An Interview with Randall Mell

An Interview with Randall Mell

An Interview with Randall Mell

“The nature of the game is solitary – every round is a journey, but a solitary journey – more than any other sport…Golf is intensely focused on this one man or woman – the battle really isn’t against a cornerback or a pitcher – it’s against yourself – and against all your demons and doubts and fear and shame – all those internal obstacles. What’s appealing to me as a writer is to see and tell that.”

“The sport has a different culture than other sports – it’s not as combative or adversarial. It’s a smaller world – there aren’t as many beat reporters they have daily contact with. It’s a more intimate surrounding.

Golf writers get criticized because maybe they’re not as hard or as combative or adversarial as other writers. There may be some truth to that…”

“Some people in the newsroom can’t get enough of Tiger and some are sick of him… Tiger is a magnificent player with a magnificent swing. But as a personality he is just dull and boring and not interesting at all. Rarely does he have anything to say in a news conference that is worth quoting.”

Randall Mell: Interviewed on November 3, 2006

Position: golf and college football reporter, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Born: Madison, Wis., 1958

Education: Wisconsin-Eau Claire, journalism, 1981

Career: Marinette Eagle-Star 1981, Lake Geneva Regional News 82-85, South Florida Sun Sentinel 85 –

Personal: married, three children

Favorite restaurant (home): 15th Street Fisheries, Ft. Lauderdale “you can dress informally but they treat you like you’re wearing a tux – overlooks the Inter-Coastal – great food decent prices” –

Favorite restaurant (road): Crab Catcher, La Jolla, Ca. “located atop a cliff – spectacular view – great crab”

Favorite hotel: Marriott Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “serene setting overlooking some great TPC holes”

Randall Mell excerpted from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 17, 2006:

MEDINAH, ILL. – They call it Sergio Garcia’s tree around here.

The towering red oak under which Garcia hit that remarkable recovery shot in pursuit of Tiger Woods in the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah’s No. 3 Course has changed a lot.

Garcia noticed that when he couldn’t resist the urge to return to the foot of the tree in a practice round Tuesday for the 88th PGA Championship.

Countless members and guests over the past seven years haven’t been able to resist the urge to try the shot themselves, and they’ve scarred the base of the tree in bids to duplicate Garcia’s magic.

“They’ve had to overseed that little spot because everybody’s been hitting from it,” Garcia said.

At 19, Garcia was a shot behind Woods in the final round when he pushed his tee shot behind that oak tree. In a precarious spot, inches behind the tree and 189 yards from the hole, he took a wild slash, closing his eyes for fear the ball would ricochet back at him. His shot ran up onto the green, stopping 35 feet from the hole.

Q. Sergio’s tree – that’s beautiful. Does golf lend itself to better writing than other sports?

A. People in the business think of golf as a writer’s sport. Part of that is just the beautiful setting the game is played in – picturesque settings like Augusta National and Pebble Beach. It’s not limited to a 100-yard grid or between baselines. It’s a sport played against God’s great creations – historic backdrops – with ghosts like Jones and Nelson and Snead. There’s historic significance and it helps to have certain writing skills to bring that to life – to paint some pictures. Fred Turner, my former sports editor, would say, “Take me there as a reader.” He was a great editor because he was the quintessential reader.

That’s really the challenge. Just weaving the settings, histories, personalities and drama into a good tight meaningful story. The nature of the game is solitary – every round is a journey, but a solitary journey – more than any other sport. You have a kicker out there to kick a game-winning field goal but he has the snapper and holder. Golf is intensely focused on this one man or woman – the battle really isn’t against a cornerback or a pitcher – it’s against yourself – and against all your demons and doubts and fear and shame – all those internal obstacles. What’s appealing to me as a writer is to see and tell that.

Q. Is golf the best beat?

A. You have writers who would kill for it, and writers who can’t understand why anybody would want to write it – they think it’s just so boring. I have a great job. I get to write about golf and college football – a nice combination – they’re so different. My time covering Miami was one of the most fascinating runs in college football. There were great personalities – Jimmy Johnson, Michael Irvin, Cortez Kennedy – and lots of controversies – an NCAA investigation, a murder – everything you could possibly cover was on that beat. But it did wear me out. I had the Coral Gables Police Department on speed dial. I called the Police Chief by his first name.

So golf was almost a perfect reward for me. I got it in ’97 – my first Masters was Tiger’s runaway 12-shot victory. I came on the beat and the game completely changed with Tiger aboard. Covering golf I’ve only had to call the police over one incident.

Q. What’s your game plan when you cover a major?

A. First are the relevant themes – the story lines or issues that have to be addressed. What makes it more interesting to me is finding something nobody else has – which is hard to do at the majors. I was covering the U.S. Open at Shinnecock and there was a guy from California who had been in jail and was an alcoholic but had gotten his life back together and qualified. I was one of two writers who wrote about him – he was a classic U.S. Open ‘everyman’ story. It truly is an open tournament – you can qualify if you’ve got the game. That to me is a bonus story that makes it a better week.

Q. Are you a golfer?

A. Yes. I do play but not very good. The game fascinates me because you are battling yourself the whole way. You can hit a bad shot before you take the club back if your alignment is off. To me the best stories are trying to understand behavior and human nature. What shapes people and inspires them, what corrupts them or trips them up, and what saves or redeems people. We’re all flawed. That’s what makes us human and more interesting. Golf is all about overcoming your flaws. Hogan said something, “It’s not a game about hitting good shots – it’s about managing bad shots.” That’s why golf appeals to me. There are those life-type lessons that relate beyond the game.

Q. Do you need to play golf to cover it?

A. I don’t think you have to. It helps, but you don’t have to. Good writers can cover anything. The really good stories aren’t about why somebody used a five-iron instead of a six-iron. It’s those other things I said. How is somebody overcoming his flaws? What has shaped him to be a champion or prevented him from being a champion?

Q. Are golfers better interviews because of the nature of the game?

A. Not necessarily. It depends on the person. The sport has a different culture than other sports – it’s not as combative or adversarial. It’s a smaller world – there aren’t as many beat reporters they have daily contact with. It’s a more intimate surrounding. Golf writers get criticized because maybe they’re not as hard or as combative or adversarial as other writers. There may be some truth to that on a small scale. But you have writers like John Hawkins (Golf World), Len Shapiro (Washington Post), Ed Sherman (Chicago Tribune), Jim McCabe (Boston Globe) and Doug Ferguson (Associated Press) who ask tough questions and would thrive in any sport. Yet it clearly isn’t as combative and you can understand why other writers think that. The nature of the game is just different. There’s this notion that golf is a gentleman’s game and you have to police yourself and it’s more honorable. I think that is true – it does shape the culture of the sport. But whenever a lot of money is at stake and people compete intensely there’s always a dark side of human nature at work, and some corruption.

Q. Do golf writers have a watchdog function?

A. Yes. Definitely. I wrote a story at Doral last year, at the Ford championship. Ford, the sponsor, was trying to get the top players back to Doral – it had lost some of its luster – so it started a Monday corporate outing. They invited Sergio, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, and Padraig Harrington – and they were all paid six-figure sums. It didn’t technically violate PGA Tour rules, but it went into a gray area – it was very much a backdoor appearance fee – and they’re not supposed to have appearance fees. The other players were upset about it and the Tour changed the rule because of my story – now the Tour reviews all corporate outings held by sponsors. You don’t have the corruption you might have in other sports but there still are issues that need to be watched.

Q. How much of the beat revolves around Tiger?

A. That’s an interesting aspect. Some people in the newsroom can’t get enough of Tiger and some are sick of him. I see that in my e-mails all the time – why are you writing about him again? Everything revolves around Tiger – this week there was a controversy because he pulled out of the Tour Championship, and Phil Mickelson already had pulled out.

Tiger is a magnificent player with a magnificent swing. But as a personality he is just dull and boring and not interesting at all. Rarely does he have anything to say in a news conference that is worth quoting. He does that purposefully – he’s very smart. He’s managing himself as a player and a corporate entity, too. He markets himself – that’s part of who he is – but it makes it kind of boring to cover him as a personality. Yet he ends up giving you so much copy as a dominant player. As he gets toward the end of his career I’ll be curious to see if he opens up and becomes a leader of opinion. Jack Nicklaus is one of the great interviews in the sport now – he’s so opinionated you can get eight or nine stories out of one interview. With Tiger you struggle to get a quote. Maybe he opened up a little more this year – I shouldn’t be as harsh. He’s had strong opinions about drug testing and shortening the season, but overall he’s still guarded.

Q. Do you cover local golfers?

A. The hardest part is covering local golf – we almost need another reporter. I don’t do enough of it. I try to go to the locals. We have Morgan Pressel from Boca Raton – she dominates my coverage on the local stuff. I get most of my complaints about not covering the locals – “Why didn’t you write about my son?” – but it’s difficult for me get to. That’s a reality.

Q. Do media get to play the great courses?

A. At some events. Augusta has the famous lottery – they pick 24 people out of 300 or 400. I got picked my first year, which enraged our columnist, Mike Mayo, who had been there 10 years and never was picked. He just glared at me.

Q. What was it like?

A. Spectacular, fun and intimidating. I never played on fairways that were mowed so tightly. I skulled shots and hit some heavy.

Q. Your score?

A. 108. You had to ask. The funny thing I remember was my caddy – you have to hire a caddy. I asked him his name and he said “Nineteen.” I asked how he got that name, and he said, “My mama had 19 kids and she just ran out of names.”

You need a caddy there. Everyone talks about the greens – how fast they are – putting is an optical illusion. I had an 8-foot putt and he told me it was a 3-foot break. I’m thinking it was a little break. Sure enough he was right – my ball veered away.

Course knowledge is so important. Playing the course gives you an appreciation of just how hard it is. But that doesn’t stop us from writing on deadline that someone choked.

Q. Did playing the course help you cover the Masters?

A. One of my qualities as a writer is my empathy – it works for and against me. I think of myself as an empathetic person. I tend to sympathize with people’s struggles and I tend to relate to it. So playing that course did help me.

Q. Is there a connection between golf and writing?

A. We don’t have a caddy. Although you could call a good copy editor a caddy.

Q. How did you get to Ft. Lauderdale?

A. I was at the Lake Geneva Regional News. The biggest thing I covered there was the state basketball tournament. I had to figure out how to get noticed so I came up with a resume that was radically different. I made it look like the old Inside Sports Magazine, which at the time had all the great writers. I used that type and titled it “Inside Randall Mell” and designed it like the magazine front. The second page looked like the Table of Contents and inside I laid out my clips to look like the magazine. I sent it out to 20 or 30 papers. One guy in Kankakee sent it back to me and said, “You’re an idiot – you’ll never make it.” Craig Stanke was down here – he said he just laughed but he had to see what kind of character would do this. He said I made him read it and he could see I had potential. It got me noticed so it served its purpose.

I started in the Sun-Sentinel’s west bureau – at the time they used it as a training ground for young reporters. I wrote shuffleboard stories, senior golf, and then they would send me to do sidebars on the Dolphins or University of Florida games. It was almost like an internship. The funny thing about that was that I went through old issues and Gene Wojciechowski had stories in there and Bill Plaschke wrote for it. I was inspired that those guys started there, too.

Q. Your assignments before golf?

A. I was in the bureau for a year and a half. Fred Turner liked what I was doing and he decided I would be the next University of Miami football writer. This was 1987 – the height of the Hurricanes phenomenon – after the Fiesta Bowl and the beginning of the renegade Bad Boys. It was daunting to be thrown into that – I had never had a beat before. Greg Cote was the Miami Herald’s reporter and he was in his 4th or 5th year covering the team. I learned more my first two years getting my ass waxed than I learned in four years of J-School or the previous five years in the business. Cote was very good – he discovered a Miami journalism student by the name of Dan LeBatard – Dan became Greg’s personal assistant and would fill in on Greg’s days off. He knew all the football players and he was talented even at that young age.

Those two were a formidable combination. I shouldn’t say this but I still have footprints on my butt from them. But I learned so much. I can say there are Herald beat writers who have my footprints on their butts because of the lessons I learned. I had a strong command and strong sources and learned from my early mistakes and did well there. I won an investigative reporting award in 1993 for a story on UM players Bennie Blades, Brian Blades, Michael Irvin and others receiving thousands of dollars in secret cash payments from agent Mel Levine while playing in the late 80s. In 1995 I won an APSE investigative reporting award for a story I co-wrote with Dave Hyde on the drug-testing failures at UM that led to Warren Sapp playing in the Orange Bowl despite failing four drug tests.

I learned from competing early and failing early – it made me a better reporter. Thank God I had an editor, Fred Turner, who stuck with me because the first two years were painful.

Q. I’m going to read one of your college football leads, from the Sun-Sentinel, September 15, 2006:

Kafka’s the quarterback.

That’s Mike, not Franz, but the famed novelist might have been moved by the depressing turn Northwestern’s football program has taken.

The Wildcats joined the growing ranks of Division I-A teams that have been stunned by I-AA underdogs this year.

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka and his teammates know the existential angst the famed Czech writer once so skillfully explored.

The Wildcats’ 34-17 loss to New Hampshire came with NU fans there to see their first home game since coach Randy Walker’s death from a heart attack last summer. There was moment of silence in memory of Walker before kickoff, and his family members took part in the coin flip.

The rest of the game was Kafkaesque in its disappointment.

How do you come up with leads like that?

A. I wish I knew because then I could figure out how to do it more often. The fun of writing is when you surprise yourself like that and it just comes.

Anything that makes the story more fun – if you can grab someone’s attention immediately – it just helps. There’s so much out there with the Internet and blogs and message board. You have to catch readers early because they read the headlines and the lead and they move on.

(SMG thanks Randall Mell for his cooperation)

The first place for investigative reporting in the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) annual national contest was for 1995. I co-wrote with Dave Hyde. I was the University of Miami beat writer, he was our columnist. The story detailed the drug-testing failures at UM that led to Warren Sapp playing in the Orange Bowl despite failing four drug tests at Miami.

The first place for investigating reporting in the Florida Sportswriters Contest was for 1993. The story was about how former UM players Bennie Blades, Brian Blades, Michael Irvin and others received thousands of dollars in secret cash payments from agent Mel Levine while playing for the Hurricanes in the late ’80s. Bennie said he received between $30,000 and $40,000 from a student runner who worked for Levine.

One of my qualities as writer is my empathy – works for and against me – I thin kof mysaelf as empathetic person – tend to sympathize with peropls struggles and I tend to relate to it – so playing that course did help me

Concneetionc betweent he game and writing?

We don’t have a caddy although you could call a good copy e3ditor a caddy.

Randall Mell excerpted from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 15, 2006:

“Kafka’s the quarterback.

That’s Mike, not Franz, but the famed novelist might have been moved by the depressing turn Northwestern’s football program has taken.

The Wildcats joined the growing ranks of Division I-A teams that have been stunned by I-AA underdogs this year.

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka and his teammates know the existential angst the famed Czech writer once so skillfully explored.

The Wildcats’ 34-17 loss to New Hampshire came with NU fans there to see their first home game since coach Randy Walker’s death from a heart attack last summer. There was moment of silence in memory of Walker before kickoff, and his family members took part in the coin flip.

The rest of the game was Kafkaesque in its disappointment.”

How did you come up with that?

Do you need to play it to cover it?

I don’t t hink you have to. It helps. But you don’t have to. There are good writers hwho can cover anytying. The realy good stories arounet about why a 5 iroin isntinead of 6. its other things I said. Whats a guy overcoimgin what he got. What has shaped hinm to be a hcmaoion or prevented him from being achampion.

Does the game make golfers better interviews?

Not necessarily. Depoendson the person. Sprot has diferenct culture than other spots. Not as combative or adversarial. Smaller world – areent as many beat wrproters they have daily contact with. More intimate surrounding. Golf writers get criticized because maybe therye nota s ahrd onwriters or as comb ative or adeversarial – may be some truth to that but not sw scale – you have john Hawkins, len Shapiro, ed Sherman, jim mccabe, guys who ask tough qutonns and wouls tghrive in any sport – doug ferguson – yet it clearly isn’t as combative – you can uderstand wh other writers think that – nature o f game is jusat different – notion that golf is gnentleman’s game – you have ot police yourself its more honorable – I think that is true – it does shape cutlreu of sprot – but wherever lot of money at satake and people com itnenslty – always dark sid eof human nature at work and some corruption –

Watchdog function in golf?

Yes. Defitniely. I wote a story at doral last year, ford champonship, ford the sponsor was trying to get the top players back to doral – it had lost some of its luster – started a modnay corporate outing invited Sergio, veejay, reteif, padraig Harrington, they all were paid six figure sums – but it didn’t technically violate pga tour rules- but wneet into gray area very much a backdoor appearance fee – not surprised ot have appearnac efees – but this served as one – other players were upset aout it – tour changed ruels ecausea of story – now tour reviews all corp outings held by sponsors –

But you don’t have corruption you might have in other sprots – still issues that need to be watched

Drug stesting?

Tiger has psoeken up about that – what he says hasimpact –

How myuch of beat revoleves around tiger?

Intterstsing aspect of it. Epopele cant get n3eough tiger in new sroom and people who are sick of tieger. I see that I nmy e-mails all the time. Why r eyou writing aobu thim again. Everything now revoels around tigert , tour champoisnhip this week controversy tiger backed out, phil had backed out –

Tiger is magnficient player – majestic swing – but as personatlity he is just dull and boring and not interesting at all – rarely does he have natying to say in news conf that is worth quting – he doesthat purposefully – very smart – he’s managing himself as a player and corp entity too – he markets himself – partowho he is – but it makes it kind of boring ot covcer him as personalty – he ends up giving you so much copy as domiant player – I thin kasha gets odler toward end ofcareer I’;l be curous to saee if he opens up and beomces leader of opinion – jack nicklaus is one of great interview in sport now – so opnionated – you cangget 8 9 stories out of interview – tiger you satruggle to get aq uote – maybe he oepened up a ltitle morethis year – he is getin gbetter I shouldn’t be as harsh – he had stsr opinon about drug testing changing shroterning the saeason – but overall he’s guard

How much for local gofflers?

Hardest part is covering local golf. Almost hneed antoher repoerter. I don’t do enough of it. I try to go to locals. We have morgan pressl – form boac raton – she dominates my coverage on local satuff. I et most complaints aobut that why didn’t you cover mys on – difficult – a reality

Three kids. Satepson 20, 7 and 9.

Married.

Bron, Madison, 1958.

Favorite restaurant home: 15th Street Fisaheries, Ft. Lauderdale “you can dress informally but you get elegant treaament overlooking inter-coastal great food decent prices – they treat you like yourre wearing at tux”

Favorite restaurant road: crab catcher, la joya, at top of cliff, spec view, great crabs

Favorite hotel: Marriott sawgrass. Sererne setting overlooking great holes TPC.

Media days playing the course?

Some events. Guaust has famous lottery, I got picked the firstyear. 24 people out of 300 or 400. enraged columnist he had been there 10 years and never picked, mike mayo, he just glared at me.

What was it like?

Spectacular fun an dintimdating. Never played on fairways that were m owed so tightly. I skulled hosts and hit shots heavy. Kind of intimdating to play. 108. you had to ask. Funny becausae caddy – you hire caddie s- I said whatsyou name – he said 19 – how you dget that- my mama had 19 kids and she just ran out of name

You need a caddy there – everyone talks about greesn – how fast – optical lilusion I had 8 foot put he tells me thre foot break – I[m thinking gltitle break – sure enough he was right – ball veer saway – course knowledge so oimportant

Gives you appreicaiton of just how hard it is – doenst stop us on deadline from writing that someone chokes

ARCIA’S TREE TAKES A BEATING

By Randall Mell Staff Writer

1257 words

17 August 2006

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Broward Metro

8C

English

Copyright 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

MEDINAH, ILL.

They call it Sergio Garcia’s tree around here.

The towering red oak under which Garcia hit that remarkable recovery shot in pursuit of Tiger Woods in the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah’s No. 3 Course has changed a lot.

Garcia noticed that when he couldn’t resist the urge to return to the foot of the tree in a practice round Tuesday for the 88th PGA Championship.

Countless members and guests over the past seven years haven’t been able to resist the urge to try the shot themselves, and they’ve scarred the base of the tree in bids to duplicate Garcia’s magic.

“They’ve had to overseed that little spot because everybody’s been hitting from it,” Garcia said.

At 19, Garcia was a shot behind Woods in the final round when he pushed his tee shot behind that oak tree. In a precarious spot inches behind the tree and 189 yards from the hole, he took a wild slash, closing his eyes for fear the ball would ricochet back at him. His shot ran up onto the green, stopping 35 feet from the hole.

Unable to see the ball on the elevated green, Garcia bolted up the fairway like a boy leaving school, doing a scissors kick to see where the shot landed. He just missed making birdie.

METAMORPHOSIS I-AA SCHOOLS ARE CUTTING I-A FOES DOWN TO SIZE. WHAT IN THE NAME OF KAFKA IS GOING ON?

By Staff Writer Randall Mell Information from other beat writers, wire services and other news organizations was used in compiling these reports.

1615 words

15 September 2006

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

.

Kafka’s the quarterback.

That’s Mike, not Franz, but the famed novelist might have been moved by the depressing turn Northwestern’s football program has taken.

The Wildcats joined the growing ranks of Division I-A teams that have been stunned by I-AA underdogs this year.

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka and his teammates know the existential angst the famed Czech writer once so skillfully explored.

The Wildcats’ 34-17 loss to New Hampshire came with NU fans there to see their first home game since coach Randy Walker’s death from a heart attack last summer. There was moment of silence in memory of Walker before kickoff, and his family members took part in the coin flip.

The rest of the game was Kafkaesque in its disappointment.

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