The Telecast That Changed Golf

By John Coyne

THE FIRST TELECAST of a golf tournament came in 1947, when the U.S. Open was transmitted to a local audience in St. Louis. George May at Tam O’Shanter would go nationwide with his telecast in August of 1953.

The Telecast That Changed Golf 1I had been at Tam earlier that Sunday as a spectator on the final day of the renamed World Championship of Golf, and had just returned home in time to catch the final half hour of the tournament on television. Television then produced only a grainy black-and-white image and there wasn’t really much to see of the event.

May had placed a single television camera atop the grandstand at the 18th hole. Harry Wismer, I’ve learned from research, was the announcer up in the tower and he had just turned over the microphone to a guest, who happened to be Jimmy Demaret.

They were watching Lew Worsham (pictured above on Golfing) coming down the final fairway. Worsham needed a birdie three to get into a playoff with Chandler Harper for the $25,000 first prize − at the time the biggest payoff in golf. Worsham hit a perfect tee shot into the middle of the 18th fairway. He had 120 left to the green. The green was elevated, fronted by a small creek, and well guarded by old oaks.

Demaret, as I recall, did the announcing as Worsham studied the shot, selected a wedge, settled into his address, and was ready to swing. Then Demaret and everyone in the crowded grandstand behind the hole fell silent. Across America it would later be estimated two million people watched Worsham play his shot.

Lew hit a low, driving wedge − I didn’t see it in the air, but caught sight of the ball as it came up and across the narrow creek. It hit into the front edge of the green well short of the pin. Then it began to roll. It rolled for nearly sixty feet − raced across the green − and dropped straight into the hole for an eagle two and an outright win.

There were perhaps 10 seconds of dead quiet as the camera followed the flight of that ball, its long roll, and then the TV silence was broken by Jimmy Demaret’s first golf color comment on live television: “Well, I’ll be God damned, he sank it!”

With that eagle, everything changed for golf as television casted its electronic glow across the fairways of the professional tour. A year later the U.S. Open would be on TV, and in 1955, the first Masters telecast.

Many who follow golf remember Tiger Wood’s chip at the 16th at the Masters and the anguishing slow roll of his Nike ball into the cup for a birdie.

There have been holes-in-ones, and amazing approaches and putts to snatch victory at the most unlikely of times. But those of us who have been around a few years will always first recall Lew Worsham’s amazing eagle at Tam O’Shanter in the summer of ’53.

John Coyne is the author of
The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played with Hickory. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

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