By Eamon Hickey
Andrew Arthur's delightful reminiscence of his days as a golf photographer put me in mind of a long-ago field expedition. In 1992, about seven months after I was hired by Nikon Inc. (USA), I got sent to the outpost known as the Nikon Pro Services trailer at the U.S. Open Golf tournament at Pebble Beach. Magazine photojournalism was still a thriving ecosystem in those days, when huge quantities of advertising dollars were to be found simply lying about the landscape. Accordingly, in this coastal habitat near Monterey I was able to observe a very rare and distinct sub-species of sports/press photographer—the international pro Golfing-only Photographer, on staff at one of the big golf magazines. I believe their population was never more than about a dozen or two.
He is very unlike his close cousin, the familiar Common Sports/Press Photographer. This latter variation is usually observed in jeans and a not-washed-in-five-days Metallica T-shirt. He shaves once a week whether needed or not, and bits of food and other detritus are often seen in his beard, clinging to his clothes, floating in the beer he is almost always found near, or strewn about his lair.
In contrast, and to my astonishment, the Golf Mag Staffers were observed in pressed chinos and v-neck sweaters. They lacked the mangy facial and other fur of their genetic cousins, and spent their time preening and ambling serenely about, apparently secure in the knowledge that their survival was easily assured. They spoke quietly and may even have drunk wine, although I was not able to confirm that by direct observation.
In my limited observations, it seemed to me that the Lesser Common Sports/Press Photographer—the ones who inhabited regional newspapers, small press agencies, or roam about the landscape in freelance fashion—had some envy for the apparent ease and luxury of the Golf Mag Staffer's lifestyle. On the other hand, The Greater Common Sports/Press Photographer—the denizens of Sports Illustrated, or the top sports-shooting niches at the Associated Press and Reuters—looked upon their Golf cousins with some admixture of amusement and modest disdain. In many subsequent years of field observation, I never saw their like again.
I'm just having fun here. Golf photography is, in fact, a pretty demanding job. Like getting old, lugging super-telephoto lenses all over a golf course for ten hours a day is not for sissies. Still, it was not hard to pick the golf magazine staffers out from the rest of the press horde.
And the U.S. Open was a big enough event that it drew a horde. One of that mass of photographers, Terry Schmidt of the old United Press International, told me a fun story: Some time in the late '70s he'd been shooting a previous U.S. Open, and Tom Watson, a notorious hater of distractions, was teeing off. It was raining, and Schmidt was using a Nikon F2, which had a noisy motor drive prone to shorting when wet. Because there is simply no other way the Universe can operate, Schmidt's camera shorted in the middle of Watson's backswing and began firing off at full bore. Watson shanked his tee-shot and spun around in fury, looking for the culprit. To keep the driver-wielding Watson from killing him, Schmidt had dropped the F2 on the ground and backed away, declaiming responsibility by letting the camera continue firing, unmanned, in the grass.
Schmidt was the archetype of the Metallica T-shirt kind of guy. When I met him he had two F3 Pro cameras worn to the brass, and five lifetimes' worth of great stories.
Illustration: The Lone Cypress at Monterey Bay, photo by Sharashish
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Tony Roberts: "Hi Mike: I've been doing golf for 35 years on both sides of the Golf/Golf Digest staffer/freelance equation. The guys/girls who niche in golf are a hardy bunch considering the miles logged on fairways, up and down from a kneeling position (usually) and lugging three bodies with wide, 80–200 and a 400mm or 600mm.
"Watson never gave me any trouble esp. after getting the Chip-In during the '82 Open at PB. Nicklaus was the best, was never bothered even with the occasional top-of-backswing burst. Norman, Weiskopf, and the worst ever, Tiger Woods and his henchman, caddy Steve Williams, made our lives miserable.
"Thanks for a great site, very informative and enjoyable. From a former Wisconsin native (Neenah), Tony Roberts."
Mike replies: How great to get a comment from Tony Roberts, one of the best and best-known golf photographers of the past four decades—twice Golf Photographer of the Year and with more than 300 magazine covers to his credit. If you like golf, you've seen Tony's work—especially the famous sequence of Tom Watson's miraculous chip-in that he mentions, surely among the most famous golf photographs ever.
If you are a golfer or golf fan, you'll enjoy spending some time at Tony's website.