Column: Ben Wright can still spin a golf story
His voice remains captivating, and his stories don’t grow old.
It’s been more than 13 years since Ben Wright regularly entertained golf fans with his unshakable memory and unmistakable British accent.
Several inappropriate remarks about the LPGA Tour and lesbianism triggered his disappearance from CBS and our TV screens back in the mid-1990s, keeping him behind the scenes as a golf course designer.
On Tuesday, Wright’s audience was five media types in the rear of the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course clubhouse in Stateline. It didn’t matter that the London-born journalist wasn’t in front of CBS cameras, the compelling stories freely flowed from his lips.
The worst golf moment Wright witnessed in his 45-year career following the game was the final-hole meltdown of Jean Van de Velde in the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. Van de Velde double-bogeyed the 18th hole to fall into a playoff and eventually lost the title.
“I couldn’t believe he was doing what he did,” Wright recalled. “I was actually standing on the balcony at the hotel, which looks straight down the 18th hole from the green backwards. I just couldn’t understand because three five-irons, and it’s his. He played with such joyous abandon, it was almost as if he wanted to lose.”
Wright couldn’t come up with a close second to Van de Velde’s collapse.
“It would be hard to understand anything quite as dramatic and horrible as that,” Wright said. “I must say that Jean Van de Velde took it absolutely magnificently. He really behaved quite admirably, and I think he became a public favorite because of it, and he certainly made a name for himself.”
Wright doesn’t hide the fact that the late Ben Hogan remains his favorite golfer of all-time. Hogan won six of his nine major championships after nearly dying in 1949 when the automobile he was driving collided with a Greyhound bus.
Wright raised a few eyebrows on Tuesday when asked how Hogan would do today against Tiger Woods.
“He would murder him,” Wright said. “He was the greatest competitor in his sport, bar none.”
Hogan is responsible for Wright carving out a career in golf. In 1953, Wright watched as Hogan won his only appearance in The Open Championship (British Open) at Carnoustie despite a grueling final day of 36 holes.
“I had never seen anything like it. It was not only the precision of his shotmaking, but he shot 73-71-70-68, and the 70 and 68 were compiled on the same day,” Wright said. “You see, in those days we didn’t have any touring pros in Britain, so the guys had to drive back home to open their pro shops on Saturday, or they wouldn’t have a job on Monday.”
What Wright saw on Hogan’s face told him everything he needed to know about this golfer’s place in history.
“I’ll never forget this, as long as I live,” Wright said. “People don’t realize how badly he’d been injured in the car wreck before he’d been to Carnoustie.
“When he came up the 18th hole the second time, he was wearing his white cap and a gray cashmere sweater and the same light-gray, beautiful slacks, and his face was the same color as the sweater and the slacks. He was so beat, but he carved out his par to make sure he won the championship.
“I was convinced that day that I’d have to spend the rest of my life somehow hanging around golf.”
– Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or Syingling@tahoedailytribune.com
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