super Bowl I
I hope you enjoy my chance to go down memory lane with one of the greats of the game in more ways than just a special quarterback…
It was a nice drive on Wednesday morning heading into Augusta National for the first time. But to my surprise NO Magnolia Lane. I found out later that it’s a private road inside the complex and it’s not for public use. So maybe I’ll get to see it before the end of this week but the rest of the place is Masterful! Whatever you’ve seen on TV multiply it by several as it’s a spectacular golf course with the ambiance like any other.
I first got some preview interviews for the tournament and that included getting some time with all of ‘The Big 3’ Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player who were to again also hit the ceremonial first tee shots on Thursday morning to get the Masters officially underway.
With Arnie who was kind enough to briefly say hello while having lunch.
Arnold was sitting with his wife and another couple eating so I didn’t want to disturb them. But it was also likely the only chance to say hello so we briefly chatted ‘off the record’ and I asked him if he was still excited about playing in the Par 3 contest. He said he enjoyed it but joked that he just didn’t want to embarrass himself. I told him nothing could embarrass him, that people just loved to see him whatever state his game was in? And he was about to stand up for this picture but I insisted that he stay seated as it was just kind of him to do it. He always makes you feel as he’s known you forever and that’s part of his special charisma.
With the elegant and always dapper Mr. Player
Then I saw Gary Player doing a few interviews and I jumped into the scrum before he was able to give me a few minutes alone. And he had some very interesting comments on several subjects including how he’d love to have 10 minutes alone with Tiger Woods which would likely produce more major championships.
With Jack and one of 6 green jackets
And I was about to head to the start of the Par 3 contest when I fortunately noticed Mr. Nicklaus standing alone signing an autograph and I quickly walked up and asked if he could give me a few minutes for a brief interview? He’s always been gracious with his time and I didn’t take advantage of it just asking a few questions to get his impressions before the start of tis special tournament in which he’s won 6 green jackets.
Bubba Watson with his Caddie Wife and kid while Ricky Fowler watches
And then it was off to the Par 3 contest to watch a few groups before heading back to the Media room to send my interviews to the station…all that after my computer had crashed (fortunately to eventually be brought back to life for this special week of work).
The following are some of my Masters preview interviews leading into Thursday’s first round. And you must know that all of this would not be possible if it wasn’t for California native Derek Ernst, who’s a Masters’ rookie and is the answer to the question—so how did Ted Sobel finally get his first credential to this tradition unlike any other?
With Derek Ernst at the Riv
He was a first time invitee from my region (California) after winning the Wells Fargo Championship last year at Quail Hollow and my application was approved to work this tournament to cover Derek along with the rest of the event of course. I met Ernst at Riviera Country Club before the start of the Northern Trust Open in February and we chatted about me being his official stalker at Augusta and it’s now a fun story for both of us.
Ted Sobel with Derek Ernst at Riviera in February:
Jack Nicklaus with Ted Sobel on Wednesday at the Masters:
Gary Player with Ted Sobel on Wednesday at the Masters:
Mark O’Meara 1998 Masters champ with Ted Sobel on Wednesday at the Masters:
Johnny Miller (NBC analyst) with Ted Sobel on Wednesday at the Masters:
Vern Lundqvist in his 30th year on TV calling the Masters with Ted Sobel:
My first look at Amen Corner before the real action begins
I then wandered the course for the first time simply taking in what I had only seen on my television all those years. And of course Amen Corner (holes 11-13) were just as I had envisioned. I took these pictures as the grounds keepers prepped it for major tournanement play only hours away.
The Hogan Bridge over Rae’s Creek at the 12th hole
I spoke with 2 caddies about the green conditions and they equally admitted that it would be just as the tournament always tries to accomplish…speedy and ready for only the better putters in the field. So let the play begin already!
It was great to be back as the first major of the year’s 18th green announcer (although in a new spot-right next to the grandstand directly behind the green and not behind the bridge as in my first 5 years here).
And the LPGA tour couldn’t have asked for a better final pairing on Sunday with the popular two-some of Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie taking their 10 under par totals onto the Dinah Shore course at 2:01 (pacific time) for a chance to leap into Poppy’s Pond at the end of the 43rd Kraft Nabisco Championship.
After Lexi’s 3 under par 68, she graciously gave me a few minutes to react to the possibility of her first major championship on her favorite course on tour.
Lexi’s 80 foot birdie putt on 18 was a tough finish to a great day.
Lexi Thompson with Ted Sobel:
After Wie’s 4 under 67 and her post-round newsconference, I asked Michelle for a quick interview but as she put it…”I can’t now, I have to pee”. And I looked at her funny when she quickly stated—“Drug test”! She was randomly chosen to take one, so I certainly understand that. Hopefully all is good in the specimen cup and we’ll see her go for her first major tomorrow.
Wie finishing up on 18 right in front of me
I told Michelle at Tuesday night’s Pro-Am pairing party that I tend to be good luck with those who take a picture with me there….and look at her now! 😉
(photo courtesy of Paul Lester)
Sitting only 2 shots back are Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak (who needs to win tomorrow to complete the career Grand Slam) and her playing partner the impressive 18 year old Brit Charlie Hull. Hope to see you out here before I leave for Augusta on Tuesday. FINALLY! 🙂
I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready to get the majors going on both golf tours. Next week I’ll be covering The Masters for the first time (even without the injured Tiger Woods) but now it’s time to focus on the LPGA’s greatest tradition, the 43rd annual Kraft Nabisco Championship which is now in it’s 32nd edition as a major championship and in it’s final year with Kraft as it’s sponsor. And it’s my 6th year as the 18th green announcer–introducing the players as they approach the Dinah Shore statue and the bridge that goes over Poppy’s Pond (the water that every female golfer wants to leap into after winning this great tournament).
My amazing office view on Saturday and Sunday
I attended the final day of the LPGA’s Kia Classic at beautiful Aviara Country Club in Carlsbad, California on Sunday and got several of the best women’s golfers (including 6 of the top 10 players on the planet) to comment on the Kraft and what that tournament means to them. I also sat down with LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan during the Kraft Pro-Am pairing party in Rancho Mirage and we discussed the tour and the future of this special event which annually is golf’s first major of the year.
Michael Whan with Ted Sobel:
With Inbee just after her jump into Poppy’s Pond
Kraft defending champ Inbee Park world #1 for the 51st straight week with Ted Sobel on Pro-Am Wednesday:
Inbee Park with Ted Sobel on Media Day in February (edited due to technical recording problems):
Two-time Kraft champion (2000-2006) and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb with Ted Sobel:
with Stacy and dad Dale after 2012 KNC title
2011 Kraft champ and world #3 Stacy Lewis with Ted Sobel:
World #8 Paula Creamer with Ted Sobel:
World #9 Lexi Thompson with Ted Sobel:
World #10 Anna Nordqvist with Ted Sobel just after winning last weekend’s Kia Classic:
Anna Nordqvist with Ted Sobel after Wednesday’s Kraft Pro-Am:
With Lizette at last year’s KNC
USC’s Lizette Salas world #14 with Ted Sobel after finishing 2nd in the Kia Classic:
World #19 Azahara Munoz with Ted Sobel:
Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak with Ted Sobel on seeking her first jump into Poppy’s Pond:
UCLA’s Mariajo Uribe with Ted Sobel:
UCLA’s Mo Martin with Ted Sobel:
Chella Choi with Ted Sobel my former KNC Pro-Am partner and native South Korean who was kind enough to do an English interview with me and she smiled all the way through it:
Chatting with Annika at her newsconference (photo by Paul Lester)
3-time Kraft Champ Annika Sorenstam with Ted Sobel on her newly named Rolex Annika major award:
With Yoo after winning the Kraft 2 years ago
And I found out tonight that I’ll be playing with 2012 Kraft champion Sun-Young Yoo in Wednesday’s Pro-Am…so that gets this week off to a great start—and of course always looking forward to Championship Sunday (the final one for this tournament as we know it). But as the ‘Commish’ says—you can still book your hotel for Rancho Mirage next April because this tournament is going nowhere. And Dinah would be very very proud to know that!