Peggy, John Make Tuesday a Special Day
It was the perfect setting before the perfect audience on Tuesday, when Peggy Kirk Bell and John Derr spent an hour talking to a standing-room-only gathering of friends and admirers in the cozy confines of the Given Memorial Library in Pinehurst.
What better place than the Tufts Archives building to listen to two of the legends of the game reminisce about their great careers and the people with whom they met and became friends?
Mrs. Bell, the First Lady of Golf and the matriarch of the Bell Family that operates the storied Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, is 90 and still limping from recent surgery. Derr is 94 and still rambunctious and vibrant. Both were at ease before their friends and regaled them with stories of the past.
Derr, who has spoken to practically every group or club or breakfast gathering in the Sandhills at least once, is never at a loss for words and deftly worked Mrs. Bell into the mood of the morning.
Time and again he encouraged her to tell another story about their mutual friend the late Babe Didrikson Zaharias or other incidents. And time and again, the soft-spoken Bell used her wry wit to keep the audience laughing.
For instance, she told how Babe conned her into a game of gin the first time they met, in a golf course locker room, volunteered to teach her how to play, and when the game was over, informed the “rookie’ that she owed her $13.50.
Derr told how Babe, who was suffering from cancer, asked him during a phone conversation to pass the word to Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson that they needed to get going and win the U.S. Open.
“Tell them that we’ve got enough good Texas players that we can win it forever,” she said.
Later in that conversation, Derr asked her if she was going to be at the championship.
“No, John,” Babe said. “I’m dying.”
“I had to go on the air a few minutes after that call,” Derr said, “and it was the hardest broadcast I ever did.”
Mrs. Bell, who was probably Babe’s closest friend, has an endless supply of stories, and the indomitable Derr kept urging her to tell them.
She broke the audience up when she related the story about the time she and Babe were entered in a two-woman better-ball tournament.
“I was really nervous,” Mrs. Bell recalled, “and I told Babe I hoped I didn’t cost us the tournament.
“‘Oh, don’t worry, Peg,’ Babe said. ‘I can beat any two players in this field without you.’”
Derr revealed that he had just completed an interview for a Sirius Radio sports show. “We were scheduled for 15 minutes and talked for about 45,” Derr said. “I asked the host how many people he thought had listened to us and he said, ‘Well, in this time frame, we have around 3.8 million listeners.’
“I’m on a weekly golf talk show on WEEB on Mondays, but I don’t think we have quite that many listeners. Can you imagine that many people hearing all your mistakes?”
Derr, who has written three books and denies he’ll write a fourth because “I’ve used up all my stories … I’ve got nothing left,” described his most “embarrassing moment” in golf.
“I was playing in a foursome with the legendary amateur Bobby Jones on his home course, East Lake, in Atlanta,” Derr recalled, “and it was in the fall, and a lot of leaves were in the woods bordering the fairways.
“I hit my ball into the trees, and my caddie and I were over there looking for the ball, kicking at the leaves and having no luck. Then I looked up and saw the great Bobby Jones bent over, using his hands to clear away the leaves, and I thought, ‘Oh no! Bobby Jones is over here in the woods searching for my golf ball.’
“That had to be my most embarrassing moment in the game.”
There were no embarrassing moments at the Given Memorial Library on Tuesday, though. Just a lot of good memories shared with a couple of legends. It was just another reminder of what makes the Pinehurst area so special.
Two legends adding to their legacy.
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