HOWARD WARD: 'Dear John' Letter Another Derr Accolade
When you've been around for as long as the venerable John Derr and been involved in as many projects and careers as he has, a lot of good things start happening for you.
Mention the name of John Derr in the Pinehurst area and everybody in the room smiles. Why not? The guy has done everything at least once and most of them more than once. He's met everyone in the world that's worth meeting and most of those people can't wait to tell someone that THEY'VE met John Derr.
He's bumped heads -- literally -- with presidents, been a house guest of Gandhi, shared a million stories with the late Sam Snead, and been directly involved in the coverage of 62 Masters Tournaments. That's right. Sixty-two.
John Derr was already a legend when I met him back in the early 1970s. To the best of my recollection, his last retirement came in 1984. And since then he's had at least two books published and is working on a mystery novel.
Derr has been honored so many times by so many organizations that he doesn't have a clue as to how many or what a lot of them were even about. It's just that when the man does something, it's with a flair that makes it memorable.
John Derr is what every media guy would like to be.
So, it came as no surprise when John opened a letter a few days ago and found that he was being singled out once again. What was a surprise was the return address: Augusta National Golf Club.
Actually, this was a Dear John letter, which is kind of scary at first glance. But this one was signed by Billy Payne, the current Augusta National Chairman, and it was good news. It read in part:
"In recognition and appreciation of your work and that of selected others, we would like to present you The Masters Major Achievement Award at this year's upcoming tournaments
"This prestigious award honors and commemorates your many years of coverage of the Masters.
"I am quite proud of the Award itself as I personally participated in its design. I think you will find it a unique and wonderful memento that appropriately reminds you of your many years at Augusta.
"The presentation will be made Wednesday, April 4, in the Press building interview room immediately following the Golf Writers Association of America annual meeting."
"At my age, just to have my name mentioned is an honor," Derr said, "but to be given an award for something I enjoyed so much and for so long is 'cool' as the youngsters say now.
"The people at Augusta National decided they wanted to acknowledge the role of reporters who have covered or written about the Masters for 40 years or more," Derr said. "So I guess they just pulled my name out of a hat."
Hardly. The Augusta National people don't do anything happenstance. They contacted Derr a few weeks ago and asked if he had covered 40 or more Masters. He responded with verification of being there for 62 tournaments.
"I didn't count the times I was freelancing for someone or was giving a lecture," Derr said. "I e-mailed them the information along with who I was covering it for and which player won it each year I was working. The first one was Gene Sarazen in 1935."
The last one was in 2001 when Tiger Woods won for the second time. Ten years earlier, on the Sunday that Ian Woosnam won, Derr's beloved wife Peggy died.
"Many changes have been observed in this skein of visits, but there is no greater venue in all of sports than Augusta National in the spring. Well, actually, at any time. It was great to begin with in the early desperate '30s, and over the years there have been many changes.
"But one thing never changes. You start downhill and close coming uphill, but between those two points you have experienced a constant thrill. Hallowed ground? Yes.
"All of the greats have walked that trail and it has been my extreme good fortune to be there to describe their taking the challenge. It was great."
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