Thursday, July 14

Q&A: TNT’s Jim Huber on ‘FOUR DAYS IN JULY’ (Tom Watson at 2009 Open)

TNT REPORTER AND ESSAYIST Jim Huber has penned his first golf book, FOUR DAYS IN JULY: Tom Watson, the 2009 Open Championship, and a Tournament for the Ages. Huber was at the ‘09 Open reporting for TNT, which included conducting on-camera interviews with Tom Watson as the 59-year-old golf legend came off the course. His first-person narrative of Watson’s age-defying romp at Turnberry is a delight.

I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Jim a month ago at the U.S. Open. He has won the Edward R. Murrow Award for his sports writing and four Emmys for his sports reporting on Turner Sports and CNN. He recently answered my questions about FOUR DAYS IN JULY.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: You had the opportunity to cover this amazing story twice, first as it transpired in your broadcast role for TNT and then much later in book form. What were those two experiences like for you? How were they different?

JIM HUBER: The difference between covering the 2009 Open and then writing about it months later was enormous. Being there and part of it on a daily basis was its usual thrill but the impact of what was happening tended to get lost in the forest of immediacy. I was inundated by constant drama and so what Tom was doing was left for the late-evening suppers when we all gathered over fish and chips and put the pieces together. To spend the next year writing about it was a completely different exercise. I knew the outcome, knew the importance of what was happening, and so my job was to try and create a bit of theatrics, to give the story edges and corners and the chance for the reader to go “Oh, I had completely forgotten about that!” or “Geez, I didn’t know that!”

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Given the huge disappointment for the masses rooting for Tom Watson, it seemed like there couldn’t be a nicer “bad guy” than Stewart Cink. What struck you about Cink’s role in this tragedy and how Cink handled it?

JIM HUBER: Cink’s role was a curious one. He was the villain to the fans, for sure, and even to some of the writers and broadcasters who had not-so-silently cried out for the chance to document history. He handled it remarkably well, much better than most, I figure. He realized he was not going to be the lead in this drama and accepted that along with the Claret Jug with grace and a very genuine smile.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Through writing the book, what did you learn about Watson and Cink that you didn’t already know? Any surprises?

JIM HUBER: My history with Tom Watson was not a good one, quite frankly. We were never adversaries; he was simply always very cool toward me, eager to stare me down and silently admonish me for any questions he deemed silly or unworthy of him. I discovered, in writing the book, that there was a warmth there I had never seen or felt. It was mixed with equal parts pride and I just had never allowed myself—or he had never allowed me—to find that side. Cink, on the other hand, had always been warm and hospitable, generous with his time and thoughts, even when he knew the book would center around Tom and not him.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: The book does a great job of covering Watson’s longevity and ability to be competitive at nearly 60. Of all the factors, did anything stand out for you?

JIM HUBER: One of the qualities about Tom Watson—indeed about any competitor that age—was the ability to handle the enormous pressure, to simply put it aside and concentrate on the job at hand. He told me later that it wasn’t the physical ailments over the years that took the greatest toll but instead the fire inside. I had never given that much thought. He told me he wasn’t tired outside but surely was inside. Somehow, though, he overcame that until, perhaps, the putt on the 72nd hole at Turnberry when a tired Tom Watson lost a bit of focus for the first time all week and allowed that shove to return to his putting stroke.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: I really enjoyed the observations and perspective of Watson’s caddie, Neil Oxman. Did you know Oxman before the book, and how did his input help you shape the story?

JIM HUBER: I didn’t know Neil Oxman before I began writing the book. I was told he was a great guy, advised to take advantage of his intelligence and bravado. I had no idea, however, what an enormous role he would play in the compilation of the scenario. He took great delight, it seemed, in re-creation, to the point of even sending me his precious Turnberry yardage book. I had to immediately call him for a translation, for it was impossible for the average man to read or figure out, but he seemed to invest a lot of himself in the book and when I sent him a copy, he said he cried—and then ordered 40 for his clients from the political consultancy.

ARMCHAIR GOLF: Do you think we’ll see something like this again, whether from Watson or someone else?

JIM HUBER:
I don’t know that we will ever see a tournament quite like this one again, with all of its inherent drama and excitement. I do think, however, someone of Watson’s age might come along and make the same kind of incredible statement—that age really doesn’t play that much of a role, especially along those grounds and in that particular tournament. We had Greg Norman in ’08 and then Watson a year later. I wouldn’t put it past a guy like Tom Lehman or Nick Price to make that kind of magic in the next few years. Guys are staying in better shape, both physically and mentally, and the Open Championship offers a vastly different avenue for those willing to invest themselves in it.

−The Armchair Golfer

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