JIM DODSON: The Drummer: CBS Sports Legend Fondly Recalled
"I just remembered a funny story about Bob," said M.J. Drum, sipping her vodka cranberry juice cocktail.
"There are a million funny stories about Dad," said her daughter, Denise Drum Baker. "Which one?"
"The time I sent him a shredded tuxedo to The Masters."
Denise laughed and offered me a cheese straw. "Oh, that's good, Mom. Tell that one."
I sipped my gin and tonic and reached for the hors d'oeuvres, embarrassed that we'd arrived 30 minutes late for a brief revival of the "5:42 Cocktail Club," an infamous drinking club started 40 years ago by the late great golf writer and CBS Sports bon vivant Bob Drum with a bunch of his pals at Manucci's restaurant in Manhattan.
Since it was my favorite week in tournament golf -- British Open week -- I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do than sit and hear tales about the "man who invented Arnold Palmer" from his own wife and children. Palmer's success at the British Open, many feel, salvaged the oldest championship in golf from the waste bin of irrelevancy.
But we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Let's get back to Big Bob Drum.
Forty years ago this month, "The Drummer," then the highly opinionated, rough-edged golf writer for The Pittsburgh Press, accompanied Palmer, fresh off his U.S. Open win at Cherry Hills, to St. Andrews, Scotland, for the 100th British Open Championship.
It was Drum whose crusty, uncharitable remarks fired up a faltering young Palmer moments before the start of the final round at Cherry Hills and inspired the charismatic Pennsylvanian to charge from seven strokes back in the field to capture the National Open in one of most dazzling major finishes ever. This prompted Fort Worth golf writer Dan Jenkins to assert wryly that Drum had "invented Arnold Palmer."
During their flight to Ireland, where Palmer was to team with Sam Snead for the Canada Cup prior to venturing on to Scotland, it was this same volcanic wordsmith who'd followed Arnold Daniel Palmer's rise from junior golf to PGA stardom, flogging his exploits to anyone who would listen, who raised the subject of Bob Jones' "Grand Slam" -- the name given to Jones' unprecedented triumphs at the U.S. and British Amateur Championships and the Open of both nations during the same calendar year.
"It's a hell of a shame the growth of professional golf has ruined the concept," Drum grumbled over his scotch-and-water, according to Palmer's memoirs. "The Grand Slam was a great tradition."
"Well," Palmer came back casually, "why don't we just create a new Grand Slam?"
Drum, he says, glared at him like "a cross between an annoyed college dean and a sleeping bear someone had foolishly kicked awake."
By the time their plane touched down in Ireland, the two of them had decided that the "Modern Grand Slam" should logically consist of winning The Masters, both Open championships, and the PGA Championship.
Drum evangelically peddled the idea among his fellow scribes and other players, including Sam Snead -- who liked the idea of a "modern" slam so much that he reportedly later took some credit for coming up with the idea. Many were convinced that Arnold Palmer was just the guy to do it in 1960. He'd already captured The Masters and the U.S. Open. Despite the Open's historic significance, only a handful of the better American players were willing to spend the time and money to go over the pond -- since the first-place prize money would barely cover expenses.
Unfortunately, the modern Grand Slam was not to be in 1960 -- a year that otherwise announced a major changing of the guard in golf. Palmer lost out to Australian Kel Nagle and took his bride, Winnie, off to France for a belated honeymoon.
Bob Drum continued being, well, Bob Drum -- literally the loudest, largest, hardest-drinking character in the press caravan bumping along the Tour Trail and various by-waters of the game for the next two decades -- until a CBS producer had the crazy idea of making Big Bob Drum the color man on a celebrated broadcast crew that included the likes of Jack Whittaker and Ken Venturi.
Legendary CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian later told Drum's wife, "M.J., this could be the best idea I've ever done -- or the worst."
Almost overnight, at age 68, however, six-foot-three, 290-pound Bob Drum became a large-than-life TV star -- a mountainous, rumpled, oddly comforting presence who spoke the language of the everyday golf fan. For eight years on a two-minute segment called "The Drummer's Beat," Drum's gruff and salty Everyman commentaries on the vagaries of golf and life in general -- most of which sprang from his oversized head only minutes before airtime and were recorded in one take -- comprised some of the most entertaining moments in golf broadcasting. He was eventually nominated for an Emmy.
The Shredded Tuxedo
"So tell me about Dad's shredded tuxedo," I prompted Marian Jane Drum, who is 87 and easily as mentally sharp as her late husband's tongue. Besides Drum's fabled capacity for drinking just about anyone under the table, and his natural indifference to print deadlines and editors, Big Bob Drum (whom everyone including his wife called "Dad") was famous for one-liners like: "If you can't get the job done by noon, it's too big for you."
"Dad had absolutely no clue about clothes," M.J. said. "He was completely ridiculous. When he went on trips, I used to pin his outfits together, his tie to his shirt and his pants to his jacket, and so forth. He always got things screwed up. He looked awful if someone else didn't dress him. That was my job.
"So Dad's down at the Masters and I get this phone call from him telling me, 'M.J., we're having a surprise birthday party for Frank Chirkinian. I need my tuxedo by tomorrow night. Got that?'
"Truthfully, I was perfectly incensed that he would pull this kind of stunt on me. I was busy running a women's shop over at the Pinehurst Resort at that time. But I hung up and called Marty McKenzie, a dear fellow, and asked him if there was any way on earth to get Dad's tuxedo from Pinehurst to Augusta, Ga., in one day. There was no such thing as Federal Express available here back then. Marty told me to pack up the tuxedo and he would personally get it on a van to Raleigh and a flight to Augusta."
Before packing up the tux, however, M.J. went over to The Bargain Box and purchased a used tuxedo for ten bucks, took out scissors, and "shredded that thing to pieces -- packing it beautifully on top of Bob's regular tuxedo."
She sipped her drink and gave a hearty laugh, remembering the outcome.
"I learned later from Pat Summerall, who always roomed with Dad when they were on the road, that he nearly had a heart attack when he opened the box and saw what was in it. The guys on the crew, I guess, all got a good laugh out of it."
Marian Jane Shaub met Bob Drum in August of 1948. She was a secretary in the sales department at U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh. Bob was a sports columnist for The Pittsburgh Press, a job he more or less sauntered into as an aging jock after the war. They met one summer afternoon in a bar across the street from her office, where she often went with colleagues for a drink after work.
"Dad was already a big-shot sports columnist in town, but I didn't know him from a bean," said M.J. "He called me that week for a date, but I turned him down. Then he called me the next week. I turned him down that week, too. Then he called back a third time, and I agreed to go out with him. 'Man, oh, man,' he told me later. 'I thought you were going to keep this crazy song-and-dance going forever.'"
They married five months later. ("Horrified well-wishers counseled her against it," notes a profile of Drum in The Pittsburgh Press Magazine from 1986.) The bride was a classy beauty. The groom was large, loud, and full of himself -- a former all-American basketball forward and baseball catcher at the University of Alabama. "People couldn't see what I saw in Dad, but there was something about him that just worked for me. He was never dull, that's for sure."
M.J. and The Drummer produced five children: Debbie, Denise, Donna, Bob Jr. and Kevin.
Denise Baker, now a professor of visual art at Sandhills Community College, remembers a lively Halloween party her parents threw when she was 5. Life in the Drum house was apparently a constant party.
"Mom dressed up like Maid Marian and Dad was dressed like Friar Tuck," she says. "I remember looking out the window of our house and seeing the guests arriving. It was terrifying. All the men had decided to dress just like Bob Drum. There were 25 Bob Drums coming to the Halloween party."
"Meaning 25 men who had no idea how to dress themselves," chipped in M.J.
A Who's Who of the sporting world passed through Drum residences in Pittsburgh, Upstate New York and eventually Pinehurst, where Bob went to work for Diamondhead Corp. in the 1970s. Among other things, Drum pushed hard to convince the new owners of Pinehurst Resort to build their golf hall of fame in the historic theater building in the Village Square. They chose not to listen and instead erected a hideous rendition of a Greek temple just off No. 2 and watched it open and close within a matter of years.
"I think if they'd listened to Dad," says son Kevin, who today runs his own golf consulting business between Pinehurst and Mississippi, "the golf hall of fame would still be here in Pinehurst. He understood the whole thing was about perpetuating tradition. Dad absolutely adored Pinehurst."
Perpetuating family tradition was why Kevin took his ailing dad back to St. Andrews in 1995 to watch another larger-than-life character, Big John Daly, win the Open Championship.
"He loved every minute of it," says Kevin. "And I loved being able to be there with him. That was the year Arnold said goodbye to the British Open. Dad got to be there for his first and his last visit."
The big-hearted man who invented the man who invented the "Modern Grand Slam" passed away from heart failure less than a year later. Faces from across the golf world packed the memorial service at The Village Chapel that May afternoon.
Afterward, a more informal service for "The Drummer" was held at the bar in the Pine Crest Inn -- his favorite watering hole in the world. "If they didn't have a little get-together for him after the service," Arnie Palmer mused later, "he'd know. And boy, would he be upset."
During the ceremony, a special plaque was installed on one of the bar stools. "For 30 Years," it read, "Bob Drum Time-Shared This Bar Stool."
The stool is still there, and the British Open finishes up today at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England -- where, wouldn't you know, young Arnold Palmer won his first British Open in 1961 and, some say, reinvented golf's oldest championship.
You have to think the man who invented Arnold Palmer will be perched somewhere on a heavenly bar stool watching today's telecast, offering salty one-liners and lifting his glass to the vagaries of life and golf.
Best-selling author Jim Dodson, The Pilot's writer-in-residence, can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
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