Rossie’s Link To
Bob Rosburg never pulled a punch or ducked a challenge. In 1938, the 12-year-old San Francisco, Calif., native and Olympic Club junior member beat retired baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb in the first flight finals of the club championship. Showing no fear, Rosburg rolled 7 and 6.
“As I remember, he was very nice to me,” said Rosburg, who died in 2009 at age 82. “I just annihilated him.” Rosburg wasn’t intimidated. His father, a San Francisco doctor, introduced him to golf when he was 2. By age 7, he had made his first hole-in one at Stanford Golf Course. Rosburg was a fixture at Olympic, where his father joined when he was 9, and once followed a match between Cobb and Babe Ruth.
A multi-talented athlete, Rosburg enrolled at Stanford University when he was 16, attending only three years of high school. A pre-med major, he helped the golf team win the NCAA Championship in 1946, and also lettered in basketball and baseball, excelling as an infielder. A three-time runner-up in the California State Amateur Championship, Rosburg graduated in 1948, and was torn between pursuing baseball or golf as a career. He eventually chose the latter, turning pro 1953.
It proved a wise decision. Rosburg won six PGA Tour events, highlighted by the 1959 PGA Championship at Minneapolis Golf Club in St. Louis Park, Minn., where he fired a finalround 66 to beat Jerry Barber and Doug Sanders by one stroke.
Blessed with great hand-eye coordination and a wonderful putting stroke, Rosburg was a two-time runner-up in the U.S. Open. He won the 1961 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, coming from seven strokes down in the closing round.
“His stories almost seemed like fiction. They were so memorable.” — Curtis Strange on Bob RosburgIn 1970, Rosburg teamed with San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie, also a Stanford alum, to win the pro-am portion of the Crosby. Rosburg’s final PGA Tour victory came in 1972 at the Bob Hope Desert Classic. Two years later, Rosburg went to work for ABC as golf’s first on-course reporter at tournaments. It was the start of a 30-year career and blazed a trail for future foot soldiers like Judy Rankin and Roger Maltbie.
“I can’t tell you how much he mentored me,” said Rankin, approaching 30 years in the business. “This might surprise some people, but he was very well-educated and had a great command of the English language. Every now and then, he would say, ‘Don’t say it that way,’ and correct me. He never made a grammatical error.”
Maltbie, a long-time on-course commentator for NBC, has nothing but admiration and good memories of Rosburg. “I always called him the ‘Godfather,’ ” Maltbie said. “He was really the guy who created the foot soldier role. I loved the way he went about his business. He talked about golf and didn’t tell stories about the players.”
At Rosburg’s suggestion, ABC hired Rankin as an on-course reporter at the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass. She has been a fixture ever since.
“I’ve said it more than once, he was probably the first liberated male because nobody would have guessed it,” Rankin said. “He really thought anybody that could do a job, ought to have a chance.”
The highly respected Rankin will always be grateful. “I can very honestly say, particularly in the early going, I might not have been able to make it or stick without him,” she said. “He really helped me figure out what I was doing and gave me the courage to keep trying.”
Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange also developed a special bond with Rosburg. They worked together for 10 years at ABC and shared many stories and cocktails. “His stories almost seemed like fiction,” said Strange. “They were so memorable. My wife, Sarah, and I stayed with him at the Hope and I couldn’t wait to get home every day to listen to him talk about all 18 holes.”
Rosburg was honest – sometimes brutally so – and always maintained a sense of humor. According to Strange, he was the smartest man on Tour. “He was brilliant on the air, in the respect that less was more,” Strange said. “He didn’t get paid by the word.”
Rosburg also enjoyed the needle and had a quick wit. Maltbie recalled a pro-am party at Silverado Country Club in Napa, Calif., site of the old Transamerica Senior Championship. Arnold Palmer was on hand and surprised to see Rosburg.
“What are you doing here?” he said. Without missing a beat, Rossie replied, “You’d still be plenty good if they put all the pins in the left bunker.”
That was Rossie. He always spoke his mind. “He was candid in a profession where people are very careful about the words they chose,” said Rankin, whose late husband, Yippy, was close to Rosburg. “He didn’t do that, which made him more entertaining. There’s no doubt there were times when he was wrong and made a mistake, but the way I saw it, how often do you as a player in the game of golf make the same error?” Rosburg became famous for the phrase, “He’s got no chance, Jim,” when sizing up a recovery shot to ABC lead announcer Jim McKay. Seemingly more times than not, someone pulled off a great shot.
“People still joke about Rossie, but that was his sense of humor as well,” Maltbie said. “He always saw the glass half-empty.”
Added Rankin, “People have said, ‘Well, he never should have said that.’ But, basically, he was saying exactly what the players saw and were thinking.” When Strange won the first of back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 1988 at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Rosburg was the first person to greet him.
“I loved that he was calling my biggest win,” Strange said. “I seemed to play well on ABC a lot and got to know him. He had a great heart and we kind of had the same attitude.”
Rosburg will be missed when the U.S. Open returns to Olympic Club in June. But between raising a family, playing golf, television, buying and rooting for race horses, and wowing people with card tricks, Rankin thinks he had no regrets. “I honestly believe Rossie did everything he wanted to do,” she said.
Reproduced with kind permission of Global Golf Post - Subscribe now for free
IN THE MAY 13, 2013 ISSUE