Fifty years ago Bob Rosburg won his only major, the 1959 PGA Championship at the Minneapolis Golf Club. A six-time PGA Tour winner and Ryder Cupper, “Rossie” went on to a long career as an ABC on-course reporter, a role he pioneered. Rossie died in May.
Last October I called Rossie at his home in Palm Springs and we talked for an hour about a range of golf subjects. Following is a portion of our conversation.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What are your memories of playing the tour in the ‘50s and ‘60s?
BOB ROSBURG: It was great because I liked what they did there. You had to perform. Sixty or 70 guys still made the cut, but they only paid 30 guys. You had to play all four rounds. It’s not like it is today where if you make the cut you’re guaranteed 15 or some thousand. That’s a little different than it was back then. I talk to [Ken] Venturi a lot about it. He says, “Yeah we didn’t have the money to play for, but it was more fun then.” We had more of a group of guys that were very good friends. We traveled together in caravans and stuff like that. All the families knew each other. I just thought it was great. You had friends that are still friends like Venturi and [Gene] Littler and Dow [Finsterwald]. I see those guys a lot. And Arnold [Palmer]. I traveled with Arnold for a couple years. It was fun then. You had to work your ass off to get to the next town to play, but I think that’s what the game is all about. You should have to play well to make any money.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I’m sure you had the occasion to play some golf with Ben Hogan and develop some opinions about what he was like as a player and a person.
BOB ROSBURG: I did get a chance to play with Ben a few times. Not a lot, because he was almost finished by the time when I started in ‘54. I did play in the Open at Oakmont in ‘53. I had just turned pro and I was an assistant in Chicago. It was amazing how he played. Of course, that was when he had his great year, ‘53. He was as good as he ever was, even though he’d had some tough times physically. In ‘53, he was as good as it got.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What would you say your highlights were as a player?
BOB ROSBURG: Of course, winning the PGA changed my whole life because it made you eligible to play the rest of the life on the tour. You were exempt the whole time when you won a major, which is not the case now. It’s 10 years, or something like that. That made a huge difference, because then you could plot your whole year. If you wanted to take a couple of weeks off, you could do it. So that was big. Of course, the same year I won the PGA I played in the Ryder Cup, which was maybe the highlight. I hit the first ball for the United States. We played out here in Palm Springs, which was sort of like my home ground. It was wonderful. At that time, they didn’t have all the parties like they have now. It wasn’t as big a thing. We still had a lot of people. They had all the ceremony just before you teed off the first round. They played “God Save the Queen” and the “Star Spangled Banner” and all of a sudden you were on the tee. That was quite a thrill. And I played pretty well. I played with [Mike] Souchak in the doubles and we won pretty easy. And I won pretty easy in the singles. It was good. The Ryder Cup was a huge thing for me.
Actually, my broadcasting career — I’ll probably remember it more than I did playing. I really had a lot of fun out there. I worked with some great, great guys. I worked for ABC for 33 years. It had to be pretty good. I will probably be remembered more in the game for doing the telecasts.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: It really extended your career in golf, didn’t it?
BOB ROSBURG: I’ll say it did. It was kind of funny because the Senior Tour had just started. I took the job in ‘75 and we didn’t have any senior tournaments then. Actually, we didn’t start until 1980. I’m not sure if I had realized how big the Senior Tour had got that I wouldn’t have gone back and played. Because I could still play a little then. I finished second two or three times on the Senior Tour. And I won the Legends with Littler. It wasn’t as though I couldn’t play. I didn’t think I could do both. And I don’t think you can. I think you have to play or do the telecast, one or the other.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: That seems like the way it is nowadays, too.
BOB ROSBURG: I think so. Some guys try to do it, but it’s hard to do.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How did you get into broadcasting?
BOB ROSBURG: It was kind of just a fly-by-night thing. I had a good friend on the tour named Steve Reid. After he quit playing, he was a good friend of [Deane] Beman’s—Beman gave him a job as the TV coordinator for the tour. When I got through playing in ‘74, Steve came to me and said, “Would you be interested in taking a job in television?” I said, “Geez, I don’t know Steve. I’ve only done it a couple of times.” I had worked in television before, but I didn’t know that I could handle it. He said ABC is looking for a guy to work down on the ground. I thought, “Well that will be better than actually working in the booth.” I only worked in the booth a couple three times. And that really didn’t appeal to me, sitting there all day. I just wanted to go down and tell the people what I thought was happening down there. It worked out well.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I was in my teens when you started out. I remember all those times they threw it to you. Rossie, what’s he got?
BOB ROSBURG: Yeah, what’s he got. He’s got no chance.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: I know you stopped saying that. I wasn’t going to bring that up.
BOB ROSBURG: Eventually I did. It kind of made me, though. People remembered that. I was right most the time, but I was wrong, too. The people always remember the times you’re wrong. But you got to say what you think. If you wait till the guy already hit the shot, what good are you down there?
−The Armchair Golfer