John Derr Wows 'Em at Induction
He’s one of a kind, probably the most widely known man in the Sandhills, and a legend in his own time.
He’s 94 years old going on 50, and he’s sharper than the proverbial tack. He earned his reputation not by playing golf, but by talking about it and making the game entertaining for others.
He covered his first Masters Tournament at Augusta National in 1935 and ended up putting his mark on 62 of them.
He was honored by Augusta National a few years ago for his career contributions and probably knows as many of the details concerning the mystique of the tournament as anyone alive.
He spent time both on and off the golf course with the legendary Bob Jones. He was close friends with the curmudgeonly Clifford Roberts. He was there when Gene Sarazen holed the unforgettable double eagle. He’s walked the course with Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead.
He’s written three books about his memories and could probably write a couple more.
And all that is just part of the reason John Derr was inducted into his fifth hall of fame last Sunday night in Myrtle Beach.
“On a dusty, wind-swept parade ground at the New Delhi headquarters of the China-Burma-India theater, 67 years ago this month, I stood at attention while Gen. Walton Terry read a military citation and awarded me the Bronze Star,” Derr told the rapt audience.
“And I probably didn’t deserve that, either.”
There’s no doubt that Derr is deserving of all his honors. The man just has a way of doing the right things the right way at the right time.
“Do I deserve this?” he questioned. “I don’t know. But I am delighted to be inducted into the Carolinas PGA Hall of Fame.”
Derr served as executive director of the Carolinas PGA for 10 years, beginning in 1975. “My first job was as a sports writer for the Gastonia Gazette,” he recalled. “The publisher told me that he couldn’t afford to pay me, but they would give me $20 a week. But, as I was untrained for the position and would have to get on-the-job training, they would charge me $20 a week for that. So, I was breaking even.
“But a few months later I lost my amateur standing. The Gazette began paying me $6 a week and later raised me to $12 a week.”
Derr graduated from high school but didn’t have the financial means to attend college.
“You’ve heard about the big Depression; well, that was it,” he said. “Everything and everybody was depressed. The chickens were so depressed that they quit laying eggs, and my dog only barked on Tuesdays.
“I bartered with Belmont Abbey College for an education, writing news releases for the athletic teams in exchange for private tutoring by Father Gregory Eichenlob.
“The father told me later that I graduated from my class of one as the valedictorian. I guess that means that I was also the class idiot.”
Prior to serving with the CPGA, Derr had retired from CBS Sports. He was an assistant to the great sports announcer Red Barber, and when Barber left to do the New York Yankee games, Derr moved up to head CBS Sports.
“My first on-air broadcast for CBS Radio was the opening of the 1948 Olympics in London,” he said.
Actually, Derr was not eligible for induction into the CPGA Hall until the bylaws were changed last year. “I wrote the rules for induction into the hall,” Derr said, “and they clearly stated that an inductee had to have been a Carolinas Section professional for 10 years and demonstrated leadership in the association. So, I knew I wasn’t eligible.
“Then one day — in my absence — a new board changed the rules, making me eligible. I didn’t have to pass the Players Aptitude Test, so here I am.
“I have one message for my PGA friends. Realize how valuable those three letters on your shirt or office door are. You worked hard for that PGA emblem. Be proud to wear it.”
Contact Howard Ward by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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