Keeping Score

Augusta’s ‘Ghost’ adds spirit to Masters

David Westin already had plotted his Augusta Chronicle story about the 1996 Masters Tournament’s final round in his head. With Greg Norman holding a six-shot lead and an earlier 63 making his victory seem inevitable, Westin planned to write that the ghosts of Masters past finally did not come back to haunt Norman.

“When Norman lost, I switched it around and wrote that the ghosts of Masters past did come back to haunt him and it wasn’t a pretty sight, not even for Nick Faldo,” Westin said. “I threw some Charles Dickens in. It worked out even better.”

It was a big Masters moment, and Westin captured it so well that he won a Golf Writers Association of America writing award for the effort.

Only one Ghost has haunted the Masters Tournament for the past four decades, however, and it is Westin, whose long-time nickname is Ghost. The name stuck from the days when he’d quietly work from a computer terminal hidden behind a partition in the back of the Chronicle office – before the days of laptops – and churn out Clemson football stories.

“I just wanted to get done and get out of there as quick as I could,” Westin said.

When a writer finished a story, it automatically popped up on the editor’s story list so that he knew the writer was in the building.

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David Westin of the Augusta Chronicle will join a small fraternity of writers who have covered the Masters for 40 years.

David Westin of the Augusta Chronicle will join a small fraternity of writers who have covered the Masters for 40 years.

“One day, this editor figured it out and found me in the back of the office,” Westin said. “He said, ‘There you are! You’re just like a ghost!’ My personality is such that I keep a low profile and don’t talk a lot. It just fit.”

Next week, the youthful Westin, 62, will join an elite list of 24 journalists who have covered 40 Masters tournaments. He’ll be honored for that feat by club officials, get his name added to a media center plaque and earn a reserved parking spot with his name on it. 

His parking placard probably will read, “David Westin,” but really the sign should simply state, “Ghost.” We’d all know whose spot it is. When Westin’s wife used to work at the Chronicle, even she called him “Ghost” in the office but “David” at home.

Westin’s first Masters was in 1979. Most of his growing-up years were spent in Augusta. He graduated from the University of Georgia and joined the Chronicle sports staff in June 1978. During his 40-year-run, Westin figures he has gone through six Masters tournament chairmen (including newly appointed Fred Ridley), five sports editors and three Masters press buildings.

“The Masters was a big deal in ’79 but not like it is now,” Westin said. “When I started, Chronicle sports writers could still wander around Augusta National before the tournament to see what players were there. I wrote a story two weeks before the ’79 Masters where I interviewed Mark McCumber and Andy Bean. I don’t remember doing it, but the story said I talked to them at the turn between nines. Jack Nicklaus remembers there were always Chronicle guys looking for stories when he’d come in early to play the course.”

Now, media aren’t allowed on the grounds until Sunday before the event for the annual Drive, Chip and Putt competition.

Westin surely knows Augusta National better than any media member. In the late 1980s, he worked part-time as a caddie on his days off at the paper. One day not long before the tournament, he didn’t get a bag to carry, so he changed out of his jumpsuit, walked over by the golf shop area and bumped into PGA Tour player Dave Rummells, who agreed to a short chat in the club-repair room behind the golf shop. “Nobody saw me,” Westin said. “And I’m sure the Chronicle wondered how I interviewed a guy who was at the course when I wasn’t working. I don’t think they knew I was caddieing on the side.”

He doesn’t recall what he wrote, but he remembers Rummells half-jokingly saying, “Where is everybody?”

Westin holds the distinction of being the only person to play in the annual golf outing for local media at Augusta National and the annual caddie day in the same year. Caddies had to work a minimum number of days to qualify for the outing, and Westin did. Despite initial misgivings by the club manager, Westin was allowed to do both because he’d earned his spot.

“They had a buffet at lunch, and the caddies who didn’t golf could fish in the pond,” Westin said. “A lot of the caddies didn’t play golf, so the course was pretty empty. They give you a cart and you can play all day. That’s how I played 54 holes and the par-3 course and was back on the big course at 6 p.m. when I finally got rained out. It was pretty cool.”

The best score he ever shot from the members’ tees, by the way, was 82.

Looking back, Westin said his favorite Masters was probably in 1987. That was Westin’s first year writing the lead game story each day for the paper, plus the Masters was won by Augusta’s own Larry Mize, who famously chipped in to beat Norman.

His favorite interview subjects were Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.

“Jack was the only guy who’d continue an interview even if the moderator was trying to stop him,” Westin said.  “At the end, he’d always ask the writers, ‘Did you get enough?’

“Trevino didn’t have a filter. He said what he felt. I’d interview him while he changed shoes in the driveway next to the locker room. He wouldn’t go in there. He’d sit on the back of his trunk and be hilarious.”

Westin’s favorite Masters quote came from Trevino.

“Well, he knew Jack’s dad was a pharmacist,” Westin recalled, “and he said, ‘If Jack Nicklaus had my fade, he’d be running a string of pharmacies on Ohio right now.’ That was great.”

Though his name isn’t nationally known (although you can see his writing at www.Augusta.com), Westin may be the all-time record-holder for total number of words written about the Masters. He’s been pounding out several dozen advance stories each year, plus three or four stories a day during tournament week for 40 years. Who’s produced more Masters copy in a lifetime than Westin? No one.

He also owns a Chronicle record that isn’t likely to be broken, having written the Chronicle’s lead Masters story for every round since 1987. That’s 124 consecutive Masters leads.

“I’m proud of that streak,” Westin said. “I never got pulled from the assignment. The paper never said,We just want to try somebody else, and I never got sick.”

The soonest any Chronicle writer could challenge that streak would be the early 2060s, but that’s only if Westin were to retire tomorrow. Ghost has no intention of doing that. The Masters remains his happy haunting ground.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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