Gordon White: Aces Up: Hard Work Pays Off for John Derr
Ever since Young John Derr was taking his first golf lessons from Old Tom Morris shortly after the dawn of time, the budding hacker had dreams of some day fulfilling a passionate desire.
It is a good thing Derr is a patient fellow and one of the most doggedly determined individuals you will ever meet on a teeing ground. Those qualities finally paid dividends after tens of thousands of tee shots at par-3 holes over a century during thousands and thousands of rounds of golf.
Our local hero who is my favorite nonagenarian, John Derr of Pinehurst, saw his dream come true 10 days ago when he whacked an 8-iron shot about 125 yards or so directly from tee to cup at the 11th hole of the Mid South Club for his first hole in one.
This North Carolina native and giant of sports journalism over the last century will be known forever more as Ace Derr.
The hole in one came just three weeks after Ace Derr, in another Mid South round of golf, shot his age -- 91.
Just one thing -- the official witness to both of these achievements was a totally unbiased Cricket Gentry, Ace Derr's daughter. There is absolutely no truth to the widely circulated rumor throughout the Sandhills that Cricket kicked Ace's ball into the 11th hole at Mid South.
Derr will be properly honored a week from tomorrow when he is inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the Cramer Mountain Country Club. With this single recognition, Ace Derr hits a major trifecta as this will be his third hall of fame induction.
He is not being inducted into a hall of fame for the third time because of his rare skills on a golf course. After all, a hole in one and a round of 91 might get you a ride on a bus if you have the full fare.
Derr is being entered into another hall of fame because of his superb journalistic talents through the 20th century and his devotion to sports, particularly golf. He was placed in the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame in 1986 and the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
Few men or women are as skilled as John Derr at telling the world about sports and world news through any one of the three major news outlets. Derr was one of the very best at his trade and informed us through all three primary media formats---newspapers, radio and television.
Born in Gaston County's town of Dallas, Oct. 13, 1917, Derr began his career well over three quarters of a century ago when he was sports editor of the Gastonia Gazette in the mid 1930's. From there he became sports editor of the Greensboro Times before World War II interrupted all of our lives.
Following three years in the Army during which he spent most of his service in the CBI (China, Burma, India) Theater, Derr returned to be hired at CBS in New York by Edward R. Murrow. From then on Ace Derr was headed for glory as he walked and talked with world figures such as Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy and Ford.
While serving in the CBI Theater, Derr sat down to tea a number of times with Mahatma Gandhi. While visiting Princeton University, Ace Derr talked of many things with Albert Einstein.
Derr worked with Red Barber, Arthur Godfrey, Andy Rooney, Byron Nelson, Chris Schenkel and many more.
Ace Derr broadcast the exploits of Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player, Tommy Bolt and many, many more of the greatest golfers in history. His famous radio broadcast interview with Hogan immediately following the Texan's victory in the 1953 British Open at Carnoustie is a classic.
I first got to know John when we both began our lengthy sports journalism careers out of New York City shortly after World War II in the late 1940's. Our paths often crossed as we covered the same events time and time again.
Derr's most lasting work may be his coverage of the Masters golf tournament. Starting with the second Masters in 1935, this lively journalist with a twinkle in his eye and an ability to spin a story with words worth reading and listening to, Derr covered 62 Masters, more than any other journalist in the world.
Derr and Andy Rooney were script writers for Arthur Godfrey over half a century ago when the Godfrey show was one of TV's highest rated shows.
This fine person who gave back so much to his home state was instrumental in getting the World Golf Hall of Fame located in Pinehurst in the 1970s. The Hall has since been moved to Florida. He served for many years as Executive Director of the Carolinas PGA while also carrying on his broadcast work across the nation.
Ace Derr has served for many years as president and now vice president of the Pinehurst Rescue Squad. He is also an important member of the Tin Whistles' Scholarship Committee that distributes college scholarships to worthy Moore County high school graduates.
He is the best after dinner speaker in the Sandhills where he has talked before hundreds of groups over the last 30 years or more.
Because of a World War II coincidence involving John and myself, John accepted my invitation to be the speaker at the annual reunion banquet for the remaining members of the crew of the USS West Point, which was our largest troop transport during World War II. This reunion banquet will take place in Raleigh, Oct. 11, just two days before Ace Derr becomes 92.
I served as a quartermaster aboard the West Point. Derr and his Army unit were shipped from the United States to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1943 aboard the West Point. Derr was stationed in New Delhi during most of his tour in the CBI Theater.
The West Point, which was converted into a troop ship from the one-year old luxury liner, SS America, in 1941, had a Navy crew of approximately 750 men. Over her four and a half years service in the U.S. Navy, more than 1,200 men served in her crew. Only about 40 of them will attend the Raleigh reunion when a wonderful former passenger will speak to them of sipping tea with Gandhi because those crew members got him safely to India.
Although Derr did most of the listening when he was in the company of such men as Gandhi or presidents, he did not always accept their advice.
For instance, it is a good thing he did not quit golf after meeting up with Albert Einstein that afternoon at Princeton University years ago.
Ace Derr tells it this way:
"I did not know just what to say to Albert Einstein when I was introduced to him. After all, what do I know about the theory of relativity. I don't know what it means when somebody says that E equals MC squared.
"So after talking about the weather and such mundane stuff I asked Mr. Einstein if he played golf. He said, 'I played it once and could not figure it out so I never played again.'
"Now I'm wondering to myself, if Albert Einstein thinks golf is too difficult to understand just what the hell am I doing spending all my time playing the game?"
The reason, Ace, is that you were waiting for that hole in one. Now your next goal is a second hole in one so you can catch up to me.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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